Thursday 24 July 2014

Be quiet little disabled person. You are making me uncomfortable.

I wasn't going to post about this issue. I am still angry so not in the most diplomatic of moods. But sometimes it's write it out, or sit and stew. So writing it is. 

A funny thing happened yesterday. A local radio personality admitted on radio that she had parked illegally in a disabled parking bay at a shopping centre and to compound her indiscretion and cover her crime, she affected a limp so people would think she was disabled. Cue laughter. Well laughter on the radio program. Not in the wider community. Especially not amongst disabled people and their allies. Those who complained were referred to as a "lynch mob" by the offending radio presenter this morning. Apparently the disabled community was "incited" by a fellow radio presenter, who rightly took offence to not only her actions, but segment in which it was the subject of much mirth, and called her on her behaviour.

Because we need someone to tell us when to get angry. We'd never work it out ourselves.

Her response this morning: "Now I need to point out I wasn't imitating a disabled person I have far more respect for them."

Well apart from the affected limp so people would think she was disabled and not question her illegal use of a disabled parking space. Or that she thinks a visibly discernable, stereotypical disability is the only type of disability there is (but that's a whole other post).

And those who raised their objections are named a "lynch mob".

After putting it to air on her own show and having a good laugh about it all.

Apparently disabled people should sit back quietly and smile like good disabled people, and not call her out on her ableist and illegal behaviour. How dare we be offended? How dare we react?

By calling responses a "lynch mob" she misses the greater point(s) and relegates what are reasonable objections to her behaviour to irrational mob mentality. And frankly, just fuels the fire.

It places her in the role of victim.

It downplays the difficulties and discrimination faced by disabled people everyday.

It downplays our right to voice our disgust when someone not only takes a parking bay designated to make the community accessible for those with disabilities, but also mimics disability and then laughs about it all.

Is she really surprised that the disabled have a voice and can use it? That we have minds and can formulate our own opinions? That we know how to use social media? And that we are no longer content to sit back and accept the ableist behaviour of the wider community. No matter who the perpetrator or the level of their transgression?

Her reaction plays into the idea that disabled people should sit back impotently and wait for others to speak and do for us. It plays into the idea that we should sit there smiling and grateful for the crumbs and pats on the head doled upon us by much of the wider community. It plays into the idea that we are incapable of having our own voice.

Admittedly the disabled community was already a tinderbox waiting for a spark. The current political and community discourse surrounding disability in Australia has reached a low of late. The loss of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner. The ceasing of funding for the only mainstream media voice for disabled people ABC RampUp,  attacks on the Disability Support Pension and labeling of recipients as lazy and scroungers in the mass media, mixed messages about delays to the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, to name but a few, have all led to a feeling of deep disrespect and outright hostility towards the disabled community.

Admittedly this is not the most outrageous or serious offence against our community. The appalling figures on violence against the disabled receives little to no airtime despite the seriousness of the issue. But this presenter's actions represent the more subtle, casual disdain for the disabled community that many experience every day. And in many ways these so called lesser offences are the foundation stone that allow all the other serious transgressions to occur. We let this go and it makes the next offence easier to bear. We let this go and it reinforces that these casual events are okay.

We are "told it's a joke, it wasn't directed at you personally, I was laughing at me not you, I like disabled people, I have a cousin who's disabled, stop being so sensitive, get over it, PC gone crazy, people are starving in Africa, war in the Middle East," etc.

Shut up and smile for the photo op disabled person. We like our disabled inspirational or pity worthy. Not pissy and noisy. You make us uncomfortable when you point out our ableism. You make us uncomfortable when you show you have your own voice. Sit back and let us tell you how you should react.

Sit back down while we tell you, you've made us feel bad.

I, like many, live with disability everyday. I live with the limitations and difficulties of my disorder 24/7, day after day, year after year. My family lives it with me. I have jumped through hoops for a disability parking permit. I jump through hoops to get minimal help. I have to prove my disability. I have to make my way in a world not designed to accommodate those of us with disabilities. I deal with judgement and disdain every day. I am told how I should behave and what I should say and how I should deal with my disability by those not living my experience.

I am entitled to my outrage. I am not a lynch mob. I am a woman with a disability who is sick and tired with the pervasive attitude that I am lesser, that I am other, that I am incapable of seeing blatant ableism when it occurs, and that my life and your reaction to it is fodder for laughs.

You may not understand my outrage. You may not understand what you did wrong. But that is your limited comprehension and empathy. And it doesn't make your behaviour any more palatable, or my outrage any less valid.

Apologies after the fact only when you are called out on your behaviour are meaningless.

Apologies that seek to excuse or minimise your behaviour are equally meaningless.

Apologies that seek to place you as the victim are insulting.

We have heard it all too many times before.

It shows that at heart you still do not understand why your behaviour was inappropriate.

It shows at heart that you do not appreciate the offence you have given.

In this case it shows that neither the perpetrator, the bystanders on the day, or the radio station who did promos based on the event, understand the offensive nature of the behaviour.

I am tired of having to explain and educate.

I am tired of fighting for simple respect on top of my dealing with the challenges of my disability.

Every time these events occur we see and interpret them through our lived experience. We carry a life experience marked by the general feeling that we are seen as less and other.

If this presenter and others like her cannot understand that, I am sorry for them.

As someone appropriately shared on Twitter last night.

"The standard we walk past, is the standard we accept."

I will no longer walk on by.


*I did just want to add I do not agree with comments that have brought her child into the discussion or the use of some of the derogatory names that have been thrown around today. This does not add to the important dialogue that needs to take place and only creates further discord rather than respectful and meaningful discussion.


  1. i'm wondering how this 'local radio personality' would feel, if her own car (mobility) was stolen, and she was trapped at home for days/weeks, unable to leave the house. then she hears another 'radio personality' laughing bragging about the theft.

    1. And that's the thing it shouldn't need experience to feel empathy. Plenty of people, disabled and non-disabled get it just fine. But, sadly, I think some people will never get it.

  2. This is such a brilliant response, and to be honest, I'm gobsmacked by this whole thing. To mock and laugh at people with disabilities and then play the victim when called on it. Unbelievable.

    1. Thanks hugzillablog. I think if she'd used it as an educational issue, eg I cocked up and it's not okay, it would have flown under the radar. But to not only do it, but then use it on the show for a laugh, the line is crossed and many are angry for the after the fact attitude as much as the original incident.

  3. "'Now I need to point out I wasn't imitating a disabled person I have far more respect for them.'"
    So what exactly WOULD you call faking a limp after parking in a handicapped spot? Imitating an Olympic triathlete?! Dumb.

    "Shut up and smile for the photo op PwDs. We like our disabled inspirational or pity worthy. Not pissy and noisy."
    As though, because our bodies don't work perfectly in one way or another, it's sapped us of intelligence, of dignity and worth? I think not.

    "You may not understand my outrage. You may not understand what you did wrong. But that is your limited comprehension and empathy. And it doesn't make your behaviour any more palatable, or my outrage any less valid." YESSSSS!

    1. Thanks Cassandra. I think the perception that if we hadn't been 'told' it was wrong we would have been unable to work it out ourselves irritates me no end. I don't need to be told that parking illegally in a disabled bay, affecting a limp, and then using the incident for a joke on her show is wrong.

  4. Only the lowest of the low would publicly brag about this on a radio show. I think its hilarious that she called those who attacked her a lynch mob. No hun, you were in the wrong and you used the disabled community to either get cheap laughs or get some street cred. You are so right Michelle when you say we can no longer walk on by. I think she believed that due to what is happening politically in Australia at the moment ( what we have already gone through here in the UK) makes it socially acceptable to mock the disabled because as the media likes to claim, most of us are faking it anyway and we are a bunch of scroungers. Since the coalition government has come into power in the UK and Si fled out disabled people guess what hate crime including violence has increased. Disabled people are being abused more than ever. When confronted with this kind of bigotry you must stand up to it. It truly disgusts me. Michelle your response has been very restrained I don't think I would have managed it.

    1. To be honest I did have a hissy fit when I first heard about it. After calming down a bit I wrote this. In many ways the specific issue itself isn't so much the issue as to what it represents and the behaviour afterwards. The abuse of disabled parking bays is rife and it's always seen as a low level issue. Yet its just a tip of the iceberg issue in the way the disabled are seen and treated currently. This one issue illuminates a whole range of issues facing PwDs. I look at what has happened in the UK and hope we don't get there. :(

  5. A wonderful post, I agree with you

  6. I caught H1N1 back in 2009 and from it have developed gastro paresis as well as fibromyalgia; I'm lucky if I can even get out of bed and I still had to fight for sometime to get my permit. I totally agree with this article. Parking lots can be quite packed as it is and a few feet can make a huge difference for someone who is markedly restricted. Does she not realize that someone who actually needed the spot may have been forced to park further away from the entrance then they could handle because she was committing fraud (call me sensitive, but yeah, I would consider it fraud!)? It's as if she rode one of the wheel chairs at Walmart because she was lazy.

    1. I agree Jessica. I had to jump through hoops to get my permit. I had to stuff down pride and still feel guilty for using it, stupid I know. Yet on those shocker days I can't walk the length of my car to my wheelchair. If I'm stuck in a regular park my wheelchair doesn't fit next to the car door. It means I can't get out. We do the hard yards of living with disability and that park is a small consolation to allow us easier access. To park illegally, mimic and then make it a skit on her show. It grates.

  7. Great post, Carly. I wholeheartedly agree. It's bad enough that this presenter did what she did, but to laugh about it on radio is appalling. To continue to disrespect those in the community she has offended by 'playing the victim' and defending her actions shows her complete lack of understanding of the issue. She clearly needs to be educated.

    I'm always concerned about the stereotyping of people with disabilities. The idea that a person is not disabled if the world can't immediately see the disability is outdated and ignorant.

    1. There are so many levels to the issue. The parking, the limp, the stereotype, the lynch mob, the I am victim, the we are unable to form our own opinions and must be told, being told or opinion is wrong, the list goes on.

    2. Sorry Michelle, I just reread my post and realised I'd called you Carly by mistake! I'd just made a comment on another blog (Carly's) and obviously had her on my mind when I replied! Awesome post in any case!

    3. No worries Lisa I guessed you must have landed here via Carly :)

  8. I am a healthy, able bodied person and I am grateful for that every day. However this sort of thing REALLY pisses me off! Her behaviour since the original issue is deplorable, but the act itself also really bothers me. It's the ultimate in lazy, selfish entitlement. Like life isn't already difficult enough for those living with a disability, for some able bodied person to come along and decide that their needs are more important really gets my blood boiling!

    One day I was walking into the shops when I noticed a car park in a disabled parking spot, with no permit showing. I went back to my car and found a pen and paper and wrote a little note which I left under their windscreen saying: You're not fucking disable so DON'T FUCKING PARK HERE!!! I hope as they walked back to their car they saw it and thought it was a ticket. Then when they saw it I hope they realised it was worse than a ticket. Sometimes I still think about it, about what if it was actually a disabled person who's permit had just fallen down. I like to think that they wouldn't be offended and would just be glad that someone had their back.

    1. Thanks Sheri Bomb. :) The voice of the people able-bodied or disabled have been silenced and it's all playing out as an issue between two radio personalities. I think that is irritating me more at the moment. there's a token tweet or soundbite from someone with a disability but the whole thrust is about 2 radio identities at war. Once more the voice of Pwds is silence or relegated to the role of minor player.

      The issue with disability parking places all comes down to no permit, no park. It's not about visible or invisible disability, but if there's no permit you cannot park there.

  9. Spot on Michelle and good call on not standing by and remaining silent. I could get a parking permit for my son who is legally blind and has autism but I don't want to have to defend using the spot as his disability is not visible. Also, to be honest, there are people out there who need that park more than we do - at least he has me to guide him safely through the carpark. I am constantly amazed that people have the hide to abuse these parks when they clearly have no right to do so. I just don't get it...

    1. Thank you Kirsty. I hate that you are worried about having to justify your use of a permit. I had the same feeling for a long time. Before needing a wheelchair to get out and about I had a time of just needing a cane or being able to walk a few delicate metres unaided. I couldn't stomach the idea of getting a permit and having to justify why and felt like others needed it more. I left it too long in reality. But it is issues like this that make people wonder and judge. Even if by chance she did accidently (her response) park there, her behaviour subsequent to that discovery compounds the whole issue.

  10. This is by far the most intelligent commentary I have seen on the whole matter. Like you, I object strongly to being called a 'troll' when someone takes the piss out of us. The objections on the Australian Disability Parking Wall of Shame and in the mainstream media have been largely just that, objections.

    If this woman entered an art competition for Aboriginal people, purposefully or accidentally, then painted her face black in order to skulk out without recognition, and THEN used it as comedy material on her radio show, and then said that she 'wasn't imitating black people when she painted her face black' - would there be outrage? Hell YES there would be outrage.

    As much as I am amused by the thought of a limping, gimping, pitchfork wielding lynch mob with nooses and flaming brands attached to our zimmer frames and wheelchairs, I doubt very much that Ms Box has been 'victimised' in any way. She should have just apologised, told the world she'd screwed up, and moved right along.

    1. Thanks Sam. Troll, Lynch mob, Bullying are all words used in this case to transform the perpetrator to victim and silence any objections. Valid criticism isn't a lynch mob. I also don't like the idea that we are so thick that Tom Elliot is some sort of Pied Piper and we are all just following along mindlessly. Or that it is being portrayed as a "war" between 2 radio personalities, thus wiping out the voices of PwD yet again.

      Owning the behaviour and a sincere no excuses apology would have gone a long way to silencing the issue.

      Must admit I did have similar visions of the lynch mob which gave me a giggle. ;)


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