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 People with Disabilities (PwD) and those who care for them. 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 PwD should sit back quietly and smile like good PwDs, 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 PwD 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 PwD 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 PwD 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 PwD 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 PwD 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 PwD community.
Admittedly this is not the most outrageous or serious offence against our community. The appalling figures on violence against PwD 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 PwDs. 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.