Blogging against disablism day 2012

May 1, 2012

As today is Blogging Against Disablism day I thought I’d take a break from looking at tax measures and, instead, give my personal experiences of disablism.

Wait a minute, says the pedant in the corner, you’re not “disabled” – and what is this “disablism” thing anyway?

Disablism is to people with disabilities what racism is to people who are any other race than white and sexism is to people being disadvantaged by their gender.  But while most of us will remain the race and gender we were born with, most of us – whatever our health and ability – will wind up with some kind of disability in the end, if only by way of age.  My own problems are a minor hearing impairment and a dodgy back that makes climbing stairs a problem.  I’ve just taken early retirement so I don’t have to wrestle with the question of whether or not to register myself as “disabled” on the Civil Service’s personnel systems but believe me I angsted over it for some time over the last few years.

Getting a back supporting chair was an absurd struggle but at least I had a supportive physio who, ten or fifteen years ago, wrote a stern letter which said something to the effect of, buy this woman a decent back-supporting chair and she can work; don’t, and I’ll keep signing her sick certificates and by the way have you worked out how much sick pay that will cost you lately? Once I’d actually obtained the chair, a succession of supportive managers meant that I managed to keep the chair.  (I wonder where it is now?  Because, you know, they have rules that mean when you leave you can’t buy the chair from them and take it home.  No, it sits in the “furniture available for someone else to use” room until they give up and pay someone else to take it away!)

So the back?  Fine.  The hearing impairment?  Not so much.  It’s only a mild impairment – the hospital audiologist apologised and said that, although I would benefit from a hearing aid, the NHS no longer considered me impaired enough to provide me with one, and I either have to get deafer or buy one myself…

My job was in London but the last three or four years of my career I also worked remotely from Sheffield.  And there were lots of things that might have made my life easier and saved wear and tear travelling up and down.  Ninety per cent of the job could be done by email and online; the rest was face to face meetings and telephone conversations.

Which is fine.  A one to one phone call gives me no problems.  But conference calls…  It’s entirely useless to have one speakerphone (and so only one mike) available in a room with twenty people in it.  It’s entirely useless to have a presenter say “I don’t need to use the mike, do I?” so he can privilege his need to bounce around the stage being spontaneous over my need to, you know, hear what the hell he was talking about.  It’s entirely useless to have a “four corners” event where the “buzz” of activity – of everyone talking at once about four different things at the four corners of the room – is preferred to the old fashioned syndicate room where the four different conversations are, well, audible.

I could go on.  But my point is that I’m a pretty assertive middle aged battleaxe of a tax inspector and even I got tired of reminding people that I couldn’t hear what they were damned well saying if they dropped their voice like that.

And I guess that’s all I’m saying.  If there’s a binary “disabled/not disabled” categorisation (not that I think there is, but that’s a whole other story) then I sometimes think of myself on one side of the line and sometimes on the other.  But if it wears me out trying to hear what people are talking about, how tiring must it be to live with something more disabling than that?

I only once (or at least once that I can recall – feel free to remind me of others in the comments!!) blew up and had a full scale row with someone, when I had asked three times for people to speak up in a large meeting in a room with bad acoustics, and in the end threatened to walk out altogether if it happened again.

No-one should have to take the nuclear option.  If someone explains to you that they can’t hear what you’re saying, see what you’re writing, get to the room up the stairs, sit for the length of the meeting – stand for the length of the meeting [coughs and makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like “Pacesetter”] – then please adjust your behaviour.

To all the people I have encountered in my working life where I have failed to do this, please accept my apologies.  A failure doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it’s like having snot hanging from your nose.  Once someone points it out to you, by all means get embarrassed.  And then use a hanky, wipe your nose – and try not to let it happen again.

One comment

  1. “No-one should have to take the nuclear option. If someone explains to you that they can’t hear what you’re saying, see what you’re writing, get to the room up the stairs, sit for the length of the meeting – stand for the length of the meeting [coughs and makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like “Pacesetter”] – then please adjust your behaviour.”

    I absolutely agree with this. And it doesn’t just need to be special disabled people – I do this for people based on what I know of them, so with one colleague I print stuff out for her because I know she prefers to read stuff off paper and it’s easier for her to handle than email forwards. Another person prefers to have a face to face discussion for disability reasons so I do that where possible. It’s just common courtesy and consideration.

    One of the best training sessions I have ever been to gave each person 3 postits to write things on that they needed for the session to be accessible, safe and supportive for them (it was about a difficult subject). The first exercise of the day was completing those postits and working out common ground rules to meet those needs within the group whether it was “sitting near the door” so someone could get out to collectively remembering to let a wheelchair user past/through/see or nudging people so the deaf people could still lipread. It was brilliant!

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