I was moved to write this piece after listening to Jon Faine's interview with Carly Findlay last Wednesday. Carly is a blogger, writer, speaker and appearance activist who was on Jon Faine's ABC Melbourne radio show to discuss the micro-aggressions she faces regularly due to her disability.
Let me say at the outset that there were some confronting aspects of the interview and I wondered at times if Jon was not just as guilty of micro-aggressions as anyone else. His seeking of an answer in relation to the 'worst question she had ever been asked' I found particularly confronting.
I hope this interview encourages people without disability to reflect on how their words and actions shape the lives and experiences of people with disability. Everyone is responsible for levelling the field for people with disability, and here are some reflections on my learnings from the interview.
1. Don't pity people with disability
At one point in the interview, Carly spoke about being approached by strangers saying they will pray for her, and highlighted how offensive she finds that. Jon, however, didn't see this as problematic, instead saying no harm comes from comments like this, and encouraged Carly to take them as 'good wishes'.
The problem is these words are not a kindness to people with disability. They are not harmless. They are condescending, and serve to perpetuate the idea that there is something inherently wrong with people with disability. These comments imply that people with disability have miserable lives and need 'saving'.
Carly fights against this damaging rhetoric every day, and often refers to the late Stella Young to reinforce her perspective, as she did in this interview. It seems pertinent to state that Stella lived by a certain mantra, which she had tattooed on her inner arm: 'You get proud by practicing'. The journey towards disability pride, said Stella, is long and hard and you have to practice every day.
We need to be making space for people with disability to get proud, rather than discrediting their life experiences and opinions, and forcing them to justify their perspectives.
2. Don't try to 'fix' people with disability
Asking people if there is any cure to their disability is never a good idea. What could seem an innocent-enough question is actually laced with underlying judgements about accepting and embracing disability. It insinuates that there is something about a person with disability that requires 'fixing'; an assumption that disability equals deficit and requires correcting.
I was impressed by Carly's candour when she said she's not willing to undergo medical interventions that may negatively impact her body in other ways. She then added she also doesn't feel the need to change herself; she's actually happy with the way she looks. Her subtle message: I'm happy with myself, and you may be the one with the issue.
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