I always knew there’d come a day when I’d finally crack. Finally have enough of taking the high road when the view up here leaves a lot to be desired. It’s lonely on the high road sometimes.
Many of my fellow disability activists and advocates have written and spoken about ableism. We all cop it. We all see it happening around us. We all get frustrated by the inane conversation where we are told just get over it, it doesn’t mean anything. It does mean something to us.
When I established the No Permit No Park Campaign back in 2013 (wow time has flown), I had every intention of being the educator. I learned to change my passive aggressive language into something more engaging to try and open a conversation with the community about disability access and our rights to inclusion. For the most I was successful. I honestly expected to change the world. “If only they could see it from our perspective” I use to think.
I am damn proud of every success, every achievement we’ve had throughout the campaign and that I have had on a personal level through my various forms of engagement with the community. Whether it be on the radio, in social media, public speaking engagements, I always have someone, at least one person get in contact with me to say, I never realised… I didn’t understand it until…. I see things differently now. To me, to have a person realise their own ableism and that they want to change it is the most important reason I put myself out there.
From the start people warned me, you can’t please everyone. I’ve had my share of attacks. I’ve been stalked, confronted, abused, ridiculed, ostracised, assaulted and victimised. None of that, not one thing that has ever happened as a result of my activism when standing up for the rights of people with disabilities has ever been worse than the discrimination against me and against my friends with disabilities.
My friend Tracey and I were told to leave a store recently, because her wheelchair might damage the stock. It was one of those dodgy bargain stores that over fill the shelves with so much stock you can barely fit through to see anything let alone buy it. The owner verbally abused us even shoving the phone into Tracey’s face telling her to call the police when we pointed out what they had done was an offence under the disability discrimination act. Unfortunately the act doesn’t allow us the right to call the police. It’s an offence, but it’s not a crime. We just left. Angry and humiliated.
Sure we could have taken it to the anti discrimination tribunal but for all the stress and heartache of it what would the outcome be in the end? That owner would never treat us as customers even if they made physical changes to their store. Even though our money burns the same way. Besides, bargain stores around here, they’re a dime a dozen. Sometimes you even get it cheaper at KMart so it’s wasn’t a great loss. It was just the principle.
I’ve never been afraid to call out ableists who make vile attacks on social media toward people with disabilities. In the past I’ve tried to reason with people and explain if they looked at it from a different perspective they’d understand why we speak up about things like the abuse of disability accessible parking, but often I get nothing but abuse and self entitlement so I just cut and block. Generally they go away. They are usually so mindless that within a few minutes they’ve found someone else to annoy with their unrecognised privilege and misdirected vitriol. Once in a while though, the person doing the victimising insists that they’re the ones being victimised.
Making comments on social media, in public forums, is a dangerous thing. The thing about the internet – and I still don’t understand why people haven’t learned this yet – is that once you put it out there, it’s there forever. Cos even if you delete your abusive, hateful, discriminatory comments, I’ve already taken a screenshot of it. Not because I want to keep reminding myself of these people, but because they don’t have the right to just walk away and not apologise. So I make sure it stays there, somewhere, forever to remind them. So that if they ever find themselves in our position one day, they might eat their humble pie.
You don’t get to come into our forum, our space, try to muffle our voices, cause people hurt and humiliation and then just walk away like nothing happened. You don’t get to promote your self entitled attitude, your opinion of us, or your indispensible privilege in a platform we built to stand up to these things.
You don’t get to have a say in our lives. Our rights are not yours to give us. If seeing people with disabilities out in public makes you uncomfortable, then I suggest you stay home. We won’t be. We will be out there, seen and heard. There’s nothing you can do to stop us. Most of all whatever you do, don’t tell us not to be angry. We have every right to be.
Below are some more examples I’ve collected over time of the kinds of things people say to me (and some to others in our disability forums) online. Click on the pictures to make them larger.