This is probably going to sound like the strangest question you have ever been asked but I feel it needs to be asked - "Have you ever tried to be used?" - or - to put it another way - "Have you ever tried to encourage someone to use your practical experience to help them help other people?".
Some people react very well to being praised (or simply being told they are good at something) - they thank the person for the compliment and get on with their life. I am not one of those people - praising me makes me wonder what your motive is - and I will usually be waiting for that "but..." which I have heard so often.
I suppose it comes from trying to play by everybody else's rules my entire existence. The first thing I was "taught" at school was - for goodness sake act like everybody else and try to save your tears for when you are alone in private.
So you can imagine my surprise this afternoon when someone who I would consider to be a "professional" told me that they want to make use of me because I am different - and that I can use my differences to make life a bit more bearable for other people.
The person who said this is a man by the name of Mr John Coster (ex-Citizen's Eye), who is now the Projects Manager for LCIL (Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living).
John Coster with Tina Barton from WotSpace
He is passionate about helping people tell their story. So much so that he has set up a new kind of "Pop-up Shop" in the former Powerplay store on the Lower Mall of the Highcross Shopping Centre for the next 6 weeks (monday to Saturday). A "Pop-Up Shop" where people don't try to sell you things - they offer you free Information, Advice, and Guidance on the issues affecting Disabled people.
However, for me that is not the best thing about it. Apart from running workshops, etc, the "Pop-up Shop" is also doing something which I don't think has ever been done before - they are having what they call a "Creative Consultation" on the subject of some of the issues faced by Disabled people.
"Creative Consultation" Wall. The Testtubes on the left represent six issues faced by Disabled people. The bit in the centre is for feedback on the issue you feel is most relevant to you (or Disabled people). The third bit is a way of finding out if people have heard of ways of getting support to achieve their goals.
As Mr Coster said to me - it is a way of changing the conversation from the "Daily Mail" idea that all Disabled people are Benefit Scroungers and giving us (yes - I count myself among the ranks of Disabled People) the opportunity to speak out and tell the "able-bodied" about our experiences. Without being judged or told we are wrong.
Disabled people are not all the same - even something like a "Visual Impairment" (or sight problem in plain English) has varying degrees. For example, compared to a blind person I have the ability to walk around unaided (except in the dark, in bright light, or when my glasses are removed from my nose, for instance), but my sight is closer to that of a blind person than someone with 20/20 vision - even though all you see is a pair of (slightly thicker than usual) glasses on my nose.
Both myself and Mr Coster would like to change the basis of the conversation which the "Mainstream" media tries to drag Disabled people into more often than not.
Instead of telling Disabled people that "you are Benefit Scroungers" or "you are a drain on resources which could be better spent elsewhere", or even worse, "you are too difficult for us to find suitable jobs for because we need to rebuild the entire building to accommodate your wheelchair, etc", we should be asking them things like "are you prepared to work for your money?", "can we make your life easier by making Public Transport more accessible?", "are you willing to teach me about your needs if I promise to really listen to you - and act on what you tell me - even if I think it is the stupidest thing I have ever heard and I don't believe you for a minute???".
I think you might know the answer I would give to that last question before you ask me. Of course I am willing to teach you about my needs - all I ask in return is that you respect my choices even if you think I could do something different.
It is ironic that someone told me that I was "brave" by being so honest about my experiences of being bullied at school in my last blog post. I saw it slightly differently. To me - the "brave" thing would have been to give my experiences a one line mention and then sweep them under the carpet. If I had done that I would have felt I was lying by ommission - also not letting you feel that I have "survived" a really bad experience and you can too. (I really hate the modern definitions of "victim" and "survivor" where you can either be one or the other - when the reality is you are a bit of both and it is a sliding scale which varies from day to day.)
Take the blinkers off - set your prejudices to one side for a minute - talk to me like you would anybody else (especially your "able-bodied" friends) - basically - step into my world for a minute (I don't bite - honest) and let's see if we can help each other to make the world a better place for both of us.
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