BBC News – Paralympics 2012: How do people view the wheelchair?

BBC News – Paralympics 2012: How do people view the wheelchair?.

I have been meaning to comment on this excellent video for some time now. In the audio John Hockenberry asks a couple of pertinent questions which, while he provides sparking answers, also provide room for debate. The first is this:

Those exact same elements that might put you off are transformed in the Paralympics. Why? 

It is question of identity,  centered around how we see the “other”, those who are different from our perceptions of normal. Also, where we see the person may alter the image, so not just the body, but also the environment. As he says, it is a case of allowing one image, that which our subconscious has been trained by the media, our nurture, and stereotypes to be seen as tragic, we allow to become triumph. This also explains our potential reaction to any of the pictures in the photographic article The 33 most inspiring photos of the Paralympics. (I have also offered my own comment on the images in my previous blog post.)

This would be the case not only for the person or people looking on, but also for the disabled person themselves. How does their disability alter their view of themselves. I can only speak for myself in this. For me, this such a huge question.; From tragedy to triumph. I have partly answered the question before, in explaining how difficult it ws to come to terms with the consequences of major surgery, but this question also applies to how I view myself as a person with cerebral palsy and as an electric wheelchair user. As I explained in the same article, being told I use a wheelchair full-time, for me, really was a tragedy and one I am coming to terms with. In terms of how it affect my self-image, I feel it makes me look somehow vulnerable, in some ways more disabled than I am, as I am able to mobilise a bit.  Both how I view myself, and how others view me depends on which aid I am using, amongst other things. If I use my electric wheelchair, and my environment allows me to use that chair unaided, I have a sense of freedom I do not have at any other time, as I can decide where I want to go, when, and for how long. Put me in my self-propelled wheelchair however, and it’s a different story. Then, I do not have the same freedom. Recently, mu manual chair was being fixed, and I’d gone to a local gym in a taxi with my Zimmer frame, and a carer. After the usual pleasantries, somehow I blurted out how I wouldn’t be so fine after my swim, having had the exertion of walking from the house to the taxi, the taxi into the gym etc. Her response was incredibly thought provoking. She exclaimed in surprise, “Of course, where’s your wheelchair? You looked so natural walking out of the lift that I hadn’t given it a second thought!” This is party about one way of mobilising being normal, and the other, abnormal, natural vs unnatural. Also, somehow on my feet with the Zimmer at least, I feel taller, and don’t look “disabled” as such. That is, until I wobble backwards, or tire, which happens after a few steps. This particular incident has really got me thinking though. With the Zimmer, however I may look more ‘normal’ but I do not have any of the same freedom as I do the majority of the time in my electric wheelchair. I have to be having a ‘good’ day, both in terms of pain and energy levels, and be somewhere “barrier-free”. A different environment, and it’s a different story.

The tragedy… gets trumped by the intent. When you see the athletes using their bodies and equipment, not being used by it, it changes everything.

My electric wheelchair is definitely the mobility aid which allows me to use the most ‘intent’; the wheelchair has a purpose. Like I say, I dictate where I go, without depending on another. I might not have as much leg function as I used to, but it hardly matters in my ‘go faster stripes’ wheelchair! (mine is similar to the one below, although the frame is black rather than this fetching lime green model, and I have extra cushions!)

So, what else does John Hockenberry have to say about the ‘wheeliechair’? He goes on to describe is as “an alternative to walking, not some shameful and inadequate substitute”. WOW. i guess I would find that easier to identify with if I saw a Paralympian such as Hannah Cockroft propelling her chair in the street, than I can use this phrase for myself. It’s  different too, having walked  for the majority of the previous 28 years. However, I have to learn to see myself as the “agent, not the victim”. I’m sorry if this sounds like I’m labouring the same point. I find this video, and the words Hockenberry uses so powerful and transformative, we are participating and whatever caused my disability, or that of anyone I see in the street is “way back there, way back at the starting line!” 

This view of the wheelchair, and other ‘aids’ has the power to turn stereotypes upside down. however, some of this depends on the look of a product, and the design of it, as well as it’s function. An organisation called Enabled by Design, for example, feature reviews of products, ‘specialist’, or not. I have read several articles on the importance of the design of aids and adaptations. These of course cost money, which is what Disability Living Allowance helps to compensate for. They should be just that, something which assists us, and more readily available, as opposed to often prohibitive costs, which would enable more people to be agents, and not victims. It is about more than identity, and the way others view us, but also whether aids are ‘sparkly’ enough! I’m all for sparkly chairs!

I’d love to know what you think of the video, how you view disabled people when you see them in the street, or the design of aids in general.

What’s the difference between ‘free speech’ and the need to prosecute?

BBC News – DPP Keir Starmer on social media prosecutions.

It’s well known that whatever we use technology for, and whatever we type is recorded, whether that be text messages, status updates, tweets. There is so much surveillance and such a need to be careful what we say. There is also obviously a danger, that social media could become stunted somehow if the line were drawn in the wrong place. Here DPP Keir Starmer’s thoughts by clicking on the link above.  I wanted to bring it to people’s attention. I bet it will be today’s ‘hot potato though in terms of ‘new’ news, in amongst the awful things that have happened recently. Would love to know what everyone thinks of this story.

The 33 Most Inspiring Photos Of The Paralympics

The 33 Most Inspiring Photos Of The Paralympics.

Apologies for the lateness of this post! However, I felt it was still worth commenting on these pictures. There’s so many “where were you when…?” moments that there’s something for everyone. It’s also I think, the trumphant smile, or act of celebration you see first, before you see the person’s disability. However, some people find that kind of rhetoric harmful, as it somehow normalises the person…. and who, or what is “normal”. It does however subvert the stereotype of disability as something to be feared, to be ignored, or always seeen negatively.

Also there has been so much focus on the triumph, and not just a lot of focus on the legacy. I have seen various paralympians on variuos TV chat-shows and daytime shows. It has also been interesting watching the althletes watching their momewnts of triumph and seeing how they react!

Here’s hoping that in the next few years, there are more of these photos shown. Not just as one of inspiring moments, but as a regular part of sporting coverage, so that triumphs in disability sport are taken seriously,  seen as paralleled to the achievements of those in the equivalent “able-bodied sport.

The place of rest (2)

Beauty from Ashes

Some years ago, I met a wonderful lady called Jennifer Rees-Larcome. She is a renowed Christian speaker and has written many books. She also has a prayer ministry. She has many gifts, one of which is to see pictures in her head. There are differing views in the church of these kinds of things. However, I believe this lovely lady has a genuine gift of seeing God-given visions or pictures in her head. I met her at a women’s conference in the North East of Scotland. Obviously, there were many people who also wanted to meet her.

Jennifer’s Picture

By the time she was on her own, there was loud music playing for some reason. She asked me my name but could not hear me. Instead, she bent her head to pray. She told me something that has helped sustain me in my lowest times. The times I am ill, or feel most single. Her vision was a reminder of a wonderful truth., which I was reminded of yesterday.  This will sound incredibly random, as is typical of me, but I’d just finished watching Strictly, and was just starting a movie while reading the latest challenge from “The write project”. To write for 15 minutes, of absolutely anything that comes into my head.

Here was mine. As it turned out, my fifteen minutes was written about Jennifer’s picture long ago:

Dance dance dance dance out of the pain, out of the tiredness… dance it all away. With You by my side what is there I cannot face, cannot overcome in Your name. The picture Jennifer had years ago, still fresh in my mind. You and me, dancing, twirling, twirling, as though no-one was watching, (as the song goes…) me, beautiful, wearing the finest dress… covers all scars, bags and wheels. Indeed there is no need to think of any of that, for you do not see those. You only see me. Created, as I am, in your image.  You and me, nothing else matters.
I enter that place of rest, place of peace, which I have not found for some days. I see only what matters. All around me is vivid, how could I not see it before? The dewy grass, beauty all around me, the space, the air, the sun… One day, that will all me mine, as You have promised. For now, I see only glimpses. Then, I will see clearly, and none of what matters now will matter then.

The times, at my lowest, I remember this picture, from, when was it, at least 5, 7 years? Suddenly all of this disappears, for all I can feel is the pain. Back to remind me, that the picture in my head is not yet reality. For once the neighbours are silent. No shouting, searching, coughing, screaming. How is it, they are silent, and I am the one who cannot sleep. Doesn’t seem fair. No fair no fair, I want to scream it and shout it, be a child again, someone else take over all of this. So all I have is the place of rest. And yet, with You by my side… You promised, I could have that rest, that peace, so why is it is so fleeting?

Jesus, my Bridegroom

The Biblical Truth of course, is that Jesus is the bridegroom, and I am his bride.  Not because of me, but because He first loved me (1 John 4:19). Whenever I think of this picture, I am free, there is only me and Jesus. One day, as one of the verses in my favorite song “O Happy Day” (the Tim Hughes version!) goes:

When I stand in that place,

Free at last, meeting face to face

I am Yours, Jesus You are mine.

Endless joy, perfect peace

Earthly pain finally will cease.

These thoughts are so precious to me. I’ve had this post half written for a few days now, but have had to heed my own words, and continue to rest. There is so much emphasis placed on “rest” in Scripture. I would also highly recommend my friend @BexLewis article on ‘The Importance of Rest’ which she wrote for Bible Reflections some time ago. I’m off to get a cup of tea, and you guessed, it, some more rest!

The place of rest….

Forced to rest

I have no idea what to write. How to explain my absence. Only a few days, and yet, I have missed writing, this place to empty my thoughts, to feel less overwhelmed. Even if I post about something else, it still helps me somehow be more still. For a time I have had a distraction, my attention is on something else, something other than pain, discomfort, lonliness. 

I have these times where I crash. All I can do is rest. And yet, somehow, that is all I need to do. Not eating, not face-booking… not texting (well, not nearly so much). I prayed in the silence. I could not tell you what I prayed, except for release from the pain, for someone to talk to, as though I had forgotten I have One I can always talk to. I did think of someone though, and when I awoke after texting them, somehow I found my peace.  I haven’t done much with today, and yet, I feel I needed this rest.

 

Strictly dancing? (series number…??)

I did watch the new series of ‘Strictly’. What did you think of the pairings? It;s like Len Goodman said, this year he did not need to ask who people were, for he recognised everyone. It’s hard to believe is that time of year, Autumn. Yet, there is a change in the air. Sunday so warm, so summery. Monday so fresh, so clear, so cold. I love the freshness of that kind of weather. It also gives me reason to wear my wool jacket-cardigan type things. So comfortable. Already some of the favourite things I have ever bought. No chance… for tomorrow (today!) it is to rain… hello reality of Autumn!! For now, am off to eat cracker-bread, the food of my student-dom and drink tea and sleep 🙂

BBC News – The media and the Olympic Games

BBC News – The media and the Olympic Games.

 

There are several salient points in Douglas’ blog, which is what this post is linked to, above. The first, of course, is: What is there to fill the gap? This being Wednesday, with not even the victory parade to draw on for headlines or for inspiration for my next blog post! I was struck by the way the media covered the Paralympic Games… struck by it, and also relieved, that ParalympicsGB, Channel 4, and LOCOG (Seb Coe) among others, had a Douglas says, delivered what had been promised. I thought though that newspaper focus on the games would die down, and it didn’t. I don’t read newspapers very widely; I tend to read the ‘i’ paper most days, glance at the BBC’s homepage, or follow up links to newspaper articles which have been tweeted about, most often on The Guardian.  

 

This next one is a biggie for me: the two Games had become inextricably linked, not just by Locog, but in the public mind. This, for me, as a disabled person, is one of the greatest triumphs, that Paralympians became recognised as elite athletes were taken seriously of course, but also that people deemed it worth watching. Everywhere I went, people were full of it. Had I been watching it? What were my favourite sports, favourite athletes, because some people either knew I was interested in the games, or because part of my impairment is obvious. For those that don’t know me face-to-face, I travel in a whacking great big 10 stone+  electric wheelchair that needs a name! Wheelchair Athlete Hannah Cockroft’s chair is called Sally whereas mine is still a nameless wonder! Suggestions, anyone?!

 

My favourite question anyone asked me about the Games was, how does the endlessly complex classification system work? This is where I got to indulge my inner geek! For the most part, I’m interested in things that a lot of others are not, but this time, my extra-special-knowledge had a purpose. I could wax lyrical about the classification system to anyone who’d listen, or extol the virtues of Giles Long’s classification decoder  called LEXI, sometimes by way of explaining it by describing what I reckon would be my own classification in swimming. What on earth am I going to talk to people about now the games are over? This is the case even with my carers. The games gave me something else to talk about that was neutral and also interesting. I had some interesting conversations with a few carers about the games, but mostly with the famous (or infamous?!) Carer B! 

i voiced my cynicism to the common preconception (or mis-conception) that the Games has done anything to change the Great British Public’s attitude to disability and disabled people. However, as usual, Carer B was of a mind to disagree. She explained how fascinated one of her grandsons was by the Paralympic Games in particular, not really by the way the athletes looked, by was enthusiastic about every world record broken, every medal one, and talked about it and watched it all the time. This, Carer B told me, was evidence the Games had taught children of his generation lots about disability.

 

Again I scoffed, but she said, was was okay for me to be so blase, but that was because of my prior knowledge from my own experience, but that because it had to taught ordinary people about disability, this would in time change attitudes. Those of the generation it was most important to reach. The future policy-makes, movers and shakers, whose minds have yet to be tainted by any other common pre-games stereotypes of disabled people.

 

The Games also, she argued, provided hope to mothers who may have just given birth to disabled children, as it was proof that someone with cerebral palsy, Dwarfism (sorry, Anachondraplasia) or missing limbs could achieve, and those achievements were of just as much value as anyone else’s. For once, I had little to counter her argument with. Lets hope, that even in the longterm, especially in the long-term, she is proved right!

 

BBC News – Benefits changes: Universal Credit system warning

via BBC News – Benefits changes: Universal Credit system warning.

The ‘magic’ of Paralympics 2012 has already evaporated

I am sorry to say, but my cynicism proved correct! Not even a day after the Closing Ceremony, and here are major concerns from charities involved with the most vulnerable people (disabled people included) who risk being harmed through further changes to the Benefits System in the UK. So, Sir Philip Craven, what say you to the way disabled people are viewed now?

When major changes to the distribution of the funding we (as I include myself in this) rely on for mere survival is being carried out in such a way to risk further harm, and yes to some of the athletes too. At least to those who are unable to work, as Disability Living Allowance, (soon to be PIP) isn’t included in Universal Credit, and so for the moment those athletes who earn a decent wage wouldn’t be affected by this. Depends whether they earn their full income, or if the state tops it up or not, as I think they’d be affected by the changes.

The idea is all well and good, but any idea of a “Universal Credit” is just what it says on the tin, i.e. a one sit fits all approach, worrying charities that people with specific circumstances will lose out. I would wholeheardely agree with their concerns. It is a nice but will not work in practice, as Gingerbread (who work with single parents, state in the article.

There are so many other issues. Even if the IT system is ready in time, and even if people can access it, can access their payments and that part of system works fluently for those who have the IT skills there are still other issues. For example Citizens Advice Beurea warn

the Universal Credit system “risks causing difficulties to the 8.5 million people who have never used the internet and a further 14.5 million who have virtually no ICT skills”.

Oh. my. Goodness. Given that this alone presents a massive challenge and it is by no means the singular problem with the proposals, Ian Duncan Smith should be called to adress people’s concerns. There so many other flaws in the proposed system. Really too many to state and full discuss here. Please read the article for yourself.

Regarding my cynicism I refer to a discussion I had with two friends last night, which is appropriate to include here. I’m afraid to say we weren’t swayed by the “isn’t everything wonderful” attitude of Messers Coe and Craven. 

One final word about paralympics 2012 The speakers did not half talk a lot of nonsense. Lord Seb Coes gems of wisdom included the lines: ”we will never think of sport the same way, and we will never think of disability the same way..” How is he so convinced that years of discrimination and so on has been turned around in te course of a mere 11 days. He’d have to start by changing goenments attitudes to both disability and to disaled people. Another man with high expectations of disabiled people is Sir Philip Craven who talked about a small boy who had been reading Treasure Island with his mother, who asked him about the main character, expecting her son to sy the man was a “pirate, instead he said “athlete” The implications of this, is to assume that all who are disabled in some way are ‘athletes’, or can become athletes which is far from the case.

He also committed a further gaffe , which to me was worse than the first, as he claimed the magic of the Paralympic  Games would last  for an eternity, what a lot of RUBBISH!! Sorry to sound particularly Bible bashing, but he really has not thought this one through.My thoughts seemed to be echoed by my friends, including Partakers_Dave  and, and Pam who said she was “worried that such amazing feats will be expected of all disabled [people]in a way that will be even more disabling”.

Disabled people are made to feel the truth of this already as we’re expected to be ‘superhuman’ when, what for some of us are  ‘superhuman feats’ like being able to work, find and maintain a job is expected of all of us who are out of a job, whatever the reason may be even if we cannot look for a job due to being sick, disabled, or both, never mind having the energy or resources to be a full-time athlete or attempt similarly great things.