When I am blogging, I have three simple rules. The first is that I must write the blog in 30 minutes. Second, that the blog must be no longer than 500 words and third that I must be making a clear point.
I fear that in this post, I may break the first two of these rules, so apologies in advance dear reader (blame my past as a law student and criminologist – I spent years studying how rules are broken!) For the avoidance of doubt, my clear point is this: that is it ok to talk about disability. This was partly what was behind the very title of this site…I wanted to ‘speak out’ and finally had the means to do so.
This wasn’t always the case though. For years, I kept my disability in an invisible (yet tangible) prison. It was there, and I could see it, but I didn’t know quite how to talk about it. I’ve done some reading about this lately and in his earlier work, academic Tom Shakespeare makes a reference to ‘coming out’ in terms of disability, and from what I do know, there are parallels.
For me though there were two big turning points. A first was going to school. I’ve spoken a lot about education and inclusion in the past, and when I do, I say that it was really down to me to talk about my impairment and how it impacted on me. If I did not, I couldn’t help other people understand it and the impact it had.
As I got older though, I started to build a few walls around talking about it. Ironically in some ways I became really reluctant to talk about my impairment and felt really awkward about it, more so than other people in some ways. Fortunately in some ways, as I got older in school and more familiar (some would say stubborn!) in my surroundings, I just became increasingly focused on school results, girls and other typical teenage pursuits. I moved away from anything to do with disability, fearing that involvement would lead me to being ‘pidgeon holed’ and I didn’t want that.
The imprisoned space got really big, all thoughts about disability and talking about it openly locked away. Something for my private thoughts.
However, then came my second turning point. Before I met Fran I hadn’t dated anyone who had an impairment. She changed all that. When we met (we both have cerebral palsy) it was as if there was a deep understanding that only someone who had the same lived experience could know about. The nearest example I can think of to convey this is sport related. Think of it like both following a football team. You understand how much to support that club means and what it is all about. Nothing else like that understanding ever really comes close.
My ‘imprisoned’ self was freed. Even creating the blog and writing a post like this as recently as a couple of years ago would have been unthinkable. Now, I want to use my own lived experience of disability in a positive way to help break down barriers and increase understanding. This was why I created the blog, and that is why I would encourage everyone to talk about disability and learn more.
It is also true to say that for me, my disability isn’t the sum total of my identity, and nor should it be. It is part of who I am. Just as I have released my disability from prison, I won’t allow it to imprison me now. I’ll always try to maximise the things I can do, whilst acknowledging the limitations I have. But then, who is limitless? If you are, then I want to meet you!!
Prison isn’t ever a space for something as important for disability to be. Keep it out of prison and let us all keep talking about how we can get along together. Talking about disability is not in fact just ok as I said at the outset, but is essential.