Ableism; discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.
Hello, Happy New Year to you all and thank you for reading my blog.
My name is Steve, I am 48 years old and a stroke survivor (2010). I live independently in my own apartment in Adelaide, South Australia and have done so since 2014.
I’ll provide a brief snapshot of what I’ve been facing of late.
Where I live is an interesting setup. I am part of a mixed use community corporation of 48 apartments but unfortunately the Developer has stayed behind in the form of a Lot owner of both residential and two commercial properties.
I have lived at this property for over four years and two of those years were successfully spent as the Presiding Officer (Chair) of the Management Committee.
There have been complex issues encountered by me in the above role in the form of the developer having vested interests and doing whatever he can to protect them. It seems he’s more interested in protecting those who breach By-Laws than those who follow them. All I ever wanted was to contribute to society again.
I have faced my fair share of publicised false, offensive and defamatory statements by this individual in the lead up to our annual general meetings over the past two years - but the following incident has left me reeling.
I put my name forward last year to fill the position of Presiding Officer again only to be met with this particular individuals ableist views and actions.
One day I was contacted out of the blue by our Body Corporate Manager advising that he had received correspondence from the developer who was also the current Presiding Officer.
It was explained to me that the Presiding Officer wanted information he was aware of disseminated to members of the body corporate. Namely the specifics of my disability briefly disclosed to him in confidence by myself in an email the previous year (it’s complicated) as well as during the sales process having purchased a designated disabled apartment.
I thought to myself why am I not surprised that this individual would stoop so low as to target my disability for “political gain”.
It then came to my attention that the intent of the proposed correspondence was that members simply not vote for me because I have an acquired brain injury disability.
I quickly found myself feeling irate when advised that a supporting document was also downloaded from a website that shall remain nameless. That document listed some of the potential health affects encountered by stroke survivors ranging from fatigue to sexual issues.
I guess the reason for my blog is to process how people in our supposedly modern society can think that this type of behaviour is acceptable. How can we, as persons living with a disability, approach and deal with situations and people like this. To campaign against someone solely based on their having a disability is certainly reprehensible at best.
Yes, I did my best to gain legal advice regarding a potential breach of confidence by this individual but this came to nothing.
What frustrated me even more was the response from the SA Equal Opportunity Commission. Their standing was that a community corporation falls outside of the ‘Act’ and in a nutshell there is nothing I can do. Somewhat anticlimactic and contradictory considering their own legal area advised me to lodge a complaint having run through the specifics with them in the first instance. I ask where is the protection of the vulnerable by this commission?
Being strong willed as I am and having a ‘justice streak’ as my mum calls it - I’m challenging this stance so that persons with a disability who live in all types of accommodation are protected against the ableist opinions and actions of others.
I currently find myself in a position of feeling anger, disappointment and betrayal. If I’m perfectly honest I find the individual involved to be nothing less than repulsive. Can I forgive him? That’s a choice.
I have found myself ruminating over what could have been, what should I have said given the opportunity but in the end it was draining and non-productive. Using some techniques and coping strategies learnt via an online course with Macquarie University, I was able to process some of my feelings.
Towards the end of last year I found myself questioning who I am as a stroke survivor. We all know that we change in various ways following a stroke, that we have to learn to adapt. I found myself thinking more and more along the lines of what this situation has taught me. What positive spin can I put on this?
I could go on focusing my attention on this individual and holding him accountable but this could potentially make things worse. I came to the realisation that I simply do not want to become that which I am not!
You often hear the expression of picking your battles but what do you do when faced with the ableism?
Will Karma eventually catch up with this individual? I believe so but maybe not in the form that I might expect and not in my timeline.
In conclusion, we can all do our best to educate people when it comes to stroke survival and living with a disability. Unfortunately though, it appears as though society has a very long way to go when it comes to being accepting of others whether that be based on disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political views and so on.
My particular situation and the ableism that I have been subjected to is disappointing for sure but I will not let it define me nor crush my spirit. Instead, I choose to turn this around and seek legislative amendment to protect those who may not be able to speak up for themselves. We should expect and demand of our law makers that we as persons living with a disability are protected from being further ostracised by society. We shouldn’t be dealing with ableism ‘out there’ but more specifically - where we live.
Maybe one day I’ll thank this guy and remember - you can choose to be the better person!