The Australian Federal Election campaign is now in full swing and “Scotty from Ableism” has lit up the internet because he is “blessed” to not have “children with disabilities.” Understandably parents with children who have disabilities and the rest of the disability community are shocked and outraged. What does that make us? The Cursed Ones??
There has been a huge outcry about the insensitivity of the remarks and many have been quick to declare that ALL children are blessings. Advocates such as Dylan Alcott and Grace Tame have made some brilliant comments about the blessing that their own disabilities have made in their lives. Meanwhile Scott Morrison’s Coalition colleagues have jumped to his defence. Senator Hughes blamed the disability community’s “rage machine” and Simon Birmingham actually used the word “fortunate” to describe families who have no personal experience with disability.
So not only are we apparently “cursed” but we are also “unfortunate” and any hurt and offence we feel is our own fault because we are too angry. People and families with disabilities have a right to be angry when they have been ignored, excluded from many parts of society, and let’s not forget the brutal treatment, exploitation and institutionalisation from the not so distant past and that is still happening today.
Morrison has since apologised for the comments, but only just very recently and only because of the huge outcry and political pressure. If he had any conscience at all, he would have apologised immediately. First thing this morning he should have called a press conference and apologised and clarified his comments. But he didn’t. Instead he doubled down and tried to defend his comments. Either he had absolutely no idea about what his words meant, or worse, he did and he didn’t care. You know, we would have accepted that it was a poor choice of words and a severe case of foot in mouth. After all, this is the kind of insensitive rubbish that people with disabilities have to put up with all the time. But the time it took to finally get an apology shows it was just a political act and not a genuine attempt to properly engage with the disability community and understand why his language was so offensive.
The words “blessing” and “fortunate” to describe people without disabilities continue to uphold the negative narrative about disability. For too long disability has been seen as tragedy, a burden, and something to be excluded, shut away or even eliminated. It is clear that Morrison and his coalition cronies need to have a lesson in Disability 101.
Disability is a natural aspect of the diverse human experience. It is not a tragedy. People with disabilities are not burdens. They are not objects for your pity and condescension. They are amazing, unique individuals who just may do things a little differently and doing things differently has led to many innovations and diverse perspectives that enrich the human experience.
Disability is also universal. It cuts across gender, race, class and age. It is a natural part of life that can occur at any time and to anyone. The disability movement has fought for decades to achieve the same rights and privileges that most people take for granted. They have waged a tireless battle to change people’s perceptions about disability and challenge the negative narrative. And still, some people refuse to get it.
In his comments Morrison fails to recognise that many of the challenges for people with disabilities are not due to the actual impairment itself, but are a direct cause of the negative attitudes and barriers that have been constructed by society. When people think they are “blessed” to be without a disability, it means they have swallowed the story that happiness, fulfilment and prosperity can only come with physical, mental and emotional fitness. It ignores the fact that there are many different ways of being, moving, relating, thinking and contributing. And yes, negotiating the NDIS is challenging and equivalent to a full-time job. Public transport and many buildings continue to be inaccessible to people with disabilities. People with disabilities continue to be excluded from the labour market. Whose fault is that?? Who has failed to make the NDIS easy and accessible? Who has failed to to break down the barriers to employment and decent housing?
I consider myself to be blessed to have a wonderful, caring and autistic son. Dan has taught us so much about doing and seeing things differently. He is a happy and helpful young man who loves music and having fun with his friends. But he has been excluded from the workforce because of negative attitudes and assumptions about what he cannot do, instead of a willingness to recognise what he can do. It is not Dan’s autism that is the most challenging part of our life. It is the endless bureaucracy and time-wasting of government departments. And it is the insensitive and thoughtless comments from people that privilege the non-disabled body and infer tragedy and limited value upon a young man with so much to give.
What we need is a government that recognises the inherent value and blessing of every human being in our nation and strives to support each one of them to be the best they can be.