My Precious.

While I can hardly claim to be an expert in psychology, I have picked up one or two interesting concepts throughout my studies & my work in medical research. One concept that particularly resonates with me is the Golem-Pygmalion Effect, & certainly plays a key role in the modern age of mental wellbeing.

Put simply the Golem-Pygmalion Effect is the idea that negative thoughts lead to negative outcomes, & positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes, a notion that will be familiar to anyone who has had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The Golem part refers to anthropomorphic creatures made of mud or clay brought to life to aid people, but becoming increasingly corrupt over time according to Jewish folklore. They represent the negative effect. The Pygmalion part refers to an ancient Greek sculptor who allegedly carved a figure so beautiful he fell in love with it, as you do. This represents the positive effect.

Quite often people manage to inflict the Golem-Pygmalion Effect on themselves. Ever wondered how the people auditioning for contests like The X-Factor have managed to convince themselves that they have the voice of an angel, when in fact what comes out of their mouth is more akin to a horse trying to yodel with a sore throat? Pygmalion effect. The person who believes themselves to be completely unable to understand maths, & gives a ridiculous answer to a simple problem just because the numbers panic them? Golem effect.

However, we’re also capable of inflicting the Golem-Pygmalion Effect on others. The teacher that tells a student they have absolutely no chance of passing, however hard they work, often acts surprised when that student fails their exam, but in reality they laid the foundation for failure by discouraging instead of helping a student. The prison warden who believes all of the inmates to be the scum of the Earth without a chance of redemption, will act surprised when the same people return to their care only months after release. While in both cases the failings cannot entirely be blamed on either the teacher or the guard, the Golem effect is undeniable.

Nor does this psychological phenomenon apply to individuals only; whole populations can be affected. A large amount of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, & of course ableism, stems from the Golem effect. For centuries women were told they could do neither the academic nor physical things men do, so unsurprisingly they rarely did, & the same applies to BIPOC (black & indigenous people of colour).

Society believes that disability means that we can’t do things. We can’t go to school. We can’t go to work. We can’t be independent. We can’t do sports (in my case this has nothing to do with the disability; I was rubbish at sports long before becoming sick). These perceptions then mean that inaccessibility is common; why be accessible when disabled people can’t do the things able-bodied people do anyway? It’s no wonder that disabled people have so much difficulty finding suitable employment when employers believe us to be unemployable.

The Department of Work & Pensions is also so overrun with the Golem effect that I wouldn’t be surprised if employees are required to move around the office in an awkward crouch, communicating only in expressions of preciousness. They believe disabled people to be fraudulent as a default, & go to great lengths to find the slightest piece of something barely worthy of the name “evidence” to back up their assumptions.

The Golem effect is a mask for oppression, often sub-conscious but ever-present. I believe it explains a lot of discrimination experienced throughout human history, & may allow us to understand the thought processes behind prejudice.

So, how do we combat the Golem effect? I would say with the Pygmalion effect. Promoting the positive success stories of various minorities, not as inspiration porn, but to obliterate the negative stereotypes that humanity clings to. It is, however, important to remember that the Golem-Pygmalion effect is a balance. Go too far towards the Pygmalion effect & every disabled person will be expected to be a Paralympic gold-medallist with a PhD to boot, a notion which could also do significant damage to the community. Perhaps the ideal solution would be not to have any expectations at all, & to leave it up to the individual as to their strengths & capabilities.

Building Accessible Bridges.

Whenever I have to challenge someone about doing something ableist, such as parking on the pavement or blocking an access route, almost always the culprit tells me it isn’t ableist. Usually this is because they didn’t intend to be ableist, yet it is widely accepted that accidental racism, sexism, or homophobia is still discrimination. Then comes the excuse that they could never be ableist in the first place, because their mother-in-law’s sister’s ex-husband’s cat from 10 years ago once used one of those cute kitty wheelchairs & only had one eye. It is rare that these people apologise, and if we’re being honest, they’re just going to repeat that behaviour over & over again, building up an increased hatred of those self-entitled disabled people who keep challenging them along the way.

During face-to-face interactions it’s impossible for me to hide my anger & frustration that yet another needless obstacle has been placed in my path, both literally & figuratively. However, it’s significantly easier to hide my true emotions behind carefully crafted words, making online interactions somewhat calmer. It is a far more conscious decision to write a sweary insult than it is to blurt one out in the heat of the moment.

With some careful thought, it’s quite easy to pick apart someone’s argument to show them why it’s hypocritical or illogical. Asking someone to specify exactly what they mean by each part of their rapid-fire tweet often brings to light things such as the different interpretations of a particular word or phrase, or where someone has obtained their facts from. With a decent back-and-forth going, & a willingness to have your own statements analysed & questioned in the same way, it is relatively easy to set up a good debate. It is at this point that I realised that marrying a philosophy student may have had an effect on how I win arguments.

That said, some people are never going to listen to you, no matter what evidence & logic you put before them. Here’s the thing – in these scenarios, they feel exactly the same way about you. It can be difficult to remain patient, & I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t given someone the short shrift online for their ignorance, but it is important to remember that they find you as infuriating as you do them.

Humans are argumentative by nature, and even in an ideal world they would almost certainly find something to fight over. However, you’d be surprised how quickly barbed insults can flourish into healthy debate, and another connection is made. Trying to teach others to be tolerant & understanding of disabled people, or any other minority, isn’t about burning bridges. It’s about building them. And now I sound like some wise old wizard who has a white, bushy beard stretching down to their knees.

What Came Before.

Given that the title of this blog is Diary of a Disabled Person you could be easily forgiven for thinking that discussing my life prior to disability is somewhat irrelevant. However having had many conversations with able-bodied people who accidentally discriminated against the disabled and pleaded ignorance, I have been able to reflect on my own actions before disability was a factor in my life.

The saying that “you never imagine that something like this could happen to you before it does happen” is clichéd, but it is also true. Before a virus decided my brain tissue looked like a tasty meal, disability was something other people had to deal with. Of course had you asked me, I would have thought myself to be highly inclusive and non-discriminatory, a result of my ignorance. I realise that in my time at school I have probably obstructed a corridor, left someone disabled to struggle with a door, and stepped across the front of a wheelchair without a second thought. I probably spoke to someone in a patronising tone or ignored them altogether in favour of speaking to whoever they were with. I certainly never stopped to consider that I could enter buildings that wheelchair users couldn’t, by virtue of the fact that I could climb up steps. Had I been old enough to drive chances are I would have parked over a lowered kerb. My parents brought me up not to misuse disabled facilities like toilets and changing rooms, but other than that, I probably caused many disabled people a headache or two.

All of these little annoyances that now occur in my daily life I have probably put someone else through and while I hate to make excuses, I would say that most were a result of ignorance. No one in the family was disabled at the time, none of my friends were disabled, and I wasn’t disabled; I had no experience to learn from. This is why I try to have a little patience with others when they simply didn’t know or realise that what they were doing would cause me extra trouble, particularly if they are genuinely apologetic and help me resolve the issue when it is brought to their attention. I will
sometimes try to reassure them that I used to do similar things out of ignorance myself.

There are however, a group of “ignorant” people that I find difficult to deal with. There are those who take exception to me having a problem with blocked access routes, and neither apologise nor help me resolve the issue, often giving me a mouthful of abuse for daring to burst their precious little bubble in the process. Many car drivers will move forwards to clear a kerb drop only to roll back over it once I have passed, leaving it blocked for any other wheelchair users. Others tell me they’ll only be there a minute and to be patient, despite the fact that this attitude can make me late to wherever I am headed.
Then, there are the worst of them all; the people who park in disabled bays, and use their changing rooms and toilets who don’t need to, usually because they want to take their pram/trolley/shopping bags into a larger room with them, and not when all the other facilities were already in use. These people are invariably the rudest and most inconsiderate, and certainly cannot plead ignorance when there are signs everywhere highlighting that disabled people should have priority access to those facilities. I knew better than that as a child, and I know I would never have been that inconsiderate
as an able-bodied adult.
I believe genuine ignorance to be a forgivable reason for accidental ableism. However when people choose to carry on impeding the disabled by continuing to do things they know are ableist, neither apologising nor helping me to rectify the issue or simply disobeying the signs displayed clearly around the facility, I cannot accept ignorance as an excuse. It is these people who are truly ableist and shouldn’t get to hide behind half-hearted excuses to avoid responsibility.

Able to Remember.

Image description: 100th blog post celebratory image. The red text is surrounding by orange stars on a black background.

There are a plethora of reasons some people use as a means to discriminate against others, such as gender, sexuality, religion, race, and of course, disability. Over the past few years it was realised that if each minority facing a particular type discrimination banded together, forming a much larger group tackling all kinds of discrimination, they would have more power and influence due to sheer numbers. As such it is now very common to see people on social media listing all the types of discrimination that they oppose, but almost invariably there is one type of discrimination absent; ableism.

I do not for one second think that ableism is omitted intentionally, simply that it is forgotten or overlooked. Many people assume that the law protects the disabled against discrimination, but the law is all but meaningless when no one bothers to implement it. Others believe that ableism is a relic of the past, or don’t see why the misuse of special facilities or the obstruction of access routes is, in fact, ableism. Others simply forget that ableism exists at all.

With ableism so easily forgotten it is no surprise that issues such as equal access to transport, particularly on trains and aeroplanes, are still such a significant problem in 2018, nor is it surprising that a very large proportion of public spaces and buildings lack wheelchair access completely. Of course, when most courts lack proper wheelchair access including into the witness box, it’s hardly as if suing someone for discrimination is feasible. Therefore the problems go on unchecked and forgotten.

I am convinced that the first stage in the fight against ableism is simply to raise awareness. Over the past few years I have met lots of new people through university and work, and nearly all of them have said that being around me and observing my daily struggles has opened their eyes to the prevalence of ableism in day-to-day life. Many of these same people have told that me that their habits would change; they would be more reluctant to use disabled facilities unless they really had to, and that they would see cars parked on pavements and get angry without me even being there.

Anyone on Twitter may have seen the #JustAskDontGrab campaign led by fellow blogger Dr Amy Kavanagh, raising awareness of how to help disabled people without invading their personal space or inadvertently causing harm. The campaign predominantly focuses on anecdotes and personal experiences to highlight the issue, and uses the Twitter slogan for the benefit of computer algorithms. Seeing the impact Amy has made started me thinking; what if I could do the same to ensure that ableism is included in the fight against discrimination?

The trickiest part for me was coming up with a social media friendly signature, particularly as I didn’t want something that sounded aggressive or accusatory as I firmly support the fight against all types of discrimination too. Indeed when I finally had my eureka moment on my evening commute, I was so engrossed in thought that I almost collided with a lamp post. Thus #AbleToRemember was born. Now all I needed was a launch date, and I could think of no better than Remembrance Sunday itself. While the soldiers who died in the various wars are honoured by this session, those who became disabled in the war are often overlooked, demonstrating my point perfectly.

Whenever I spot ableism being omitted from a list of all other types of discrimination, I will be sharing it alongside #AbleToRemember, and I want others to do the same. I’m not pointing the finger or being antagonistic; I just want to ableism to become as unpalatable as any other type of discrimination.

Image description: Able to Remember info-graphic reading "Are you able to remember? Follow my Twitter campaign to raise awareness of ableism @WheelsofSteer. #AbleToRemember".

Park Life.

If anyone ever tries to tell you that immigration is destroying Western civilisation, you might want to show them this blog post. I’m not just saying this because the extra publicity would be nice, although that is true. I’m saying it because I have solid evidence for the contrary.

Jarred and I were having a picnic in the local park, making the most of the rarely-seen sunshine which was beginning to sink below the rooftops of the inner-city buildings. The warmth remained however, broken only by the light breeze that fluttered past every few minutes. I was relaxed enough to find the old wooden bench we were perched on comfortable.

Image description: a picture of the park. There is a lawn, beds of roses, trees, & benches all visible in front of an old building overlooking the park.

It being such a pleasant evening the park was full of many people of different races and ages, the majority of which were enjoying a picnic similar to our own. There were even two girls with blonde pigtails and pink dresses running around with a puppy that were a Hollywood cliché for all that is good and innocent, although just the puppy would have been fine by me. There was also an elderly man walking alone, balancing precariously with two walking sticks, who settled himself on the freshly cut grass that was making my hay-fever go haywire.

We ate slowly, partly to relish in the summer sun, but also because we were having to keep the pigeons at bay who seemed particularly interested in our picnic. Towards the end of our mea, I noticed that the elderly man was struggling to haul himself back to his feet, and I waited expectantly for the English family sat on the bench next to him to help. They continued to watch from the side lines and just as I was about to nudge Jarred and ask him to go over and help instead, I saw that three teenagers were making their way over to the man having already spotted his predicament. The two boys took an elbow each and lifted him gently to his feet, while the girl bent down to collect his walking sticks and picnic bag, hooking the bag over one handle so it could be carried with ease. The old man thanked them before hobbling slowly away and the teenagers returned to their picnic bench, presumably discussing what had just taken place. I didn’t know exactly what they were talking about because I lack the ability to speak multiple languages, while these teenagers appeared to have a strong grasp of both English and their native Eastern European tongue, with only a mild accent distorting their exemplary English skills.

It struck me afterwards that the three teenagers had helped someone belonging to a generation that was stereotypically derogatory to immigrants, and not only had they had the compassion to help someone in need but they had also put aside those differences to do the right thing. It’s quite possible that those differences didn’t even cross their minds as they clearly wanted to help.

Immigrants are not bad people. I mean, what will become of those teenagers? Just think of the utter madness caused when they go on to obtain a good education or job, support community initiatives, and forge meaningful relationships with those around them. Immigrants face the same low level discrimination experienced by those with disabilities, whether intended or otherwise, and we both end-up facing similar setbacks on a daily basis. Perhaps that is why there is an unspoken, mutual respect between both groups as has been my experience.