To Be Or Not To Be (Disabled).

At the time of writing I’m reading the sci-fi dystopia novel Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. Originally I saw the Netflix adaptation, & enjoyed it so much I couldn’t help picking up the book it was based on. I certainly haven’t been disappointed.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is set in a future where people can be downloaded onto a USB-drive called a stack, which can be inserted into a new body. This essentially makes people immortal unless the stack is damaged, but unsurprisingly due to the high cost of the procedure, only the higher classes have the privilege of being able to jump from body-to-body multiple times, never having to worry about the Grim Reaper.

While the story is an action-packed thriller involving the “murder” of a rich man who is revived in a clone of his old body, it also raises many unanswerable, philosophical questions about identity, gender, sexuality, crime, & morality. The relationship between the protagonist & one of his associates is somewhat complicated after he inherits the body of her old boyfriend, all the while fighting for his own girlfriend to be revived in a new body too.

One thing that isn’t touched upon in the story, however, is how this system would affect disability. It is understandable that many people would not choose to be revived in a disabled body, but does that mean disabled bodies would simply be tossed aside like trash? If the body you were born in becomes disabled, would you choose to have your stack moved to a functional body?

Quite frankly if I had the option to have myself uploaded into a non-disabled body, I wouldn’t even need to think about it; I would do it in a heartbeat. While using a wheelchair is often complicated & inconvenient, it isn’t this that makes me wish I wasn’t disabled. The sickness itself is the problem for me. There isn’t much I wouldn’t give not to be constantly exhausted, constantly in pain, & often having to fight nausea, dizziness, itching skin & eyes, & the inability to concentrate. Even as I sit writing this my eyelids are sinking & my head feels heavy.

I can’t help but wonder how I would feel if for some reason I couldn’t walk, but was otherwise perfectly healthy. Would I still want to swap bodies? Disability is an integral part of my identity & has given me as much as it has taken, but I still think I’d want to change bodies. If nothing else, fending off the constant questions as to why I hadn’t chosen to change bodies would be reason enough. Besides, given that many businesses manage to make excuses for their inaccessibility now, in a world where disability could be fixed by switching bodies, there wouldn’t be a hope in hell of equality.

Then it boils down to the really tricky question; is it ableist to cast aside disabled bodies like trash? If ableism is defined by prejudice against the disabled, then logically it would seem that this is ableist. Yet I believe that I’m not the only disabled person who would choose to do exactly that, which would make us ableist against ourselves.

At the end of the day this future is highly unlikely to happen, as the number of problems caused by body-switching immortality would probably lead most governments to ban it outright if it ever became a possibility in the first place. It is somewhat useless to debate these questions when they will never arise, especially when we could be putting our time & energy into solving current issues. Still, it is undeniably interesting to think about these questions & how we would choose to answer them

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.

Killing the Red Lion.

Every so often the local news informs us that another traditional English pub has had to close its doors for good, having gone out of business. Invariably the article only briefly mentions those who have just lost their jobs, & instead focuses on blaming the big brand names like Wetherspoons’s & Greene King for the death of English tradition. In the closing paragraph the reader is urged to ditch the Wetherspoon’s in favour of their independent local (the most common name for such a pub being the Red Lion, if you were wondering about the title), and this is something I would willingly do if I could get through the door.

Leeds city centre is home to a multitude of pubs, some of them being from corporate chains, & some of them being independent. All of the corporations are accessible to some degree, although some are better than others. Surprisingly, one of the best for access is an actual boat that someone decided to put on dry land on a hill, & build a kitchen on one side. All of the independent ones have great stone steps in the doorway, & not one of them has a portable ramp (having sent in someone able-bodied to ask, of course). Naturally, any money I spend at a pub therefore goes to one of the chains & not the independent ones. I physically cannot support the traditional English pub.

There are other reasons why the traditional pub is a dying breed. The variety of food that one small kitchen can produce is limited in comparison to the supply chains that provide for chain businesses, so different dietary needs cannot be catered for. Small, independent brands often have less well-trained staff, so the risk of cross-contaminating allergens between ingredients makes it difficult for someone with allergies to know what they can safely eat. Prices can be higher too, as large companies are more able to buy in bulk.

There is also a culture that emanates from some traditional pubs that can make women, people of colour, & members of the LGBTQ+ community feel uncomfortable. It’s not uncommon to hear sexist & homophobic remarks in these environments, & anyone who wants to drink something other than the horribly bitter beer on offer can be ridiculed for it. While this behaviour is becoming rarer, I’m far less likely to experience it in a Wetherspoons.

It sounds obvious, but excluding entire groups of people is bad for business. If you compare the number of white, heterosexual, able-bodied men to everyone else in the world, they become the minority. While I’m not overly fond of corporate culture, if that’s the culture in which I can live a relatively normal life, I’ll accept it.

In 2019, no one can be blamed for the death of the traditional pub but themselves, with their refusal to acknowledge that the world has left tradition behind for good reason.

Weekend on Wheels: Brand New Show!

Due to some technical issues, I am replacing my Saturday Streamer livestreams with the pre-recorded show Weekend on Wheels.

It will be uploaded once every 2 weeks on a Saturday on my #youtube channel, & the content will be roughly the same. I may even get round to editing them into more professional-looking shows!

I do plan on sporadically releasing other videos in between, so make sure to like, subscribe, & hit that notification bell so you never miss a thing!

Just go to YouTube & search Diary of a Disabled Person, or if you’re on a PC, click the YouTube logo in the column on the right of your screen.

Diary of a Disabled Person presents Weekend on Wheels. A brand new show every other Saturday, only on YouTube!

History Over Humanity.

When challenging inaccessibility there are two words that every disabled person dreads; “listed building”. The government keeps a list of buildings they deem to be historically significant, usually because they have features that are now rare thanks to modern architecture. As soon as you try to touch a listed building, historians start to wax lyrical about how it’s aesthetics should be preserved for future generations. If a meteorite landed on a listed building, they would probably try to sue NASA.

As buildings age & fall into ruin, & as trends change, well-preserved older buildings become treasures. Often they can give us information about the way people lived throughout history, & what sort of conditions they lived in. Many buildings are impressive simply due to size or ornate architecture. They are beloved, iconic in the local area, & thanks to disabled people being institutionalised for much of history, they are often completely inaccessible.

A historian will argue that it is important to preserve historical buildings for the education of future generations. For the most part, I agree. However, most able-bodied historians seem to think that ramps, automated doors, and lifts ruin the aesthetics of the building & take away from the experience. They then use this as a legitimate reason to tell an entire demographic of people that they can’t come into that building, but they’re also not ableist & totally support equality. The notion that a building has better rights than a human being is laughable, yet it has stood in the way of accessibility for decades.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing of this whole debate is that listed buildings can easily be made accessible. The University of Leeds is full of listed buildings, most famously the E.C.Stoner & Roger Stevens buildings, which are hideous concrete memorials of brutalist architecture. Yet every single one of those buildings is accessible. The ramps & lifts do not take away from the aesthetics of the place as they are carefully designed to be hidden, sometimes in plain sight. The Clothworkers building has kept its old wooden double doors on giant hinges, that opens at the touch of a button.

Outside of Leeds there is Bolton Abbey, a centuries old ruin in the middle of the countryside, that is accessible. York Minster has multiple accessible entrances & automatic doors, not one of them being a detriment to it’s appearance. It might be pricey, & it might take a little innovation, but historical buildings can be as accessible as any other.

In all honesty, I strongly believe that “listed building” is often used because it sounds nicer than “that costs a lot”. Perhaps they think they’re softening the blow by telling us that it isn’t capitalism getting in the way of our humanity, it’s history. Perhaps it allows them to have a clean conscience because it’s somebody else blocking accessibility.  Whatever the case, “listed building” is nothing short of an excuse for blatant ableism. What saddens me most of all isn’t even that this ableism is legal, but that there are disabled people out there who not only accept it as an excuse, but actively support the decision to be excluded.

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.