Ableism, Blog Post, Disability, Disability Pride

We are making progress but its not far enough – Lets not celebrate #Beyoncé for agreeing to change her #Ableist lyric.

Acknowledgment – This blog post is a personal opinion piece of experiences, thoughts and ideas about my own lived experience of disability. I acknowledge these will not be shared by all the community, and expect their rights to have different even conflicting ideas. 

Throughout this blog I use the term ‘disability,’ lived experiences of disability’ and or ‘disabled’ by this term I mean anyone that identifies with a physical, mental, learning disability and/or those with long term, and/or life changing health conditions. 

This website has an accessible feature, that allows different accessible formats by simply clicking on a button labelled ‘Accessibility Menu’ that appears in green on all pages. It will provide you with a number of options to change the appearance to meet your accessible needs. 

This communication has been written by a dyslexic person. If you have any trouble with the meaning of any of the sentences or words, please do not be afraid to ask for clarification. I’m #MadeByDyslexia – expect creative thinking & creative spelling.

July has just finished and with it Disability Pride month. I’m part of a group of OT’s that founded @AbleOTUK an Occupational Therapy Network/Advocacy Group for Practitioners, Students, Researchers, Educators and People with lived experiences of Disabilities and/or Long Term Health Conditions.

Throughout July we used our twitter & instagram feed along with an article in OT news for others to be our allies.  Each day posting out facts or ways you could #BeAnAbleOTukAlly.  Check out this hashtag to see the daily posts.  

We had mostly positive feedback, but at times some of the words we used and ideas we shared were questioned.  

Some struggled with the word ‘privilege’ Cambridge Online Dictionary has several definitions

Including 

An advantage that only one person or group of people has, usually because of their position or because they are rich:

  • Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege.
  • Senior management enjoy certain privileges, such as company cars and health insurance.

A right or advantage that only a small number of people have:

  • At the moment, it tends to be managers or technology-related workers who work from home – it’s seen as something of a privilege for trusted employees.
  • With power and privilege comes responsibility.
  • Be a privilege doing/to do sth It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with you all.
  • Have the privilege of doing sth I had the privilege of studying at one of the country’s leading business schools.
  • For the privilege of doing sth Advertisers often subsidize entire TV productions or movie marketing campaigns for the privilege of featuring their brands.
  • Enjoy/earn a privilege It is possible that the company will one day command a premium rating, but the market clearly believes it has to earn that privilege.

This is something I have been reflecting on a lot

What privilege is? 

What privileges I have?

What impact that has had? 

What privileges others have, that perhaps I don’t?  

At its simplest,  we understand privilege in terms of the rich white male, having more access, opportunities, resources, power and influence over others, and that this position often gives that person in terms of being politically correct, the ability to say and do things that others can not.  

Whatever your political opinions, two examples of recent white men in power come to mind.  Where behaviour that would not be tolerated in the work place. Like inciting people to riot, using racist and sexist terms. Lying to Parliament or breaking government rules of social distancing, are excused or even excepted. 

But the idea of privilege is way more complex than that, there are so many factors that impact the chances you have in life.  I often reflect on my now visible disability (using a wheelchair), being a privilege over when my disability was lest visible,  its the same disability, It just impacts my body differently because of other factors. 

Don’t get me wrong being a wheelchair user has many disadvantages.  Leaving the house is always a challenge, having to plan every trip down to will there be an accessible toilet, car parked at a dropped curb,  to managing the unpredictable behaviours of people you may come across,  some that mean well, but are over helpful, often repeating offers of help even after they have been thanked and told no.  Others that just watch you struggle,  or say things like, ‘should you be out on your own?’ or ‘well done for getting out’.  I have even been patted on the head.  The worst is someone physically getting hold of the chair and trying to move me.  

But when my disability was more hidden, the behaviours were still there, just manifested themselves differently.  From being looked at for using the lift rather than the stairs at work, to agreed reasonable adjustments not being followed through. 

And now I can mobilise on my feet, but prefer to use the chair when outside the home, because, I can go some much further, do some much more and not feel as tired or in pain like I did before.  This choice is questioned,  misunderstood as lazy or even attention seeking when in-fact in terms of optimising my energy to engage in the occupations, I need, want and are required to do makes so much sense.  

OK OK I hear you, what has your ramblings got to do with Beyoncé, well I’m getting to that.  I guess I wanted you the reader to be thinking about privilege in its broadest terms, and have some examples of everyday ableism before I start to dis the idol that is Beyoncé.

The amazing group of women that founded AbleOTUK have become a daily support system,  and our WhatsApp group is a place to share ideas and thoughts for events and projects but also a place we can air our frustrations. 

Today one of the group shared this Guardian article

The article opens with 

Beyoncé has confirmed that she will remove an offensive term for disabled people from the lyrics of her new album, Renaissance, after it was called “ableist” and “offensive” by disability charities and activists.’ 

It goes on to describe a similar incident in June made by singer Lizzo. When Australian writer and disability advocate Hannah Diviney tweeted about the inappropriate use of the word when viral. Resulting in Lizzo apologising and removing the word from her song. 

The term used which is slang for describing a person with cerebral palsy (one of my disabilities) is widely offensive in the UK, however, in the US still appears in more common use.

The story closed with information that The UK disability charity Sense had tweeted their disappointment in Beyoncé used this term, even more so just a few weeks after it already hit the headlines in another artists song.  But later praised the singer for listening to the feedback and agreeing to rerecord the lyric,  it even went on to say “Beyoncé has a history of championing inclusivity,”

Should we join in the praise that someone has listen to feedback and changes something?  Well yes of course,  given the examples of two white men in power above.  Who continue to not listen and not apologise for behaves and use of language that has been harmful.  It’s refreshing to see that others can show a better example and admit their mistakes.

But I was left with one thought, and it relates to privilege. Beyonce I’m sure would be the first to agree she is in a position of great privilege and great power.  I’m no expert but I would imagine when an artist of her caliber releases a new album a-lot of time and resources go in to the marketing of it,  including strategic thinking of the type of messages the album wants to portray.   

When we have privilege, of which we will all have in some way or over others,  its important to recognise this and try to ensure it is used to enhance the experiences of others without that privilege, rather than disadvantage people more.  

The very fact that this word made it on the album, only explicitly shows that the idea of prejudice against those with disability ‘Ableism’, is not yet truly thought of as offensive,  and we still have a long way to go before acceptation and understanding of ablest views, words and options are just as damaging as those consider racist, sexist and homophobic.  

References

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/privilege

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/aug/01/when-beyonce-dropped-the-same-ableist-slur-as-lizzo-on-her-new-album-my-heart-sank

OT News July 2022 pages 40-42

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