The Gryphon (December 2016)

What I thought would be a regular Wednesday afternoon turned into one of the most educational and eye-opening days I’ve had in a long time. Sitting at a table with the Disability Action Society at Balcony, I’m not even looking down at the extensive list of questions I had prepared: I’m just listening, trying to understand as much as I can, to take in as much as I can. And I’m slowly coming to the sad realisation that before this day, I knew absolutely nothing about disability, disabled people, or the issues that they face. That these issues are important, and unfair, but nobody, except disabled people themselves, talks about them.

It’s currently Disability History Month, a month designed to celebrate how disabled people fought to gain their rights and recognition, to educate people on what kind of activism and action had to take place before the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, on how they fought to gain access to healthcare and become deinstitutionalised. However, Disability History Month can sometimes be misinterpreted. Inga Reichelt, a lovely, incredibly well-spoken and articulate young woman, is sitting across from me trying to explain this to me. “There is so much political action behind disabled people’s rights and recognition”, she says, “but whenever they do any kind of awareness week or campaign it’s just about ‘oh, let’s become more aware about this condition!’”. Inga doesn’t believe this kind of awareness will change much. Emily James, sitting next to me, agrees: “Making people aware of our different conditions doesn’t mean they will necessarily value us as human beings”.

Mostafa Attia, a sweet, soft-spoken man, explains that awareness can actually be very valuable, if it’s focused on creating awareness on how society and the way it’s structured is negatively affecting disabled people. “It takes time to change our culture, how we look at disabled people, and how we think about barriers – whether physical, social, or barriers relating to stigma… We need more awareness, we need the community to get involved, and we each have a role to do”.

The Disability Action Society is structured around the Social Model of Disability. Peadar O’Dea, a Disability Studies student, explains the concept to me. He says that this model defines the word ‘disabled’ not in the sense of the impairment the person has, but in the way that person becomes disabled through society’s inability to accommodate to their needs, and provide support. Peadar’s disability, therefore, is not his visual impairment: it’s the barriers imposed on him by society, like the inability to access ATM machines. Inga explains it beautifully: “It’s about social oppression. Even if people think that a particular condition is very disabling, I would argue that it’s never the condition, it’s the world that doesn’t take account of the condition and its needs.” It’s also about the stigma surrounding disability. Inga has cerebral palsy, and she explains that while it can sometimes cause a lot of back pain, many people without cerebral palsy get back pain, too, but they are not constantly portrayed as suffering. “I think what I suffer from the most is people’s negative attitudes, their low expectations of me due to my condition, the lack of wheelchair access, the lack of accessible public transport… All that type of stuff is what we would call disability.”

Ultimately, this is about basic human rights. It’s about providing everybody with the same access to education, healthcare and job opportunities. And although many of these rights do exist in legislative form, this does not mean they are exercised. “Rights without resources are a cruel joke”, Inga says. And it’s true. Steve Graby explains, “even if there’s no law saying disabled people aren’t allowed access to the community, if someone can’t get the support from social services to have a personal assistant to help them get out of bed in the morning, get their clothes on and get out of the house, then, realistically, they don’t have the right to access the community”.

When you can’t enter the Edward Boyle library because of constant construction work blocking the wheelchair access; when you can’t reach the location of a meeting because of a broken lift; when you don’t know if you’re able to participate in certain societies’ activities because they don’t provide the right information you need to know if you’ll physically be able to withstand them – do you really have equal rights and equal access to education as non-disabled people?

If my afternoon with the Disability Action Society taught me anything, it’s that this is just the tip of the iceberg: this is an incredibly complex set of issues that have to do with history, cultural values, the language we use to talk about them, and lack of awareness, to name a few. We need to start thinking about these issues, however, and, as Mostafa says, getting involved and playing our role as best we can. To me, it seems quite simple: we need to start treating disabled people’s issues with the same level of concern that we treat other minorities’. A good start would be attending some of the society’s events that they’re putting on for Disability History Month. I would strongly encourage everyone to have a look at the Leeds University Disability Action Society Facebook page to find out what these are, attending some of these events, and beginning to engage in discussion. Because we shouldn’t just leave it all up to disabled people. We all need to do this; we all need to talk about it. It’s the only way progress has ever worked.

(See the original article published on The Gryphon here )

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Top Sandro / Bag Malababa / Trousers Zara / Sunglasses Rayban

I love Madrid because it's one of the few places in Europe where you can visit in the middle of September and be confident that you won't need more than a pair of sandals and a sundress. Madrid in September feels like summer, yet it's not Madrid in August: too hot to sleep, to eat, to walk, and most importantly, to wear long trousers. Madrid in August limits your choices. Madrid in September, however...

So I made the most of it. This terracotta Sandro top was purchased at an outlet, on sale (!!), and has hearts sewn into the lace pattern - basically, there's not much more I could ask of a top. And the bag (bless this summer's wicker trend) is my new obsession. If you don't know it yet, check out Spanish bag brand Malababa - but apologise to your wallet for me first.

Love,

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The Gryphon (November 2016)

Image: BoiseWeekly

“Women: tweet me your first assaults. They aren’t just stats” tweeted Canadian author Kelly Oxford on Friday 7th October, after a video of Donald Trump making sexual comments about women had been leaked. “You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. Anything”, Trump said. Oxford’s tweet continued, “I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my ‘pussy’ and smiles at me, I’m 12”.

The response was a sea of tweets that flooded the internet, and continue to do so today, two weeks later. Under the hashtag #notokay, women share their experiences. Stories of crowded trains and buses, uncles and teachers, music festivals and clubs. A woman’s doctor asks her if her nipples and genitals are pierced. A 13 year-old girl’s classmates keep flipping her skirt up and laughing; when she speaks up, her teacher tells her it’s not okay to lie. A woman remembers being groped at a crowded Walmart, at Disneyland, in the playground. These are only the less disturbing tweets. And yet, scrolling through Twitter, the most troublesome part remains how unsurprising it all is: how naturalized and common these experiences seem. Because while it’s true that, yes, not all men are rapists, or gropers, or sexual assaulters, all women, sadly, seem to have been assaulted at least once in their lives.

By reading about other women’s experiences under the name ‘sexual assault’ you, as a woman, realize something. You’ve been telling yourself that these experiences are normal, and they’re okay. “The scariest thing about reading @kellyoxford #notokay thread” one tweet reads, “is realizing how many times I was assaulted as a young girl and didn’t even know”. We’ve been taught to ignore it. However, it’s always there, in the back of our minds, a little bit of ash that lights up into a spark: but it has the potential to become a fire, when women like Kelly Oxford bring out the matches.

Reading a tweet about a young girl getting her bum slapped by boys at her school brings to mind my own school days: being eight, nine, ten years old at the playground and wearing spandex shorts under my uniform because boys liked to lift the girls’ skirts up. It was just the way it was. And so the teachers recommended wearing spandex so your underwear wouldn’t be exposed for everyone to see.

Fast forwarding to the near future, I’m reminded of an incident a few months ago, when my younger sister messaged me at 2am A man had approached her at a bus stop, completely naked, touching himself. I think of all the nights out when I’ve been groped on a dancefloor. I think of how my male friends feel the need to “pretend that they are my boyfriend” to stop the heckling. How incredibly sad and pathetic is it that the only way to stop sexual harassment is to pretend that you ‘belong’ to another man?

Although the main reactions from men on Twitter, from Trump himself, and from the men within Trump’s campaign have been apologetic and empathetic, they all seem to share a common theme: as fathers, husbands, and brothers, they were personally disgusted. It seems that many men, in order to stand up against sexual assault, feel the need to emphasize their personal relationship to women in order to sympathise with their situations. Through mentioning personal relationships, some men somehow try to legitimise their public sexist behaviour: yes they have said a few sexist things to unknown women, but as long as they treat their wife respectfully it’s ok, right?

Before women are daughters, sisters, and mothers, we must remember that they are their own individuals. They are being sexually harassed, first and foremost as women, secondly as daughters or mothers or sisters. Regardless of how men may feel, this is something that women need to learn to speak up about: and it is something that men, more than anything else, need to listen to. It’s 2016 and women feel the need to walk through relationships and life in the same way they walk through the street at night: looking over their shoulder, fast-paced, heart pumping, powerless.

And it’s not okay.

(See the original article published on The Gryphon here)

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When the travel bug hits you, there's no turning back. This time, the travel bug hit me hard, like a cold that you think is only going to last a week but then it lasts... 3 months, I guess. I say 3 months because that's how long I decided to stay in Peru this summer. That's like the whole entire summer. But I guess that was a terrible analogy. Seriously, if you have a cold that lasts 3 months please go to the doctor ASAP.

Oh, Peru. Let me tell you: if you have not yet been, go. Book the ticket. Get on the plane. Land, and go get some ceviche. Or any kind of Peruvian food for that matter. Just for the food, it will be worth it. And then stay, because there's SO. MUCH. MORE.

Peru has got it all. With its rich, beautiful history, it's full of museums and archeological sites that will leave you in awe. Its landscapes, whether you're bird-watching in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, hiking in the the Andes, or surfing in its beaches, are equally breathtaking. Its people are kind and lively, and always up for a party. And please don't make me mention the food again, my mouth is already watery . Oh my god, the food. If you asked me to choose one dish I honestly wouldn't be able to. I'd be like Sylvia Plath , starving to death beneath a fig tree. Except my fig tree is made of endless seafood, and buttery avocado, and stir-fried beef, and 300 kinds of potatoes.

Let me take you on a visual journey through this magical land:

I'll be counting down the days till I get to visit this beautiful country again.

Love,

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