Words on Fire: Carly Findlay

Words on Fire: Carly Findlay


I’d like to recognise the Aboriginal
elders past present and future. I’d also like to acknowledge the disability
activists who have paved the way and are still paving the way for equity today. This speech contains ableist language used as examples only. No need to laugh – that’s ableist. For examples only. How to be a non-disabled feminist. Inclusive, diverse, intersectionality: they’re all buzzwords right now, but so often disability is
forgotten when these words are used. Last year I was removed from a Facebook group
for being too political about disability I’ve actually been removed from two more
since for this very reason. That’s a win. I had answered a question from one of the
group’s founders – should their daughter make a dramatic change to her hair, that
that’s a big part of their identity. My answer of course was based on my
personal experience. It was polite, it was encouraging and empathetic. I said that as
someone with a disability and a visible difference I’m always so proud when a
young person chooses to make themselves stand out in some way. I said that
telling someone they might regret changing the way they look or looking
different from their peers is limiting. I added that long hair is often the mark
of a feminine woman, and thought back to when I planned my wedding and found very
few photos of short-haired brides on Pinterest. I ended my comment with how my
scalp went patchy when I was a teen and it sometimes still is now because of my
skin condition, and I was so self-conscious of what others thought of
me. Innocent, huh? A week after that post I was removed from the group and I was
unfriended by one of the founders. I questioned it and I was told they don’t
think the group is for me, and I was too political about disability which
made people uncomfortable. My voice, a disabled viewpoint, was shut down. The Facebook group is run by women for women just like me. The members like
champagne and fashion and occasionally complain about their husbands not
picking up the slack around the house. Many of us want to do good in the world
improving for future generations. Some group founders and members went to the Women’s March wearing their pussy hats. They call
themselves feminists, yet they excluded a disabled voice from the discussion. I got wondering whether other people were removed as well – white, middle-class,
Jewish, married, mothers, heterosexual, black, gay women – I checked. My friends and
others who have expressed similar views to me are still in the group. This might seem like a social media fallout – a minor disagreement between two women – but I
believe it symbolises much more. The microaggression reminded me that the exclusion of disabled people still happens: excluded from employment, from
buildings, placed in group homes and segregated in schools. Some disabled people are paid a measly $2.79 an hour in Australian disability
enterprises. We’re excluded from female relationships because our disability,
politics and pride are too confronting. We’re excluded from feminism. Another example – a few days before the Sydney and Melbourne Women’s Marches in 2017 I was
contacted by two organisers asking how to make the marches more accessible. I
gave them suggestions including asking a woman with disability to speak, but I
was disappointed that accessibility appeared to be an afterthought. Disability was left off the agenda at women’s marches around the world and
accessibility was hard to come by. American disability activist and my
friend Emily Ladau wrote for The Establishment last year: ‘But I shouldn’t
have to be explaining this – especially not to people who deem themselves
leaders in social justice.’ Side note – and probably thanks to a variation of this
talk I gave last year – I was invited to speak at the Women’s
March this year and I spoke about these very issues. The squeaky wheel gets the
grease, right? These two examples showed yet again that disability is the forgotten part of diversity. So here’s what I want to tell the non-disabled
feminist: disability is part of my identity. It’s just like race, gender,
sexuality and religion – it cannot be separated. I am a proud disabled woman
and I will speak about it. I will make you uncomfortable with my politics and pride. The personal is political. You will not silence this part of my identity. This is who I am. You cannot be a good disabled feminist if you’re not
intersectional. That means you must include, listen to and value disabled
people in your conversations, policies, writings, conferences and protests. It hurts when we we’re excluded, even from Facebook groups. Progressive, inclusive and diverse people still use ableist slurs. I’ve seen prominent activists from marginalised communities use the ‘R’ word and
derivatives of, and not realise the impact. The way people are talking about
Donald Trump right now – calling him a moron, mocking his speech and diagnosing
him with a mental illness or intellectual disability – is ableist. It suggests that people with disability are like him. It paints disabled people as
less than. You can’t fight discrimination with
discrimination. Stop consuming media about disability that’s not made by us.
It’s more often than not othering, exploitative and oversharing. Headlines on tabloid articles about people with ichthyosis – the skin condition
I have – scream ‘Snakeskin Woman’, ‘Alligator Boy’ and ‘Mermaid Baby’ – I guess that’s cute
but, you know. And everyone’s raving over The Greatest Showman at the moment, but
it’s ableist and exploitative. Hugh Jackman’s character, PT Barnam, ran a
freak show for fuck’s sake and audience’s hearts were warmed. Were you even
really watching? Disabled people are making our own media, we’re our own
voices and we’re all over your social media, so why aren’t you noticing? Don’t make disability and accessibility an afterthought. Make sure we’re on your
panels and behind the megaphones at your marches. Plan and budget
accessibility from the start – it will keep the cost down and your disabled
attendees will not have to be exasperated, chasing it up over and over again. Pay us for lived experience and advice. I recently experienced yet
another refusal of payment for me to talk. The reason floored me. I was told by a disability worker in a group home that
they couldn’t justify my fee because the disabled people they originally
asked me to talk to did not have the intellectual capacity to understand a
formal speech. Just digest that for a moment. They didn’t want to pay me
because they thought the other people supposedly in their care couldn’t
understand. The low expectations that this worker had of their clients and for
me was disgusting. If I was paid, I’d want to donate my speaker fee back to the
disabled people at the day centre so they could spend it on professional
development. Invite us to be involved in the media. Centre our voices. If you’re writing a story on disabled people, don’t forget to talk to us – seriously, it’s so
overlooked. Ask us on Q&A, The Project, The Drum, Insight, The Bachelor or The Bachelorette – hey Rosie, you can review it! Nothing about us, without us. Don’t expect us to answer every question about our disability to satisfy your curiosity. From being asked how long my life expectancy is and whether I can fix
my face from strangers to being told the false likelihood of me passing on my
skin condition to my children by my mother-in-law, you name it I’ve been
asked an inappropriate question. Include statistics about people with disability
when talking about and preventing violence. Disabled People’s Organisations Australia states that people with
disability experience higher rates of violence than the rest of the community.
90% of women with intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted
in their lives and 60% before 18. Children with disability are three times
more likely to experience abuse than other children and 45% of people with
disability live on or below the poverty line. To end, I’m not asking you to forget the array of important issues you already
support, but to remember us and ours in your activism. You support Black Lives
Matter, you champion marriage equality, you want fair pay for fair work, you want
to close refugee camps, you’re calling for a halt to climate change, you want
violence against women to stop, you want equal representation in the media, you
attend the Women’s Marches and so do I. Don’t forget to include, listen to and
value your disabled sisters in your feminist movements. Are you really
inclusive, diverse and intersectional, or are you just reciting buzzwords? Thank you.

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