Below are examples of the inappropriate comments made to me or the disabled members I was representing. I had a silly rule when diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis – that I could never exaggerate the symptoms or make anyone else feel bad due to the disease, I had. If I broke either of these rules, I would deserve to get worse – silly self-defeating rules, but when I was told I had M.S., I did become a little fundamentalist in how I waged war against it! So in the examples below, I’ve added what should have been said.
Someone with whom I worked well from my diagnosis onwards was forever dropping things, using any excuse not to speak to me or even catch my eye. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I was still playing by the rules above – You’re getting very clumsy; you might need that checked!
“Have you just given up on directing Jane? Said at a training event for script editors by someone notorious for saying judgemental things without knowing the circumstances. No, I’ve just been diagnosed with M.S., so I’m looking at more office-based solutions; if that all right with you? Had they then apologised and said they didn’t know, I should have given them a lesson on behalf of the whole department. Yes but you have a reputation for this – why not just stop saying judgemental things about people you don’t really know.
“You don’t want to be made a special case of now, do you.” – I can’t tell you just how “Special,” how honoured I felt to be diagnosed with a disease that could put me in a wheelchair – who needs Oscars when you can have M.S. No I want my employer to fulfill their legal obligations, to behave the way they say they do.
“The BBC has excellent policies on dismissal on grounds of health.” Are you seriously expecting me to consider that, barely three months since diagnosis – do you want to get rid of me already? Is this an example of the support I should expect? It was.
“Don’t mention the disease you have; just say that you are looking to add another string to your bow in terms of retraining.” Why should they lie? They’ve done nothing wrong. Do you think they should be ashamed of it?
“Tell people the truth about the disease; otherwise, they will think it is terminal and therefore not worth training you.” So if someone does have a terminal disease, that’s it; they have no value; they should just go off and die?
“Well, it’s a bit like having a baby, isn’t it? And some women give up their careers when they have children.” Wow, what do you think I should name my ‘baby’? Should I get it christened? Oh, the joys of rearing a disease!
I know people who are really ill.” Do you need a letter from my neurologist to explain what a chronic progressive disease is?
“We’ll find a way to make it work” Then the “problem” is delegated, and nothing happens. The ignorance about disability is still so overwhelming that a formal complaint could still be the only way to get colleagues to understand and comply with the reasonable adjustments needed to protect the disabled person. However, disabled people still worry about alienating colleagues – you would not believe the extent to which disabled people still tiptoe around able-bodied ignorance. They might respect you more if you tell it like it is. Always get reasonable adjustments agreed upon in writing and what will happen if they aren’t honoured. Also, get it agreed on what you want colleagues to know about why there are reasonable adjustments.
“I know what you want. You just want to be treated like any other script editor” (on BBC Drama’s most stressful show!) Sure, if you want to put me into relapse, which it did.
“I know your condition is in remission; you would not believe the problems I’m having at work with someone who won’t accept that their condition means they can’t do their job anymore? That sounded like an implied threat – are you threatening me? If at work, I would probably follow this up with an email to that manager’s manager, copying in HR, recounting what happened and its implications. It marks their card if they try to make good on their implied threat.
“You know, I’ve always admired deaf people who go scuba diving” But surely deaf people, with BSL sign language, are at an advantage – what’s to admire? Why do you feel the need to admire disabled people?
“Jane, you are very lucky with your M.S. If you’d been born in Germany during the war, they would have gassed you.” Yes, and I’m sure you would have been the first to offer me a lift to the gas chamber.
As you can probably tell, I am a fan of taking the implications of the “microaggression” to their obvious conclusion; for example, were I black and someone said, “Where are you really from?” I’d say, “Are you trying to make me feel I don’t belong here, that I’m not British even though I was born here?” It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. The safest voice I’ve found for challenging someone is to imagine that I’m the little boy telling the King he has no clothes on. I used to tell members that few things are more powerful than the “innocent” question. Breathe, stay calm, don’t be rushed, and always be polite. The more you dislike someone, the politer your should stay – it can keep you safe. If there’s a long awkward silence, great, it belongs to them; let them deal with it. Watch Eddie Izzard’s sketch of the canteen worker versus Darth Vader – that’s now you do it.
#Disability #HiddenDisability #Microaggression #DisabilityDiscrimination. @eddieizzard