It was a normal Wednesday night for me as a Year 12 student, Pauline. I was caught in clouds of notes and study as I seem to always be, these days. I was taking a quick break and scrolling through my Twitter when I saw this from the absolute legend that is Kurt Fearnley.
Heaven forbid, kids experience a full spectrum of life in the classroom. They may develop empathy or tolerance. Obviously lacking within PH. https://t.co/nFSPCkoeWL
— Kurt Fearnley (@kurtfearnley) June 21, 2017
This made my heart stop for a second because that phrase “spectrum of life” sounded like it had a lot to do with kids like me.
I should now take this moment to introduce you to a few facts about my life because then you might understand why comments like yours aren’t easy to shake for me. As I said, I’m a Year 12 student, with 12 units, doing the highest level of English possible, juggling three major works, having been at the top of all my classes since Year 7, six years ago. This set of facts is merely an attempt by me to set you up in your mind with the picture of a girl with a strong academic record and a thirst for knowledge. Oh, by the way… perhaps the most relevant fact but by no means the most defining is that I have a disability. I am a 17 year old girl in a wheelchair, with Cerebral Palsy.
I did a quick Google (to find context for Kurt’s comment as whilst I know he is a fierce advocate of our community’s rights, he seemed fired up unusual for what I had thought was a relatively quiet news day) but to be honest, Pauline, when I found the cause of his comments, not only did I feel he was remarkably publicly calm and restrained but I felt as though the air had actually been physically ripped from my lungs.
I wondered what on earth could have possessed you to make such a misinformed statement about the lives, intellects and aspirations of children with disabilities?
When I was first born, the doctors gave my parents a deeply grim diagnosis and by way of this what seemed like an unsettling and dark future; they told them, I would never walk, talk or feed myself, a girl stripped of all independence whose brights sparks many people would fail to notice. A well meaning individual at the time asked my uncle if he thought my mum and dad would place me in a home or institution, because he probably couldn’t possibly fathom how he personally at least would find the strength needed to do what my parents have done without complaint, little reward and an insane amount of energy for just shy of 18 years. That’s a big commitment, Pauline as is the commitment to have any child but for a child with a disability, disorder or other greatly-life impacting condition, there are layers of things no able bodied person can comprehend until they’ve been directly influenced by it. You will never know the depth of mine or my loved one’s lives which involve dodging bullets of ableist discriminatory bigotry like the ones you so casually fired a few days ago in Parliament.
You made a point of calling out the fact that kids with disabilities drag others down, and do not have a willingness to learn, nor should they do so in a mainstream classroom. I will say there are some individuals for whom mainstream life is not as easy nor is it particularly feasible but you have to understand Pauline, that these decisions are NOT made lightly nor are they made with the intention of hampering the lives of others; instead they come from places of desperation for inclusion, normalcy and a grit to do whatever it takes for various definitions of success and happiness to be achieved. These things should be decided on a case to case basis.
However, we all know you weren’t talking case to case. We know you have a habit of tarring people with the same brush and making generalisations that can be dangerous and damaging. We have seen you do it consistently over your years in the public eye and I hold no doubt unfortunately that you will do so again. But you should know, autism and other disabilities or conditions do not have a one size fits all stock standard appearance. The spectrum for autism in particular is wide ranging. I have three questions:
- Do you have an Iphone or any other Apple service/device?
- Have you ever used a Windows computer?
- Does the theory of relativity mean anything to you?
These questions are all linked by the common thread that the visionaries behind these creations which influence so much of society’s makeup in 2017 are rumoured to have been at various places on the autism spectrum…
So tell me, do you still feel like people with disabilities/conditions don’t want to learn? Do you still stand by your allegations that we drag others down? Your refusal to apologise despite this highly emotive response from MP Emma Husar tells me you do.
People with disabilities face so much stigma and complexity in terms of being seen, heard, felt and represented. Your comments as a representative of our nation’s government scream ignorance and a mindset lacking in empathy and compassion. I’m going to extend the olive branch then, (which I’m almost certain you’ll refuse) of being quite happy to educate you and show you the reality of my life, the personal importance I place on my education and the strength of my ambition for myself. That goes for anyone who might be reading this in fact because I’m not ashamed to be who I am and I won’t let people who are discriminatory and misinformed or just plain nasty make me feel any differently!