Like all of us, I woke up this morning to the horrible news that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. (Slow clap for those who elected him). Everybody I’ve spoken to so far is absolutely terrified of the wider-reaching implications this will have. Acclaimed author and recently turned television presenter Louise O’Neill wrote a long status on Facebook this morning expressing her fear for all people, including women, children and people with disabilities.
Once I saw the words ‘people with disabilities,’ I knew I had to write something in response.
Being an average Josephine on the other side of the pond, I can’t see what (some of) the people of America would see in Trump. He’s rude, obnoxious, racist, sexist, and every other ‘ist’ you can think of. He’s a modern day Hitler, with a warped vision and he doesn’t care who he has to hurt, sideline or destroy in order to reach this vision. But I have to admit, I wasn’t that surprised he was elected. The vast majority of people want change, but many are afraid of what would happen if it actually came about.
Just look at our own situation in Ireland for a second. We had a general election back in February, and everyone I spoke to about it was adamant that Enda Kenny would not get in again. His government made one of the biggest threats to Personal Assistant Services in the history of the State. Cuts made to welfare allowances, the creation of the giant money pit known as Irish Water… I could go on incessantly. And yet, our only alternative was to vote Independent (which I did) or to vote for Fianna Fail, who led the country into recession in the first place. (Whoever voted for Gerry Adams needs their heads examined).
So here we are again, and what are we going to do about it? Have a good old moan. Rant about it on Facebook. Write a blog.
After all, we can’t change the world, can we? We’re only small, insignificant people. So why bother, right?
This is exactly how I felt in work a year and a half ago. Working in the area of Independent Living for seven years and hearing about how hard people had to work to reach their goals. How many obstacles stand in their way: negative attitudes, inaccessible environments, fear of losing their benefits and their medical cards. I started to wonder how we could change all this, and my head hurt. And the more research I did into the discrimination against people with disabilities, the more disheartened I became.
Whether we are interested in history or not, our personal history, and our wider social history, are the cornerstones of who we are. And for me, as a disabled person (a person disabled by society) it was only when I became aware of this history that I developed a clearer understanding of what I was up against. Hitler’s T4 Projekt, which involved the ‘mercy killing’ of an estimated 700,000 people with disabilities, was a horrific act, but yet people with disabilities continue to fight for their basic rights, to live in their own homes, to do whatever they want whenever they want, to be recognised as equal. Elsewhere across the world, disabled women across the world continue to be forced into sterilisation, for fear that they will inflict more disabled children upon society. This is perceived to be a bad thing, because society dictates that it’s a bad thing.
Now that I know about all of this stuff, I can’t unlearn it. Born during the wrong era, in the wrong country, this could’ve been my fate. Who knows – the way the world is going it still could be.
As many of you know, I’ve been trying to write a novel for over a year now, and the theme of the novel is exactly what I discussed above. It’s about a woman with Cerebral Palsy who’s been moulded by society’s low expectations of her, about her struggle to express her individuality in a world that wants to define her, and how, like all of us, the past has left a permanent impression on how she sees the world and her thought processes. Can a person ever be separated from their past?
Can our society?
The majority of us want a fair and equal society, but unfortunately this may have to happen in spite of, not because of, those in power. From the moment we are born, we are part of a machine. Some of us are seen as the core components, others merely the decorative extras. Some still are perceived to be the silicone packets that come in handbags – no-one seems to know what they’re for. We still live in a world where physical ability is prized over everything else, where impairment is seen as a weakness, where medical advances and robotic legs seem to be favoured over inclusiveness and equality for people with disabilities.
So Donald Trump is now the president of the US, and I think that instead of tearing our hair out we need to remain strong and calm, be we people of colour, women, men, children, people with disabilities. We need to look to the future and strive to achieve the world we want to leave to our children. We need to stand together, exercise love and understanding, and never settle for anything less than acceptance and equality. Change will only happen when we instigate it
After all, history should be used as a lesson. And if we don’t learn from it, then we shouldn’t be surprised when it repeats itself.