More disabled characters please

TV and film offer a major way to reflect upon the world and society. Unfortunately it’s still quite a surprise to see a disabled character in the background of a scene.

When I was a kid I remember freaking out when I first saw someone disabled in a film. I was watching Me, Myself and Irene and the kid in the wheelchair was on screen for around two seconds in total (once in the middle of the film and then in a photo at the end.) It felt pretty crazy to me though. Hollywood knew people like me existed!

Whenever a disabled character is depicted on screen the whole film is usually dedicated to them, and it’s usually a shortcut to an Oscar win for some reason (not that I have a problem with this.) The entire film is dedicated to the struggles that accompany disabilities, which is fine as long as it’s done accurately and has deepish characterisations. The big sin in film is when you just present the audience with a stereotype of disability. The character is either this miserable, self-loathing guy to be killed off for being evil, or this sensitive angel who just wants to inspire people 24/7.

I prefer it when disabled people are portrayed as somewhere in between. Inside I’m Dancing has always struck me as a nice balance. There’s a disabled character in there who’s an asshole but for a good reason. Then you have other characters dealing with the stigma related to disability, more than the disability itself. There’s a moment or two in there that punch me in the gut but in a good way – I’m reminded that I’m not alone in dealing with certain obstacles.

And that’s all you want, really: something to relate to. Of course I can relate to infinite amounts of non-disabled characters available, but it’s nice every once in a while to see specific situations that you yourself have experienced because of your disability.

In my opinion there aren’t enough instances of disabled characters whose disability is secondary to the plot. This is one of the zillions of reasons why Breaking Bad blew my mind when I first started watching it. Aside from his cerebral palsy Walt Junior is this normal kid whose main issues source from his father. His disability is never signposted in the show. He’s just presented as a teenager who happens to be disabled. Character is established first, the disability second (if at all.)

I hope a lot of writers/directors take inspiration from this approach. There’s no rule in place stating that all disabled characters must be tied down and plagued by their disability. They could have bigger problems at hand surrounding relationships, money, jobs.

I don’t know. Let’s just have as many disabled characters on TV/film as possible. Don’t just do it to fill one of those dumb diversity quotas where you discriminate against men for being too white and male, do it to make the point that disabilities exist all over the place in so many different forms. Just by having an extra in a wheelchair do something small like purchasing an item from a shop, you’re showing that we’re just normal people doing normal stuff.

Of course things are just getting better and better, with more directors willing to push the envelope. The Sessions is a film about a man with polio who decides to hire a sex surrogate to fulfil his needs. Finally a film showing that disabled people can and do have sex (or so I’ve heard.)

There’s actually way too many films to touch upon here – My Left Foot, The Untouchables (v. good), The Theory of Everything… Just keep them coming. And make them good.

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Paralympics

I love it when the Paralympics are on. For two straight weeks, disabled athletes are in the spotlight.

I still remember the atmosphere surrounding the London Paralympics. Up until that point, the Paralympics always seemed a last gasp effort next to the main show, but in 2012 they built it up as something special, as a revival and a sort of enhancement of what had come before.

It was great. Channel 4 dubbed athletes as “superhuman”, encouraging viewers to see chairs, false legs and other aids as positive  things, like add-ons in a video game.

What really hit me was hearing viewers cheering the athletes on. Suddenly disabled people were being supported and sometimes booed for their efforts or lack thereof. Athletes were being shown as people full of desires and passions and also bad tempers when it came to losing.

When the hype of the London Olympics was over, I nervously expected people to ignore its younger sibling show, but it became an event of its own. It still appeared on the news (albeit slightly below the headline slot), you could stream a lot of events, and Channel 4 gave it a fair amount of coverage (although they still needed to fit Deal or No Deal in there.) At one point the view count for Channel 4’s coverage reached 6 million. Madness.

Partway through it suddenly dawned on me: what a great way to change attitudes to disability. Disabled athletes were being portrayed as heroes. Kids could look up to them. Adults could watch their performances in awe. People who for some reason think every disabled person unintelligent or miserable would see their presumptions collapse before their very eyes as athletes joked around, laughed, cried and bulged with pride.

Surely loads of things would change now. Every building would have good access for starters, because what if a local hero wanted to get in? And attitudes would definitely change. Everyone once ignorant would now realise that, more likely than not, I had a brain, passions and wasn’t very scary at all.

Not really. But I’m sure plenty has changed outside my anecdotal evidence. The Paralympics is awareness done right. You don’t have to head to any meetings or listen to any talks. You just have fun watching sport and athletics and acknowledge for yourself how disability works. Let your curiosity run wild. Look at the stumps, the wounds, the spasms. Now get to know the people behind such aesthetics. See how they’re just like you, albeit more fit and determined perhaps.

Rio did an OK job last year. Arenas filled up more as the event went on. There were money problems and Rio apparently doesn’t have anything to boast of when it comes to accessibility, but overall it wasn’t bad. I hope the sense of competition continues into the next one as Tokyo try to top Rio in terms of scale and style.

Fake news?

Lately there’s been a new buzzword flying around: fake news. If you told me a few months ago that politicians and celebrities alike would all be discussing the issue of fake news I’d have been delighted.

You mean the public will be informed/reminded to stay skeptical of dishonest sources? Great!

As with everything these days, however, the topic is coming out misinformed and twisted to promote a political agenda.

John Oliver blamed the election of Trump on fake news, with the logic that all of his supporters are too dumb to know the difference. He then went on a tirade on the media for showing too much of Trump’s speeches. I guess they should’ve completely ignored him, that would’ve been fair.

Whenever the politicians mention fake news it’s often done to dismiss the other side’s arguments. Don’t listen to these people everyone, they’re part of the fake news network!

What really irritates me is that newspapers are getting in on the act too. You know, the type that publish bullshit daily. They’re now getting on their high-horses about drawing the line between fact and fiction.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both entertained the notion of banning certain alternative media for spreading supposed nonsense.

I just shudder whenever I hear that the government is thinking about monitoring the news, of seperating fact from fiction on our behalf. I don’t deny that the mass of information available to us nowadays demands higher levels of scrutiny, but at no means do we need to start banning or censoring information.

Here’s an idea. Instead of blaming the internet as usual, why don’t we look at ways of creating a society of better critical thinkers? Why don’t we examine the educational system and see where it’s failing?

When are Western governments going to drop their obsession with restrictions?

Spain still thinks I’m 12

Last year I wrote about my frequent conflicts with purchasing alcohol in Spain and naively thought growing a beard would be enough to make things easier. Well, it doesn’t.

I swear there’s this universal law within Spanish hotels where you cannot trust disabled people or their families to know whether alcohol is safe for said disabled person to consume.

I was in this really nice hotel for a week in January and for every evening meal we’d order a bottle of wine. I shit you not when I say every single day we’d have to tell the waitresses that I needed a glass too, and no I didn’t want fucking water I wanted wine.

This still remains one of my biggest pet peeves with having a disability. It’s so hard to feel like an adult badass. Hell, just feeling like an adult would be nice. Spain obviously has problems when it comes to disability. They build drop curbs opposite high pavements. I got a photo at a Spanish zoo only to realise after purchasing it that the photographer had awkwardly tried to crop out my wheelchair via photoshop.

Attitudes in the UK are better on an accessibility level but still generally shitty when it comes to the social side of things. The other day I was at a club when these two smartly dressed women sat nearby. My eternally optimistic brain thought, I wonder? They put me off in about 0.6 seconds: “Aw, what’s his name?” They were actually there to chat up my carer.

What I try to do nowadays is visit places where people are more likely to be open and semi-intelligent – theatres, talks, hippy festivals, disability sports… Oh dear I’m struggling to think of more.

I don’t know. I keep returning to this topic, don’t I? The topic of “People generally suck.” I keep yearning for a world where there is no need to feel discomfort or uncertainty towards disability. One issue I have with Britain is that people seem hung-up on what is and isn’t an appropriate thing to say and do. Unless you’re close friends, few people are open to discussing sensitive topics – sex, the legality of certain drugs, immigration, Islam (although slagging off Jesus is fine.) This bleeds into a nervy approach to disability. What should you do? What mustn’t you say? Etc.

Meh, whatever. I have some friends. I have some acquaintances. It’d be cool to have more discussion with strangers, though. And it’d be brilliant if I could buy wine in Spain without getting dirty looks.

Fed up of so-called liberals

I never put my full-support behind any political parties without first checking their policies, but I would say that I’m generally centre-left with most of my ideas. Or so I think I am.

I don’t know about you, but for me the word “liberal” means freedom and progress. Most of all, in my view, it’s about maintaining an open mind and thinking objectively about ideas.

The definition seems so contorted these days that it may as well mean the complete opposite. Liberal has become a bit of a dirty word to my ears, and not in a good way.

You know who calls themselves liberal? The seemingly thousands of idiot SJW students swarming American campuses. They cry over “unsafe” ideas and get triggered by an infinite amount of “offensive” words.

You know who calls themselves liberal? The Canadian Prime Minister who thinks it’s cool to place gender above skill level when it comes to employing people. If you’re a woman, congratulations – you’re much more employable than a dirty stinking mam. Bonus points if you’re not white (probably).

You know who calls themselves liberal? Places like New York, where you could be fined thousands for referring to someone using an “inappropriate” transgender pronoun.

What is up with this world? Seriously. The SJW crowd are the ones who really get to me, a bunch of university students FIGHTING AGAINST free speech. If I recall the book correctly, the world within 1984 was brought on by a corrupt, manipulative government. In real life its the civilians themselves who are actively pushing for communist law. And isn’t university supposed to be about seeking new knowledge through conversation and debate? Not if said debate topics are deemed too sensitive or offensive for discussion.

It’s kind of scary because if universities keep bending over to these restrictive agendas the self-righteous students within will soon be our future government, a government of politicians who think jokes are a form of traumatic ear-rape.

Over the course of Brexit and the Presidential Election I watched quite a lot of comedy programs, US ones in particular. It may sound silly, but comedy can be a great way of finding truth in the world. That’s what the best comics do, in my opinion. Although mostly liberal, great comedians take shots at both sides of the political scale in a bid for a better, more reasonable world.

Not this time. With Brexit, all I could find on TV were Remainer comics labelling all would-be Brexiteers a bunch of bigots and racists. It was uncreative, unfunny and madly inaccurate. Then came Trump. I used to watch John Oliver’s show thinking he stood for honesty but he gave Clinton such a let off during the run up – as did pretty much all the late-night shows – that I lost confidence in him. I get it, Trump really, really, really sucks but don’t go painting Hillary as some flawless Goddess because very few will buy into it. Hillary owns a lot of TV channels, it seems.

Just after the result I hoped that die-hard liberals like John would at least ponder the hows and whys of the situation but what did they do? Label every Trump supporter a piece of shit because the only reason you’d have to vote against Shillary is that you’re an angry misogynist who wants to keep women oppressed and supposedly held back.

It just seems to me that mainstream liberal media judges ideas based on which groups they come from – if you’re part of a “oppressed” minority, you cannot possibly have any bad ideas (it would be racist/xenophobic/ablest etc to suggest differently).

Rather than asking themselves “Is idea X an objectionally good thing?” they seem more concerned with “Will I come across a good person if I support idea X?” For example, I’ve never seen a mainstream news report on any of the terrible incidents associated with Black Lives Matter, such as when quite a few members went on a march shouting death to all cops. Because BLM portray themselves as an anti-racism group, we’re just supposed to assume that they cannot do anything wrong.

If the ideas come from a black community, they must be good and shouldn’t be questioned.

If a bunch of extreme man-hating feminists say that there is an oppressive patriarchy draining the life out of them, they must be right and every man should apologise and pay.

Of course transgender people are above everyone else when it comes to giving and taking offence.

Of course white men are scum of the Earth.

Of course wheelchair-users should be allowed to barge into whoever gets in their way (watch this space).

Donald Trump will never do anything right.

Those black teens who kidnapped and tortured a mentally disabled Trump fan did nothing wrong (I guess skin colour trumps mental disability on the minority sympathy scale, at least when mixed with Trump).

Even writing this I’m wondering whether I’m coming across as a racist, Trump-loving, Muslim-hating sexist pig. I promise you I am none of these. I just want the mainstream left to calm down a bit. Stop with the identity politics and the word games and the policing of ideas.

We should all be fighting for free speech, not against it. We should scrutinise all ideas in the same rigorous and objective way, regardless as to whether they come from Nigel frog-face Farage or our nice Muslim neighbour. Everyone has the ability to come up with pretty good ideas, and quite a few have an inclination towards bad ones. We just have to listen to each other and discern the good from the bad, the bad from the workable.

Be adult. Be civil. Be my type of liberal. And if you think that was a cringey rhyme, you obviously despise the disabled.

 

P.S. This brilliant man actually sums up my feelings on this topic better than I ever could. I was so relieved the day this video came out: finally here was a comic honest (and kind of brave) enough to speak the unfiltered truth!

I am an Islamophobe

The world is becoming too soft. We’re so concerned about being nice people these days that we’re ignoring reality. In my view, this explains the spread of the term ‘Islamophobe’ *gag*.

For a while, many angry dumbasses labelled every Muslim a terrorist. Now a group of dumbass hippies have jumped to a new extreme, confusing people with ideas. Apparently nobody is allowed to criticise Islam anymore, perhaps the most brutal religion in the world.

Muslims are people and should be treated and judged as individuals. Islam is a religion which contains both good and disgusting ideas, and all ideas should be up for scrutiny in the west. This is what free speech is about, remember.

I can’t believe how commonplace the ‘I-word’ has recently become. It made an appearance at the presidential debate for goodness’ sake. Part of me likes to think that the majority of people who use it mean ‘prejudice’, but I’m not convinced that that’s the case.

After the terrible Orlando shootings gay people across America were hailing Islam as the religion of peace. Why? The Middle East has a long, long way to go when it comes to gay rights, and that’s putting it stupidly mildly.

Why deny reality to be kind when you can just use common sense instead? Of course not all Muslims are terrorists. On the other hand, most terrorist acts today are carried out by Muslims. Like it or not, the Quran contains a lot of awful advice, and those who follow it are just as Muslim as the loving father exclusively teaching his kids to respect everyone. Sorry, but it’s true. We can’t keep calling No True Scotsman on this.

Radical terrorism is a complex problem to which I have no answers. What I can say for sure is it won’t disappear if we pretend it’s not there. We can start by reclaiming the word Islamophobe. It’s perfectly natural to be afraid of and to want to criticise scary ideas.

Reasons to vote for Hillary

1 She’s not Trump.

2. She’s a female. This really really matters for some reason. In fact, it’s one of her best attributes when comes to being the next US president. Forget about her obsessive lying, her corrupt activities, the fact that she probably should be in jail. If you vote for Hillary, your vote will make history.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s taken way too long to get a female president but I won’t be celebrating at all come the results. I have no hope in Hillary, I have no hope in Trump. What little hope I had in humanity and rationality has been all but crushed over this election.

So let’s just get these four years over with, shall we? Let’s just get through this and hope the already faltering idea of free speech isn’t too damaged by the end of it. God knows parody is already dead, pointless. How can you successfully parody this election? What would be the point?

Ignorance towards disability

Last week I competed in a disability sporting event. At one point I glanced around the room and thought, “God, I feel so average here.” So many people with a variety of disabilities. A woman driving her wheelchair around using her chin. There were oxygen tanks and speech devices.

Yes, I’d have to do or say something drastic in order to stand out here. And because everybody here either has a disability or knows someone who has, they tend to talk directly to me. In fact I expected people – many strangers – to address me. It’s a strange feeling.

Whenever I meet someone who actually talks to me like an adult and judges me by my actions and not my disability, I end up wondering about the source of their open-mindedness. To use a cheesy phrase, what enabled them to ‘look beyond the chair’? In my experience, it’s not the default mindset. I used to think it had something to do with intelligence until I entered college and then university. In university a student studying mechanical engineering assumed I didn’t know how to cross the road and so gave me step by step instructions. He spoke to me like a child while discussing the intricacies of sex and drugs with my carer. It was up to me to prove I was actually quite smart, but you could recite the full works of Shakespeare at this guy to no effect. Many experiences like this showed me that you can be smart at a complex subject but totally fail at simple logic (what was I doing at university if I had the IQ of a six year old?)

I think most of it comes down to life experience. For better or worse, our childhood affects the way we see the world. Every parent should shove their child in front of a wheelchair or something, get them to interact with someone disabled. Of course this assumes that the parents themselves aren’t ignorant or scared of disability. Reduce and eliminate any fears before they can grow into ignorance. Also, let’s have more disabled people on kids’ TV please. Sometimes it isn’t straight forward but let’s not get into that now (spoiler: adults suck).

Scooters for Hire

When I was in Spain last year, everyone seemed to be driving hired scooters around. This local shop was offering the chance to use an electric scooter for up to an hour.

Loads of middle aged Brits were riding them around for a laugh, the vehicle constantly stop-starting as they tried to work out the controls.

I wish I found driving my wheelchairs such fun. I equate it to walking or driving a car; do it everyday and it becomes a necessity, though I do enjoy manoeuvring my 4×4 chair down narrow uneven paths.

Maybe in the future they’ll be hiring out those walking robotic legs, enabling me to do some backflips or something more useful like flick the v at those steps that would’ve otherwise cut my walk short. I’ll probably have to queue up though because the abled-bodied will be wanting a turn, the pricks.

Driving chairs on autopilot

I’m starting to realise I’m not good on autopilot. I have a little electric chair that I drive around the house. Since I use it everyday my brain assumes the subconscious is in control and so focusses on other stuff, daydreams.

Two days ago I drove full speed into a cupboard, cutting my knee on its metal handle. Then later I rushed the transfer onto the chair and was fortunate to fall face first onto the seat’s cushion. Now today I’ve reversed straight into a cup that was on the floor, splitting it in half and spraying glass across the floor.

I need to slow down, be more mindful of what I’m doing. It doesn’t help that the chair’s speed button is broken and is stuck on max. You get cocky driving around indoors when there’s less risk of running people over, yet there are more than enough objects and tight turns for me to worry about. Overconfidence can backfire on you sometimes. I feel invincible until I slam my knee into a cupboard.