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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hello? HELLO?!? - The BADD entry 2008

Ok, so, picture the scene: it's mid-February and I'm sitting in a stuffy conference room in a meeting with the chairs and vice-chairs of the equality advisory committees to my trade union's Group Executive Committee. I'm at this meeting because I chair the disabled members' advisory committee.

It's been a long and decidedly wearing day, but we're drawing towards the end of the agenda now. In fact, the time has come for us to talk about the advisory committee stalls at Group Conference.

When I learn that the Wimmin's Committee is organising a talent show for delegates on the first night of conference, I am Even More Sorry Than Usual that I'm nowhere near fit enough to travel to Brighton myself. However, I rally briefly from this crushing disappointment to make an important point about Stamina And The Disabled Members Ouchy Rep.

I ask the representatives from the other committees to bear in mind that, if the disabled members stall is staffed - as it will be - by someone with chronic pain (yes: wave to the Boy Marmite, everyone...), then simply working at the stall all day will take every ounce of that rep's available stamina. And then some. Which means that, if the rep is invited out for the evening festivities and says that they can't attend, they mean they are physically incapable of attending. They don't mean that they're not sure whether they want to go, but they could probably be persuaded if only enough of you knock on their hotel door and try to win them round. In fact - I go so far as to say - repeated requests that they come with you, accompanied by unsubtle implications that they will be letting the side down if they don't, are actually discriminatory.

It's bad enough, I say, living day to day with massive amounts of pain and the consequent hugely reduced stamina levels. So just imagine how great the rep will feel if you simultaneously

  • leave them with no option but to explain repeatedly and in gory detail exactly why they can't go with you; and

  • remind them of what they're missing when they're lying on their hotel bed stuffing painkillers down their neck.

I then retire from the fray, quietly confident that I have got my point across.

Wrongly, as it turns out.

Weeks later, the draft minutes from that meeting ping into my email inbox. And I find - to my astonishment and rage - that I have been recorded as having raised concerns about the physical accessibility of the venue for the evening entertainment. An issue which, let me assure you, I never so much as touched on in passing.

I am rendered temporarily speechless.

And then I start to swear.

And I conclude that either I was speaking Swahili when I was making that particular point, or the message I was delivering was just so bloody unpalatable that the minute taker's brain simply refused to process it. (And she was sitting right next to me, so it's not as though she might not have heard me. I'm not exactly noted for low volume when I'm speaking. Particularly when I'm impassioned about what I'm saying.)

So. It would appear that physical barriers to access are something which people can get their heads round reasonably easily. Start talking about attitudinal barriers, though, and the shutters slam down. Hard.

I suspect - and I may be wrong - that this is because yer average normie regards physical barriers as being someone else's responsibility to resolve. But they're so convinced that their own attitude is completely inclusive towards disabled people that pointing out to them that it actually isn't is so damaging to their self-image that they just can't allow themselves to hear that message.

I was speaking in a meeting which was devoted to equality issues and to an audience composed entirely of people who believe strongly in the importance of equality. I was speaking to people who recognise that I've been doing this for a long time and know what I'm talking about, and who respect my professional expertise.

And I might as well have been talking to the wall.

So, if my voice wasn't heard in that meeting, how likely is it that disabled people's voices are ever heard in less friendly circumstances when they try to make a polite and reasoned point to non-disabled people about how disabling their attitudes towards us are? Having had a written record of how my own point was received, I have proof that the fact that people nodded in agreement and looked sage at the time had no bearing whatsoever on whether they really grasped the point I was making.

I find the implications of this downright chilling. Obviously, I amended the draft minutes quick smart. But that doesn't even come close to resolving the underlying problem. And, despite having wracked my brains for several weeks, I haven't yet been able to come up with so much as one single, solitary strategy for getting past non-disabled people's conviction that they know better than us whether or not their behaviour towards us is discriminatory.

Yes, ramps and 'terps and not distracting the assistance dog with an open can of Winalot are important. Of course they are. And, yes, it's good that most sensible people in this day and age not only understand that we have a right to these things, but will even go so far as to kick up a stink if they're not provided. But that's access. Not equality. Conflate the two at your peril.

Equality would be if the person towards whom my minor rant-ette was specifically aimed had suddenly thought, "Oh my God. I actually did that. I did. In Brighton. Last year. I was being nice. I thought. But it never occurred to me to stop and think that the nature of my colleague's impairment might have a serious impact on his capacity to come out for a drink with us. Now that I know he felt harassed by my behaviour, I feel dreadful. Well, I've learned something here today". And had thereafter - as the result of that sudden epiphany - genuinely treated disabled people as being of equal value to rather than as being physically, neurologically or psychologically the same as everybody else.

The Editor


Blogger Melissa said...

I am speechless.

And I am sorry.

And I'm glad you're able to ammend the minutes.

5:37 am  
Blogger Wheelchair Dancer said...

I shudder to think at the unwise one who hears not your voice. But seriously, I think the equal and same thing is such an important point. It would be so nice if people would just look back at the things they say and do....


10:03 am  
Blogger pete said...

Asante sana!


10:09 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

WCD: Yeah, I'm not expecting to make a lot of friends amongst non-disabled people with this entry...

I haven't set out to offend, although I can see how that might be the result.

But, like you, I believe the message is too important to sweep under the carpet.

Melissa: thank you. Unfortunately, I'd be very surprised if anyone bothers to read the final version of the minutes, given that they will already have read through the draft to check whether they've been accurately represented.

10:10 am  
Blogger Mary said...

*recognises and nods*

Although, possibly, if people only read through the minutes to check whether or not they have been accurately represented, then odds are no one will ever actually read what was written about what you said anyway, as it wasn't them who said it.

Unless the next meeting is really boring, in which case, they might read the minutes of the previous meeting while ignoring what is being said in the one taking place...

10:28 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Too true...

10:47 am  
Blogger Dave Hingsburger said...

I constantly get told, by those without disabilities, that we with disabilities are 'too sensitive' and 'take offense where none is meant'. That's because they see pity as a generous offering for which we should be grateful. Screw That.

11:22 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


11:24 am  
Blogger Melissa said...

You're probably right that the amended minutes will not be read. But then this leads to two possibly positive outcomes

1) The possibility that other people in the meeting DID understand you, just not the transcriber, and if they don't read the minutes, they didn't read the transcriber's idiotic interpretation of what you said.

2) If possible, I'd suggest a follow up email to everyone who was in that meeting expressing how important your comments on this subject were and how you want to be 100% sure that people understand that what was recorded in the minutes was IN NO WAY what you said.

People will then read what you wrote and either think "Yeah, that's what I remember her saying. WTF did the transcriptionist write? Or, if they have the same faulty comprehension matrix as the transcriber (who might want to be checked for a disability of their own) you have another chance to make them understand. In writing. In large easy to read fonts. With simple words that can be understood by a 5 year old.

1:24 pm  
Blogger Ruth said...

I would love to see a compilation from people with disabilities on committees of what meeting minutes have said we said - and under it what we DID say. Echo WCD on the equal and same thing-oh what an important point to make and how few seem to get that.

3:01 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


Can I just formally adopt you and take you with me wherever I go?

Actually, I'm going to keep my powder dry until Marmite Boy reports back from his experiences at Conference: that'll be the acid test of whether anyone understood the point I was making... ;-)

3:24 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


Yes, I'm sure those minutes would make depressing reading.

I think the equal-but-not-exactly-the-same thing takes some grasping for anyone who is new to the whole disability equality arena.

For one thing, it's pretty counter-intuitive to the basic level of mainstream messages about general equality.

But, boy, does it need saying!

3:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post.

Thanks for writing this.

3:41 pm  
Blogger Lala!! said...

A very interesting entry! There is a little about "pity" and perceptions of disability within my entry too ! OK then a lot about it I suppose!

Thank you!


3:43 pm  
Blogger RADAR said...

I wouldn't worry about offending non-disabled people, Lady Bracknell. I have disabled friends, colleagues and, most important financially, employers. I had to learn not to give inadvertant offence the hard way, and I remain ever vigilant in case I haven't quite mastered it yet.

Non-disabled people, including me, need to hear what you're saying, Lady Bracknell, and to listen to what we hear even if we don't like it. So damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!


3:43 pm  
Blogger Melissa said...

I'll be interesting in hearing that report. I'd be nice to know if someone was actually paying attention and understood your very *simple* point.

Granted, there can always be a backlash, in that people may assume someone who's disabled wouldn't want (or be able) to go out for festivities, and might think they're doing them a favor by never inviting them along. But there's inviting/including and there's what you describe which is entirely different. In an ideal world people would understand the difference and strike the appropriate balance.

Let's see how your group does ;)

4:05 pm  
Blogger imfunnytoo said...

The attitudinal barriers will be the last ones to come down. Sometimes it is necessary to be blunt.

It's so disheartening when someone puts themselves out there as an official advocate and attitudinal stuff gets in the way.

5:08 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


You're quite right: no-one wants to be automatically left out of any and all invitations.

But there is, as you say, such a thing as taking 'no' for an answer: and that, unfortunately, is what did not happen last year.

If they don't take 'no' for an answer this year, heads will roll. I will not have my committee members hassled by people who bloody well ought to know better!

7:25 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


Ain't it the truth? And those attitudinal barriers are so hard to break down.

7:27 pm  
Blogger Naomi J. said...

Very, very interesting. Also horribly depressing - but that's sort of a given.

7:41 pm  
Blogger seahorse said...

I had to read this several times, shaking my head a lot, for what actually happened in there to sink in. Truly dreadful. And a well-chosen day to highlight it.

9:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we all are born with at least one disability & we can let it make us or break us kwim!
hoganfe handbags

10:23 pm  
Blogger Attila the Mom said...

I find "do-bees" to be a rather perplexing breed. On one hand you want to give them a hug for being so gung-ho, on the other, you just want to strangle the living sh*t out of them for being so freaking clueless. ;-)


Love the post!

6:54 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Damn! It took me ages to write this post, and you've just summed the whole thing up much better in a couple of lines... ;-)

(Note to self: must work on brevity.)

6:57 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dear Lady Bracknell:

Thank you for leading the AB horses to water even when we are too stupid to realize we're thirsty. We need people who can tell us where we're going wrong; so please keep telling us, and maybe someday we can be as able-minded (I hope that term's acceptable) as you.

Neil, in Canada

7:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good entry Lady Brackneel, I am surprised that they didnt think to ask you for your feedback before the meeting instead of just noting your comments down in the minutes. I would have taken offence at that if someone had written my comments down if I hadnt attended the meeting. I wouldnt have minded though if they had asked my permission to write down first though as it would have been good manners to ask me.

I suppose there has to be a bit of amendment though otherwise what said in a meeting wouldnt be understood by others. I understand though, all our meetings at work are very complicated!!!!

2:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, my goodness.

I have to ask: Did you happen to notice if she got anyone else's utterances wrong, or was it just yours?

"Yes, ramps and 'terps and not distracting the assistance dog with an open can of Winalot are important."

This made me choke on a gummy bear. :)

10:20 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Oops, sorry!

She wasn't the most accurate minute-taker in the world but, yes, it did occur to me to check that.

And, as far as I could tell, I was the only contributor who was so wildly misquoted. Tiwce, as it happens. The other occasion wasn't quite so dramatic.

(Does writing something completely at odds with what one said even meet the definition of "misquoted"...? Or is it, in fact, fiction?)

11:27 pm  
Blogger Anwen said...

Man. I was recently helping out in a disability awareness workshop at the biennial conference/shindig thingy of the organisation I work for, which had a total of six people in the room, including me, the person running the workshop and the facilitator, and I'm not even going to get into the rant about the pathetic attendance, or the obstacles which exacerbated same...

Where was I? Oh yes, anyway, one of the three people who made it (the only non-disabled one) kept saying every few minutes that disability was going to become even more of an issue soon as our congregants are generally getting older - in spite of the fact that the oldest person in the room, who happened to be in a wheelchair, kept pointing out that Old Does Not Equal Disabled. She was a nice and well meaning lady and frankly, she was the only non-disabled person out of approx 200 people at the event who actually bothered to come, but she wasn't listening.

11:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, in this case, fiction. I'd even go so far as to say fantasy fiction since she obviously replaced your words with her own fancies.

1:28 am  

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