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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, April 23, 2009

Words fail me

I was in the office yesterday morning, frantically printing off the papers I thought I might need for an imminent meeting, when an email - entitled 'Dyslexia Meeting' - pinged merrily into my inbox.

Now, the problem with bizarre email titles is that they make me curious and distract me from whatever urgent things I am currently doing. (If you're sending an email to my work address, and you want to be sure I read it the moment it arrives, call it something which doesn't make sense. Works every time. Call it something like 'Directorate Team Meeting Minutes', on the other hand, and it could be days before I bother to open it. Possibly weeks.)

So I open the email referring to some apparent 'Dyslexia Meeting' which I know nothing about, only to find that it's an invitation to a meeting with the Official Side (OS) to discuss the new-and-improved (allegedly) draft of their guidance for managers and staff about dyslexia.

The background to this is that, earlier this year, the OS released the first draft of this guidance to the Trade Union Side (TUS) for consultation. Now, I'm used to OS drafts being awash with medical model language, and richly-laced with implications that it must be terribly tragic to be disabled. Most of the time, I can amend the wording to render the document relatively inoffensive.

Not this time, though. Clearly cobbled together from various, dubious Internet sources by someone who has never knowingly met anyone with dyslexia, it was one of the most shocking pieces of medical model tripe I have seen in a very long time. Started off with an explanation of what's wrong with - and I quote - "dyslexics". (It's their brains, apparently. Their brains are wrong. Not different. No mention of difference. Just wrong.) Followed almost immediately by pages of things that "dyslexics" are all "bad at". Then some staggeringly patronising suggestions of things which might "help"; a refusal to fund a dyslexia assessment under anything other than "exceptional circumstances"; a recomendation that anyone who thinks they might be "a dyslexic" visits his or her GP to find out; and a truly scary quiz to complete, the results of which will tell you whether you might be A Dyslexic. "More than 10 boxes ticked, and you could well be tragically disabled!" No scope there for amateur diagnoses of colleagues, then.

So, as chair of the disability advisory committee, I advised my GEC that, quite apart from the fact that it's national union policy to challenge any attempt by employers to produce impairment-specific guidance, this particular draft was so irredeemably appalling that they ought not to accept it unless it was completely recast from a social model perspective.

After a brief hiatus, when the GEC didn't trust my view on this and checked with the union's national disability equality officer, who said exactly the same thing as I had done, the message went back to the OS that the current draft couldn't be agreed and that it would need to be completely rewritten. From a social model perspective.

So far so day-in-the-life-of-a-trade-union-disability-equality-activist.

And then yesterday's email arrived. And, when I realised what it was about, I was immediately irritated by the inappropriateness of its title. And the fact that I had been tricked into opening it by the lack of relevance of that title.

I might have been moderately happy at the prospect of attending such a meeting, had the author of the guidance not made the fatal error of attaching her revised draft of said guidance.

Remember what we asked for? Recasting the whole thing from a social model perspective? Did we get that?

No. What we got is the same document as before but with a couple of additional paragraphs. "As an employer, we are fully committed to the social model of disability", they lie through their collective teeth. "We recognise the barriers people with dyslexia face in the workplace. Barriers such as other people's attitudes towards them. And we're going to eradicate them. No, really, we are."

So now, if I do go to this negotiation meeting, I will have to be physically restrained from grabbing the author by the front of her (probably) frilly blouse and asking her whether she knows what the definition of irony is, before pointing out to her in no uncertain terms that claiming to be committed to addressing the barrier created by people's view of "dyslexics" whilst simultaneously writing screeds about what's "wrong with" them and how many things they are crap at doing might just meet not only the definition of irony, but also the one of rank bloody hypocrisy.

Right. While I stomp off to smash a few priceless antiques in a paroxysm of fury, anyone reading this who has not yet done so is encouraged - and, be honest, would you really want to cross me when I'm in this sort of mood? - to read this post about Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009 and to sign up to participate.

The Editor


Blogger Buttongrrrl said...

Thank you. It is good to know that you and going to give these people a good verbal beating up. Being dyslexic has huge upsides as well as the issues that everyone looks down on us for. As a dyslexic who has against the odds got a degrees etc is still is made to feel stupid in the workplace by those "who's brains work properly!" Good get them :)

12:28 pm  

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