Disability is something I regularly write about. As a writer I write about the stuff I know. This is from a personal perspective as well as a professional one. I’ve spent most of my career working around the field of disability equality, plus I’ve had a hearing impairment all my life, albeit it wasn’t picked up until I was about 8 years old.
I recently got involved in a discussion with another writer about disability. They were using a blind librarian as the source of humour in a film script. The humour struck me as being somewhat 1980s, from a time when people laughed at disabled people not with them. We’ve made progress around racism, sexism, homophobia and other areas of diversity, there still seems to be a trend that disability is to ridicule. More often than not the people who construct this rule have no direct personal experience of disability, but still think that they can have a pop.
Years ago I worked for the BBC, as their disability adviser. Whilst my job started out being about employment it moved across into onscreen representation issues. Too often disability was, and still is, portrayed negatively, because the people who write for television and films have very little personal experience of the lives of disabled people. We’ve seen tremendous progress in recent years with disabled people being more prevalent on screen, but power in production and commissioning still rests with people who don’t get it.
I write about disability incidentally. I do this because most of the time that is exactly how it is with people I know. Other people may see us as one dimensional, but we are complex, and we can choose a range of labels to define who we are. I am, in no particular order, a football supporter, a walker, some one with a vast interest in current affairs, a cook, a writer, a disabled person and a Northerner. None of these individual labels define me, they come together as a great big pot of stew that is me. Plus, none of these things are sensational. I’m just struck that from time to time the rest of the world sensationalises the experience of disability. To quote George Bernard Shaw,’ it’s not the fact that it’s tightrope walking that is amazing, it’s the fact that its an elephant.’
The other thing is that I have worked with many people who I respect and who, even if I don’t always agree with everything the say, have spent their entire careers working for greater equality for disabled people. If I write about disability inappropriately, I undermine their efforts and their passion. I would never intentionally do that.
If you read my works, you’ll see how I draw upon my experiences. Mark Garvey, Kieran, and Reggie all reflect this in my different novels. Sometimes I will get stuff wrong, not everybody will agree with what I say, or even enjoy everything I write. I just hope you agree that I know, and that the authenticity shines through.
Until next time.