Archive for April, 2012

Impairment Assimilation,an ablest construct.

April 18, 2012

Impairment Assimilation, an ablest construct.
“You don’t need a blind fold, to listen to disabled people” I tweet rather grumpily. Loathed as I am to criticize Jenny Jones the Green London Mayoral candidate (@Green Jenny Jones) because I like her and she’s basically a good woman, I’m concerned that inadvertently, she’s walking into a trap set by the charities!
Shared surfaces (where pedestrians and wheeled vehicles use the same space without barriers) has been a controversial transport management concept ever since it was first dreamed up. The problem is that pedestrians and vehicles are not necessarily equal players, especially if the pedestrians happen to be visually impaired.
How wonderful to build a world where wheels and feet move in perfect harmony? The concept behind shared surfaces is about mutual trust, respect and communication – positively Eurovision, I’d say. This is best done by eye contact, advocates tell us. But if you can’t see how can you make eye contact?
Ever since the idea of shared surfaces was dreamed up, organisations representing the views of visually impaired people have been challenging that lovely fluffy egalitarian concept. But this piece is not about the rights and wrongs of shared surfaces, it’s about how the views and experiences of visually impaired people are communicated to those who have the power to influence.
“Dave Kent (Guide Dogs Policy Officer) says he will blindfold me so I can completely understand the problem.” Tweets Jenny Jones.
“Why can’t you believe what blind people say?” I tweet back, wondering what on earth we need to do to get listened to if supportive types like Jenny don’t get it and blind blokes like Dave who I’m quite a fan of, are peddling the assimilation model.

Back in the day when Ken Livingstone last ran London, I was honoured to be a member of the Transport for London Board. One day, I emerged from the lift at Windsor House (TfL headquarters) to be confronted by a noisy group of marauding bus operatives on a training course. They were all blindfolded and charging about the place walloping anything they came up against with lovely tip-tippy symbol canes.
“For F***’s sake,” I growled affronted by their jolly japery. I was sorely tempted to smack them with my long cane. Instead, I stormed back upstairs and went to complain to the Commissioner for Transport.

But why was I so cross? Surely getting firsthand experience of what it is like is a great way to get the point across? No! Being blindfolded puts one in a false state of extreme sensory deprivation. I know participants in impairment assimilating exercises that have found it quite traumatic. More importantly though, such extreme sensory deprivation exercises cannot mirror what it is actually like for most visually impaired people – the vast majority of whom (incidentally, excluding me) have some degree of residual vision. Being visually impaired, even when it’s suddenly inflicted upon one, is a state that we get used to. AS time goes on, we develop other skills that support our engagement with space and people. With the right support, we learn to live independent lives.
So why are assimilation exercises so beloved of charities such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association? I’ll tell you why. It is pity that tugs the heart-strings and opens the purses. Every good marketing campaign exploits emotions in order to get the message across. Visually impaired people are presented as sad, needy, helpless and vulnerable people. The charities become saviors rescuing us from our lonely and friendless plight. The money rolls in, the charities grow rich and soon the world at large starts to believe their messages about our miserable existences. Traumatising (however temporarily) sighted people by blindfolding them underlines that notion of vulnerability.
Ok, so I’m a cynic. Possibly, I’m also heartless and maybe ungrateful. Charities do so much to help visually impaired people live better lives, don’t they? Why, the very stick I contemplated using to wack those trainees was supplied at a discounted price by a charity which regularly rattles tins on the streets on my behalf.

Aside from occasional chronic eye pain, the most uncomfortable thing for me about being blind is the discrimination I experience. Society refuses to accept that the barriers I face are “man-made”. Charity marketing messages peddle and image of vulnerability which just adds to the pain. I assert that assimilating impairment exercises panders to the pity model, the marketing strategy used by charities to raise sufficient money for their causes. Ok, so if we don’t use impairment assimilation exercises, how do we get the message across? We do it like this: I want non disabled people to listen to disabled people for once. Hear it from the horse’s mouth! Listen to what we are saying about shared surfaces.
By all means Jenny, go along with Dave Kent and others and instead of donning a blindfold, use your eyes to observe what it is like to use that space. See the interaction between vehicles and people. Talk to visually impaired people about what it is like for us, question us about how it feels. Listen to what we say. Consider if any adjustments could be made to mitigate the inaccessibility of the scheme to visually impaired people. Weigh up the evidence you collect in this way and use it to decide whether shared surfaces are a good or a bad thing.
Oh and one more thing – and I say this to everyone I talk to about impairment assimilation, would you think it appropriate for a white person to put on dark make-up and a wig in order to experience what it is like to be black in Britain today? No, of course not. Can you imagine the storm if anyone did? Black and minority ethnic communities constantly tell the powers that be to listen to them, engage with them, and involve them in making changes. Does it have to be different for disabled people? If you believe in the concept of “nothing about us without us”, then you’ll politely decline the blindfold.

Kirsten Hearn
(18th April, 2012)


Demystifying the confusing -how to elect the London Mayor and Assembly this May.

April 1, 2012

Demystifying the confusing -how to elect the London Mayor and Assembly this May.

The letter from the London Returning Officer informs me that I am a valid candidate. There’s a relief! Having been selected last July and just signed my nomination form a week or so ago, my candidature as a Labour party London-wide list member at last seems real.
“How can I vote for you?” a friend rings me to ask. Good question. It’s all a bit complicated. So I do some digging.
Warning: I achieved a level 3 CSE Mathematics so calculating things and applying mathematical formulae are not my strong suit. I cross my fingers, close my eyes tight and hold my breath. Praying no one asks me to go into details; I offer the following by way of explanation.

On May 3rd, Londoners have three votes, for the mayor, for their constituency member and for the London-wide Assembly members. Not only are different voting systems used, votes get combined further to provide additional proportionality. Mathematical formulae are then applied (gulp!). AS there are more than two Mayoral candidates standing in the 2012 elections, voters have two choices, for your preferred candidate and then for the candidate you would want if the first choice doesn’t win. If you want, you can just put one name down in the first position and leave the second one blank.
If no candidate gets 50% of the votes or more, the top two go into a second round. All other candidates are eliminated and any second choice votes for either of the two remaining candidates, are added to their totals. . The candidate with the most votes wins. So your first vote is for who you want to be the Mayor of London. If you’ve got any sense, you’ll put your number 1 against ken Livingstone’s name.
There are 14 Grater London Authority Constituencies. Each encompassing 2 or more boroughs. Each is represented by a single assembly member. Constituency assembly members are elected through the first past the post system. The names of all candidates standing in a particular constituency are listed on the ballot paper. You vote for the candidate you want to represent you. You have one vote. The candidate with the most votes is elected. So your second vote is for who you want to represent you locally. I recommend you vote for your Labour constituency candidate.
There are 11 remaining assembly seats for London-wide assembly members. These are elected using the closed list proportional representation system, whatever that is when it’s up and dressed. The ballot paper lists all the parties who have put forward candidates for the London-wide list and any independent candidates also competing for one of these 11London-wide seats. You have one vote, for a party (or in the case of any independents standing, a named candidate not on a party list). This is your third vote. If you’re sensible, you’ll vote Labour.

But that’s not the end of it. Before any London-wide list member can be elected, all the votes for each party or independent candidate from across London are added up, regardless of which constituency they were cast in. Um, are you still with me? Added to these are the votes cast for each constituency party candidate.
The grand total of votes for each party is then used to determine the final number of seats each party will have. Any party or independent candidate getting less than 5% of the London-wide vote is eliminated. With all the political parties and independent candidates that remain, up to 11 rounds of calculations take place, until all 11 seats have been allocated. No, no don’t ask me what that means; I fear it’s a hideous mathematical formula. If Labour gets 40% of the vote, then we have 10 out of the 25 seats. If 8 constituencies return a Labour candidate, then the top 2 are taken from the London-wide Labour list.
There we are, clear as clear can be. Confused of Finsbury Park I may be, but this I know, I’m voting Labour for Mayor, Labour for my constituency Assembly member and Labour for the list. If you want a fairer better London, I suggest you do the same.
Thanks to Lord Toby Harris for his brief lecture on Mayor and GLA member voting systems and boo to Mr. Google’s offerings for confusing me somewhat especially over the Modified D’Hondt formula (no, don’t ask, you don’t want to know).
Kirsten Hearn
Sunday April 1, 2012 (aw it’s just a date . anyway, it’s after midday, honest!)

Learning from our past.

April 1, 2012

Learning from our past.
Nothing I say today makes sense unless you understand this: Forever it seems, disabled people have been blamed for existing. We are shunned, excluded and our right to exist challenged.; challenged by attitudes that sees us as less, inferior or even unaffordable. You need go no further than the Welfare reform act and the health and social care act for examples. In a time of austerity, we, disabled people, are expendable. Benefit scroungers, malingerers, they call us, and the hate crimes rise as we are insulted, attacked and sometimes killed.
But the truth is this, it’s the world in which we live that puts up barriers to stop disabled people being equal, not our impairments. Being disabled isn’t the problem, it’s more the way the world is designed. . Medical labels package us for non-disabled convenience and we are denied a right to exist.
If we want full equality in society, we must remove the barriers that deny inclusion and not attack disabled people for existing, and then we’ll have an equal world.
When I came out as a lesbian way back in 1982, I thought I was the only blind dyke in the world. Nowhere could I find signs of inclusion. Disabled dykes were consequently very thin on the ground. But not for long. I soon found other disabled dykes. Most often, I’d find them sitting outside the pubs, discos and conferences, or within such events, existing on the margins, struggling to be included and feeling incredibly disempowered.
But you know, when disempowerment turns to rage, this fuels action. Sisters against Disablement were formed to challenge that exclusion. Our aim was to make an inclusive world for disabled and non-disabled women. Our anger took political form; pickets and articles. Our anger took practical form; the SAD access code.
The values of the women’s movement and of the lesbian feminist scene in which I was involved, tried to embrace the inclusion of disabled women. There were some lamentable failures like the inaccessible Lesbian sex and sexuality conference and Feminist Book Faire. There were some resounding successes, such as provision of audio versions of the London Women’s Liberation Newsletter, and the use of the SAD access code to plan inclusive events such as Lesbian Line Socials.
The personal is political, and the political personal, the women’s liberation movement declared. The “who we were” was at the heart of what we did. This is why when we argued, it was so very painful. Our very identity was being challenged or so we felt.
As the eighties rolled on, I found myself working more and more in mixed Lesbian and gay campaigns. I had become a professional lesbian, (working for the Haringey Lesbian and Gay Unit). When Section 28 reared its ugly head, we had to do something to stop it. It was necessary to compromise, which I did for the sake of the greater good. For we were all in it together weren’t we!
After years working with gay men and trying to make events such as Pride London more inclusive of LGBT disabled people, what I found was that the compromise was made mostly on my side. We disabled lesbians were as excluded as ever.
They just didn’t get it. They didn’t get it that the problem was the world and not us. Tied to their fiercely symmetrical, slim fit young look, anything that rucked up the smoothness of that image was and still is forbidden.
History tempered by our memories is always being rewritten. It’s fashionable to remember the last Lesbian Strength march as that time when dykes fought each other, over what, I’m not precisely sure, even though apparently, I was there. It’s fashionable to decry the whole of the second-wave women’s movement as a force for exclusion rather than what it was, a revolutionary movement for social change responsible for so much that is positive about women’s position and rights today.
Our liberation as lesbians is every bit as bound up in the need to smash patriarchy as it is about our love rights. When we challenge patriarchy whose outward manifestation is male domination which is still at the heart of how our society organizes, we set women free to love whom so ever we want, to dance fully with ourselves alone, with one or more partners, in temporary or permanent connection. When we challenge patriarchy, we set people free to be whoever they are upon the continuum of the gender identity spectrum from female to male and back to female again and all points in-between.
So here we are at Dyke March London. Here, is an attempt to recognise the diversity of our community and to include us all. Let us reach out to connect with each other, to celebrate what unites us, to respect what divides us. Whoever we are. For history is a wise and loving teacher. We’d do well to listen to her wisdom.
Kirsten Hearn
Saturday March 31, 2012 for Dyke March London Rally