Photo by Steve from @strutphotography

by Sue

It’s a bit like I have opened a can of worms.

I have conducted interviews, both spoken and written, with a lot of people about the barriers they may face in joining mainstream groups generally.

People of different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, a range of disabilities, oppressed people, people living in poverty, people with differences in religion, education, personalities, skill sets, experiences, and knowledge bases. In short, marginalised people or people seen to be “other” than the norm.

All have expressed that they have experienced “othering” which I am calling ableism.

Generally, people see ableism as the abled vs the disabled, but it is much bigger than that. Owning and naming ableism, (which is defined as having an innate sense of what it means to be normal) is a first step. White privilege also has to be recognised and challenged. Silence about whiteness lets everyone continue to harbour their prejudices and misconceptions, beginning with the notion that white equals normal. Often that bias is unconscious and based on the stereotyping of behaviours or beliefs informed by social norms and traditions, often from values instilled from a very young age.

In my opinion, the vast majority of people in groups minimise the effects their ableism/ privilege has on people by saying such things as “it’s not an issue here” or “we aim to be inclusive” as if that is enough. As the late great Stella Young said, “talking about the inclusion of people with disabilities seems somehow to imply that our natural state is to be excluded, and that we need to make a special effort to tolerate disabled people. It feels like asking people to endure our existence”

So, sensitivity and awareness to these issues are required

And of course, the use of clear and concise language is important, for example the opening sentence of this paper.

Can you imagine what would go through the minds of people from a non-English speaking background if someone told them they were opening a can of worms.

Of the disabled people I spoke to, overwhelmingly their initial response was that they just don’t get asked.  They are not on mainstream lists, they feel invisible to the mainstream. Many expressed the sentiment that mainstream society makes the huge values leap that people living with disability don’t care about the environment.

That is absurd, but it is a reality for people. Several people commented that when they do attend mainstream meetings or attempt to join groups and are visible on their own cognisance their attendance is seen as inspirational and people make a fuss to fit them in, instead of having a default position of accommodating everyone and allowing people to find their place. Statistics show that 1 in 5 people identify as having a disability; that’s a lot of people to exclude.

It’s not that hard to make it a default position to have accessible parking, step-free access and egress (level, ramped or lift access) – ramps should be no steeper than 1:12., enough space available inside the meeting area and between aisles for wheelchair users to navigate and at least one table that is high enough for a large wheelchair to fit. If people with vision impairment are invited, power point presentations need to be explained orally, and a bowl with water provided for a guide dog. Most deaf people who rely on Auslan signage will let people know they are coming so as to organise an interpreter, or someone will come with them that signs. But at least knowing how to provide for everyone is a step in the right direction.

Similar negativity applied to people living in poverty; they don’t get asked, but if they happen to find out about something going on, some of their barriers may be more subtle, not that they didn’t care about what is happening to the planet, but more that it is not simple or easy to just hop on a bus to get to a meeting, or to find child care, or to bring children. It is also good policy to provide food for under-employed or unemployed people and pensioners.

Other comments were around the social aspect, the feeling of being put down, not fitting in, of standing out and not being heard.

Our society prides itself on diversity and inclusion and uses the right rhetoric, but it is generally  lip service, (there’s that language thing again). The true focus is on productivity and is always around standards and it is the abled that can most easily meet those standards which can result in a sort of  internalised and often unconscious ableism/ bias against those who may struggle or are simply unable to meet society’s perceived standards.

And then there was the fear of being involved in anything that could cause people to come to the attention of the police. For argument’s sake, if a person on Newstart was part of an arrestable action, or even around other people protesting, they could get their payment breached.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and some migrants have indicated their reluctance to do anything that draws attention to them, particularly from the law.

For many people their marginalisation is always with them.

I hope this is not seen as negative or being overly critical, the work and commitment to XRSA is phenomenal and probably unparalleled since the anti-Vietnam war days and so very necessary.

But so called “marginalised people” make up a sizable proportion of the population, nearly half actually. Things may sometimes need to be done a little differently but that is a lot better than excluding people