H810: Language, Terms, Access, Disability, Impairment, Xenophobia …


Multiple asynchronous discussion in a tutor group, more of the same here – then get online and do the same live, in a synchronous chatroom or tutor group, or with those around you (family, friends and collegaues). This is such a terrific way to mold and shape your thoughts on an issue. I am doing H810 on ‘accesibility’ – a timely eyeo–opener with the Paralympics raging.

Forgive me if I keep mentioning the radio but I’ve driven well over a thousand miles in the last three days and not suprisingly there have been many BBC 4 programmes relating to disability due to the Paralympics – all on issues such as the terms to use, accessibility provision and even on how and when someone who becomes disabled ‘Comes Out’ to friends and family, as well as potentially to an institution where they work or study. Best of all, in the company of young cousins galore we have watched the irreverant, though brilliant, ‘The Last Leg’ on Channel 4 – comics and athletes, mostly with a disability though plenty of guests who do not, who rib and tell jokes, or make observations about the events of the day constantly making fun of themselves, their attitudes and the attitudes of others.

Dare I offer the kind of email or text they answer?

‘Is it OK to punch a disabled person if they are being a knob?’ Very Edinburgh Fringe, live and late in the evening, so fruity language used all the time – It breaks down barriers so is a form of access. I’ve got some time having finally got back home for 24 hours so plan to track down through BBC iPlayer the radio shows I’m referring too – as streamed radio these are only available for 7 days after transmission, though some are available as podcasts. Not necessarily outside the UK though? Perhaps if we act quickly we can persuade the BBC to archive and share some of this content? It’s the kind of content that should be given a longer shelf life through Open Learn.

‘Thlid, spas, spasmoid, mong’ … obviously and horrible terms used by boys age 8-10 at a boarding prep school in the 1970s.

Locally and with abusive undertones, children at a nearby home were name-called using a diminutive of the name of the place, ‘Stellers’ for Stelling Hall while at a public school where, for far too many bullying was the favourite sport, any act of stupidity you were called of all things, ‘a right Balliol’ after a local home for kids with learning difficulties. Even tourists got it in the neck as at any opportunity we’d lean out of a bus and yell ‘tourist’ at anyone with a rucksack and hiking boots (the school is in the Lake District). I turned up at this instituion after six months hospitalization, ops etc: having broken my leg very badly. I was nicknamed ‘booties” as I had to wear lace up ankle boots as one foot was smaller/weaker and required support. Did I like the term? Of course not, but by protesting the bullies insisted on using it. An entire cohort of younger boys, if anything at all distinguished them, they got a name, so accent, learning difficulty, squint, hearing, colour, religion – not just Jewish, but Catholics, were singled out.

Courtesy of Facebook I’ve recently been reminded of a list of abusive nicknames given to the teachers – in every case picking out a pysiological trait, accent or behaviour. Horrible.

All what I am saying coming to me from a dark, buried place in my head – no wonder Harry Windsor is admonished for calling a fellow soldier a Paki becuase he got this from Eton and being brought up in an elitist, underserved poweful and exclusive environment. To carry this on ‘we’ should now forever nickname him ‘Bottom’ so he isn’t allowed to forget. I have to wonder from only a term of social anthropology as an undergrad if this, in a pack, or small group, comes from some innate sociatal xenophobia?

Thinking about the opposite of the appropriate behaviour or teriminology makes it apparent how much effort needs to be put in saying the best and correct thing especially as words come with all kinds of associations.

Historically was everyone who was different persecuted?

The solution to this is to get the person’s name as soon as possible, double check with them how it is pronounced, even spelling, then use it – they are a name first, not a category, or a cohort, or an institution, but (like all of us) unique and individual, deserving respect, love and understanding. As I’ve come to understand v. painfully, whatever our bodies may be doing to let us down or limit mobility or the ability to communicate or even help ourselves, there is a good chance that much of or even a part of this unique being is cognitive to the last.

Respect this and imagine if by some twist of fate you were in this position not them – not pity, but the politeness to listen and look with care, even ask questions and never assume anything at all – being kept from the same life chances is perhaps what accessibility is all about, why should those who already be at an advanage be the first or only ones to benefit from enhanced approaches to learning? Technology risks giving an ‘unfair advantage’ to those who already have a head start while access aims to gives everyone a chance or more appropriatley the choice to keep up or catch up in a way that suits them.

‘Accessibility is a process of negotiation’ – spot on.

Listen, ask questions, learn what you can about the person, their needs, wishes and expectations – get to know them. Where it is required offer choices, sometimes by trial and error, as for disabled people like all of us, we have our likes and dislikes, experiences of what works for us and what does not, and from a plethora of potential gadgets one thing or another, good bandwidth or not, a high resolution screen or not, preference for a mouse, tracker ball or tablet and stencil or a specialist keyboard – and so on. Take a course in learning theory!

Context matters. Pressume nothing.

Within reason be prepared to make the time to individualise and adjust everything – and expect to return to this to adjust as circumstances ebb and flow. One size never fits all – wherein lies the biggest barrier caused by mass produced technology from a mouse to off-the-shelf software. Can it be adapted? Is there an App that suits my specific needs? That opens a door that is currently closed?

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