Society today is going through many upheavals and sizemic shifts- the very shape and functioning of modern society is changing and changing fast with climate change, the effects of capitalistic post industrial society creating chasm like differences between rich and poor. One of the attitudinal changes is peoples awareness and understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion. This perhaps has been instigated by the black lives matter campaign but awareness is growing beyond race to gender and disability. We are waking up and exploring these things and this is to be encouraged and applauded.
As someone who has an unseen disability ( dyscalculia and slight dyspraxia), I have to operate in a world where I constantly have to metaphorically dance and adjust to function in a world which is not set up for these things. As an otherwise intelligent reflective adult I have largely learnt to work round these things: eg I work in the creative, people, empathic areas of life in which I excel, I don’t drive on motorways and I don’t chop vegetables with big knives! I create day plans that I carry in my pocket that tell me what I am doing next so I don’t forget my changing daily timetable ( short term memory problems are part of dyscalculia). So, most of the time I forget until I come across an issue in the wider world that brings it home to me. More of these issues later…
However, even the current form and limitations of my working life have been largely defined by living with a disability. Being a creative, musical empath it made sense for me to teach music- also it is something I could do around raising my children. So, this became my chosen career. I embarked on the training and managed through enormous effort – and many private maths lessons – to get my GCSE in maths ( this was harder for me than doing my degree or anything else for that matter)and went back to university as a mature adult to study teacher training . I was so terrible at navigating I.T and trying to teach maths that I was tested for dyscalculia by a psychologist. Result: high functioning on the creative and language parts of my brain but let’s say, really rather poor on analogical reasoning, spatial awareness, sequencing, information processing, linear problem solving. End result- I can’t teach maths to qualify for QTS. Practical end result of this- I can’t get a job to teach music in mainstream because there is a rule that for primary education in this country you have to teach English and Maths in order to teach the other subjects! This rule has been the bain of my life. To teach music in reality has no need for one to teach maths! This limits someone like me and means that living with this disability directly impacts my earning capacity, my standard of living and the standard of living of my family.
Surely, with society waking up to inclusion and equality this is now a ” rule” that could be re- examined? I wonder how many other dyslexics, dyscalclulics have been impacted in such a massive way as myself?
But, maybe dealing with a particular learning difficulty allows for other things in your brain to compensate. It has maybe made me more of an out of the box thinker. I don’t solve problems through linear thinking so instead I will come across a solution in my usual “cobweb thinking ” approach. ( Instantly drawing conclusions and synthetic thinking from across the board from all directions, like a cobweb). This style of thinking has allowed me to excel as a independent music teacher- developing a myriad of approaches to suit the student in front of me.
Disability in a sense even lead to my career development as a songwriter. Unable to earn in a full capacity as a music teacher has meant that I am constantly trying to find ways to have creative” add- on’s” to my work journey. Songwriting arose naturally and because of my situation and need I decided it was a strand to explore. If I had been earning a comfortable wage as a peripatetic music teacher, I maybe would not have bothered. This strand has in no way created any financial renumerification but it has become an interesting path of Becoming and creative journeying .
The conclusion of this strand is that society needs to find ways to look at an individuals skill sets rather than rule books in order to create a growing capacity for equality and inclusion, to allow people with disabilities to get on in their chosen profession.
Now, let us imagine that the above was beginning to occur- a massive move forward in a world ruled by accountability and box ticking . Then there is working life in whatever field you are in. Each disability is different so barriers and difficulties are going to change according to the disability. Let’s say you have me and another musician who is disabled and is in a wheel chair. My disability would mean I take longer to learn new things and need help wit I.T, I process in a different way and people need to be understanding and explain in a number of ways but once I have learnt the required new skill it is there for life! The physically disabled artist would be fine with the above but would need access and travel to be structured differently . Two disabilities requiring very different awareness and support from others.
Society is beginning to want to address some of these issues some of the time. but often it is an empty good will gesture that has yet to be embodied. I am not belittling the wish- for that is a good start. it just means understanding, process and mindsets need to be adjusted and recreated.
I recently had two working experiences that highlighted this. One was applying for a grant and the other was working with an individual. The grant organisation wished to help- they had an Equalities Officer and they offered me a scribe. However, their inclusion policy needed thinking through. Their grant form was in- accessible for me, without I.T support, their deadline was hurried and therefore not suitable for someone who requires the time investment from a third party . I also don’t need a scribe – whereas as a dyslexic would, but I would need help processing the information and putting it into a logical order. This indicates a good start on behalf of the organisation, for their officer was kindly and wanting to get things right. But inclusion as a policy and wish is so new that it is yet to be imbedded in a thought out way with a working awareness that different disabilities showcase.
The second experience was in fact more distressing as it shows how much people need to adjust in their unthinking belittling of someone with a disability. I was told this individual did not enjoy working with me in person because I am sometimes slow at learning something new and overall did not find working with me in person to be a creative experience. It is a sad fact of life that a dis- ability means you need to be patient and that the person who has the disability is going to be feeling the most vulnerable. No one wants to be slow or find things difficult and living in a head where this is sometimes the case means everyone involved needs to become more spacious, inventive, empathic and kind.
If we genuinely want to create a society where there is more equality, more inclusion and more celebration of diversity then it requires that each one of us, not just organisations become mindful of how we are with others. I don’t walk about with a sticker on my head saying “Warning! Dyscalculic individual- bring out the patience!” Nor should I: it should just be a human standard of awareness that we are all different , we all have our strengths and weaknesses and we work round them altogether.
However, this particular incident has led me, in part, to write this blog and to offer to the grant organisation that I will be a test pilot for their forms to see if they are dyscalculic friendly! Hopefully these two actions go a small way to creating a little more equality, inclusion and celebration of diversity.
I will not be made a victim or victimise myself for having to live with such a thing. I deserve to get along as much as the next individual and deserve to blossom, give, create and earn as best I can. My disability may set me back in many ways but it also gives me great empathy, out of the box thinking and a free flowing creativity. I am different but so is everyone on this planet- we are all unique and hold a spectrum of rich talents and weaknesses. I refuse to let life push me down and I will not let my self confidence and self esteem be eroded by such occurrences as the one above.
Long live being a human being- and celebrating our flawed and beautiful differences, it makes for a richer more interesting world.