Friday, 25 September 2009

Hypocrisy Thy Name is Todd

Following on from the last blog post I decided to contribute to the project located at http://www.youbethedifference.com.au/ Although I stand by my previous comments. I thought they were not entirely appropraite. Instead I used the same themes in perhaps more diplomatic language. I am well aware that this probably makes me the worst kind of hypocrite. I will save the previous thoughts for when I achieve a modicum of power.

Here’s what I submitted, which will probably be on the QLD website, most probably on Monday.


My name is Todd Winther, I am 25 years old, and live on the Sunshine Coast. I live my life more or less as if I’m not disabled. It is easier said than done given the fact that I am confined to an electric wheelchair and can’t manage my own personal care. Life is challenging because of this, but not difficult. Frankly, I can’t even begin to imagine what difficulty is, because my life is not difficult.

When I was diagnosed at eight months of age the initial prognosis was almost entirely negative. I would not talk, I would not feed myself. I would not become as independent as possible. I would not become a valued member of the community, I would simply make up the numbers. Thankfully, I have proven this prognosis wrong on the first three counts thanks to the support of my family and friends and have sought to prove the other two wrong as well. I believe because of my disability and the challenges that I face that it is my responsibility to contribute to the future of my local community as well as the nation as a whole.

My passion is politics, it has been since the beginning of high school. I have realised and understood that becoming involved in decision making processes is the only way to influence change on both a large and small scale. This is particularly the case in the disability sector where I have the opportunity to advocate for others who do not have the ability to do it for themselves.

I approach politics from two angles, the practical and the theoretical. On a practical level, I am a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) where I am president of my local Kawana Branch. This has allowed me to continue a dialog with State and Federal politicians within the public policy process about the issues that I believe in, and importantly the issues that I confront on a daily basis that are pushed continually to the margins. However it is in the theoretical realm, where I intend to carve out a career. I am currently studying a PhD in political science and public policy at Griffith University on a full scholarship. Currently, I am writing a thesis on the relationship between political leadership and political parties.

Outside these pursuits I work as a casual tutor at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) where I have two other degrees. I teach both introductory and advance level courses in political science. When students first come into the classroom they see a guy in a wheelchair, when they leave I hope they get a sense of how the political system when used in the correct fashion can challenge conventions, just as I
aim to.

I am not defined by my disability and I never will be. I seek to prove to myself that the reason that I was confronted with my physical challenges is to make a difference to society at large. It is not enough to challenge one person’s preconceptions about people with disabilities. To challenge the entire nation’s attitude is a much tougher task, but far more rewarding.


Update 30/09: The essay was rejected by the Cerebral Palsy League because I dared to mention that I belonged to the ALP. So much for promoting inclusion! The ALP has done more for me then these charities ever have or ever will. It just goes to prove that I should have stuck to the original draft, and that all my previous points were proved correct.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Cripple Alert

My Mum wants me to participate in an awareness program started up by the Cerebral Palsy League of Queensland. The idea is to come up with a video or 600 word statement about how I do indeed cope with a disability, the challenges I face and how I get past them. I can see the merit in such activities and will probably submit one and use the following as a template, but the big wigs will hate it because as usual I am brutally honest and I doubt that any of them will like what I have to say.

I have unusual relationship with my disability. Although I have and will always be disabled, I don’t consider myself as disabled until it stares me right in the face. Yet it has and will continue to influence every one of my life decisions. It is almost as if at times I get the feeling that the wheelchair is an enormous pretence and I can get up out of the wheelchair whenever I feel the need…. only I can’t. Perhaps it is because I live most of my life via cognitive pursuits, I’m in academia and aside from that I engage in relative hobbies both by design and intent, whether that be reading books, listening to truckloads of music or consuming television shows by the dozen. Therefore it is not apparent that I’m disabled until it becomes blatantly obvious, like when I need to go to the bathroom, or want to go to bed. A giant neon sign emerges from the corner of my brain screaming ‘CRIPPLE ALERT’ in a mocking fashion. Think of it as my own version of truth serum, it never ever tastes nice.

As a general rule I have the same attitude regarding the ‘disabled community’ and the organisations and participants who comprise this so called ‘community’. Really the only thing holding it together is that they’re all associated with an illness. Sometimes a few participants can have more in common such as age, location, one or two hobbies, or most often the same type of affliction. However, the realty is that just like in life these commonalities do not actually bind people together. The truth is that contrary to popular belief disabled people can be dickheads too, no matter what the stereotypes suggests. In fact the most repugnant person I have ever met shares my disability. He or others might share the same opinion of me. Why should that be any different because I occupy a seated vehicle for 16 hours a day?

The trouble with the ‘disabled community’ is that it is bound by negativity. Such is the nature of the beast I suppose given society generally equates ‘disability’ with negativity and condescension. However, for the majority of the time these groups perpetuate stereotypes with their deficit attitudes, rather than empowering individuals with choice. Too often criterions are developed based upon these defects. When applying for funding or services one always has to paint the most negative picture. For example when filling out such forms it is not wise to point out that I am university educated in a highly specialised field, articulate and highly independent. Instead I have to point out that I can’t take a shit on my own, can’t get myself out of bed, nor maintain my own personal hygiene. Even then my application gets declined because I don’t have a disabled sibling, am not homeless, nor am I destitute. I get penalised because I am actually an active participant of the general community. As a consequence ‘the disabled community’ adopts the same negative attitudes, either providing government with sob stories in order to illustrate their plight, or using ‘the cute factor’ by putting a kid in the media with a goofy grin and puppy dog eyes to get attention. The only attention they do receive is when something bad happens or when its appeal week for many local charities that infest the media, preaching stereotypical ‘case studies’ rather than empowerment.

So its no wonder I dislike mixing with other ‘disabled’ people. Sure, I do like some disabled people just because they are genuinely nice people with common interests and common motives. Not just because they are in a wheelchair or lack the same amount of oxygen to the brain as I do. Throughout my life people have always reassured me without prompting that they liked me for me and not because of my four wheels. I have the same attitude with others. I refuse to associate with people who want to talk about how many times they spasm a day, or which carer agency provides clients with a better quality of service.

Growing up in Adelaide I was constantly surrounded by a group of 8-10 people with Cerebral Palsy. Sure we had the occasional good time both in and out of school but retrospectively the only three things we had in common were our geographical proximity, our age range and our disability. Perhaps that’s what I needed at the time, but over the last decade I’ve moved beyond that. I am no longer disabled, I am just a young academic, who’s highly cognitive and nothing more until the neon sign reminds me otherwise.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Time for Dot Points: Edition 3

Things have been in a bit of a lull lately. I’ve finished the second draft of my confirmation document, but it is taking a while to get some much needed feedback. It is the main frustration of my thesis. I’m managing to do the work in the allotted time, however the feedback process is taking just as long as the writing, meaning that once I’ve done the reading I’m suppose to, there is more downtime than I anticipated. I’m sure it won’t be like that next year, so in the meantime a few words about my latest obsessions:

  • Unsurprisingly after the gig a few weeks ago I continue to remain bewitched by Lisa Mitchell, close to my favourite album of the year thus far, but you’ve heard enough about that already…
  • On an Aussie Idol related note my favourite contestant by far this year is Hayley Warner. Not only because she has a Hayley Williams type voice, but mostly because she is just herself. I can’t wait until she releases an album of her own material. To tide me over though her band Bleached Academy is wonderful. All four members are in Year 11 in high school? How crazy is that? Paramore fans should check them out, so many bands have been compared to them, but Bleached Academy is by far the best of them.
  • My favourite TV show at the moment is The Secret Life of The American Teenager. I’ve just spent the past three weeks getting up to date I have to be honest and say it is because the lead actress is extremely good looking, (Yes I'm an old pervy cradle robber), but once I got past that I realised it is a fantastic little dramedy about the perils of teenage pregnancy. It almost makes you forget that it is written by the creator of 7th Heaven. No preaching in this show, nor any annoying women with astronomically huge noses.
  • Currently waiting on two books. One a biography of Ted Kennedy by writers of The Boston Globe (not to be confused with the autobiography due out next week: I HATE autobiographies). The other is The March of Patriots by Paul Kelly the third in his unofficial trilogy following The Hawke Ascendancy and The End of Certainty. Reviews on both books will be posted upon completion.
  • The US TV season started last week. There are 13 shows in my regular rotation, both new and continuing. I love this time of year.
  • Sainthood Tegan and Sara’s new album, as well as their new book is out in 6 weeks!
  • Keep your eyes peeled for Best of Decade lists to come in December comprising the ‘20 Best Albums of the Decade’ ‘20 Best Songs of the Decade’ ‘20 Best TV Shows of the Decade’ and ‘10 Best Moments of the Decade’ as a supplement to my regular end of year songs and albums list.