Category Archives: Sisters of Frida

Becky Olaniyi: 18 Years In A Wheelchair

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Reblogged from Snatched XO with thanks!

Becky is a Sisters of Frida’s Steering Group member

18 Years In A Wheelchair

cartoon-right-wordsAfter 18 years in a wheelchair, I know what to expect when I’m leaving the house.

I was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain in childbirth. It left me with an inability to walk and a low tolerance for stupidity. This is put to the test as soon as I leave my house. People stare at me like a hanging head in a butcher’s window (and then smile. Like I’m some sort of ‘cute’ hanging head.) People ask me if my arms hurt. But the best of them all is when people offer help and then say ‘I’ve done a good deed today’.

I know what you’re thinking.

‘Maybe they think you’re deaf’. That would surely be the only explanation for such stupid behaviour.

You’re wrong. They don’t. This is a common occurrence. And it’s only the tip of the fully accessible disability iceberg.

Imagine if someone came and picked you up and carried you away. Naturally, you’d be incredibly alarmed. So why do I have to smile and nod and politely decline a potential kidnapping every day? I’m ‘rude’ if I refuse the offer of being treated like cargo by a complete stranger, but I’d much rather be rude than dead. And then there’s those people who don’t help at all. I could be sliding backwards down a ramp into a pit of hell and they would focus all of their attention on a passing cloud to avoid – God forbid - eye contact, let alone actually trying to help me. Maybe disability is catching. The awkwardness is palatable when I finally make it onto the bus and have to sit facing all of the people that somehow could not see me when I was wedged between the side of the bus and the edge of the pavement. I can’t decide whether they’re as bad as the people who ask me ‘What is your…er…problem?’ and then pat their legs for emphasis as if I think they’re talking about my glasses.

The bus is truly a disabled person’s paradise. It’s like some sort of government regulated punishment for being disabled, in which you have to battle with a person with a small child for transport. Have you ever seen a showdown between a person with a pram and a person in a wheelchair at a bus stop? Neither have I, because the person with the pram always gets on without a second thought. THAT IS AGAINST THE RULES OF TFL. I don’t say anything, and neither does anyone else. At least I have an excuse. What if they wanted to fight over it? I can’t exactly make a quick escape. As for all the other people, please refer to the ‘don’t help at all’ section above.

I was going out (to the gym, can you imagine) and I got on the bus. The woman who had a pram in the wheelchair space moved it out of the way to make space and I went in and continued minding my business, my default state when wanting to avoid pity talk. Pity talk, for those who don’t know, is what happens when the person sitting facing you in the wheelchair area feels so uncomfortable seeing you alone that they talk to you out of sheer sorrow. Sometimes, they even invite you to their church for a healing seminar. As I get off the bus, the woman moves her pram again to let me out. The man behind her must have assumed she was getting off, and the woman said ‘I’m not getting off, just moving to let the wheelchair off’. I wasn’t aware that I had gone out dressed as an empty chair, but you never know.

People interpret me as either being constantly lost, or as having a learning disability. I hear the words ‘Are you okay? Are you lost? Do you need help?’ at least thrice a day if I leave my house. The answer is always no, as these people seem to only appear when I’m perfectly fine, and disappear as soon as I’m about to push myself uphill. It gets tiresome after nearly 2 decades. A woman came up to me and screamed ‘I SAW YOU LOOKING AT THE MENU EARLIER, DID YOU GET SOMETHING TO EAT?’ Turns out she had been watching me in the restaurant and didn’t say anything, kind of like an inept guardian angel. I still don’t know why she shouted. I’m physically impaired, not hearing impaired. But I’ve learned that most people seem to be tact impaired.

Despite the comical tone of this article, being patronised, pitied, dehumanised and made fun of every day is horrible. Particularly for a young person struggling to find their own identity and be acknowledged as an equal by their peers. This is the reality of life for many disabled people, and it shouldn’t be this way. Next time you come into contact with a disabled person, treat them with respect and consideration. Don’t hound them with your questions comments and concerns, and try not to stare so openly.

Sisters of Frida’s new Steering Group

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After the AGM in January we have a new steering group. We would also like to congratulate Zara Todd for her new role as Chair of Inclusion London.

They are Armineh Soorenian, Becky Olaniyi, Eleanor Firman, Eleanor Lisney, Lani Parker, Maria Zedda, Michelle Daley, Sarah Rennie and Zara Todd.

These are the topics we would be focusing on this year

Intersectionality
Working with young disabled women
Inclusive sex education and reproductive health
Interpersonal violence and building resilience in ourselves
Partnership working with other groups
Educating society about disabled women’s issues
Fundraising – recording experiences of disabled women
Speaking with pride
Older disabled women

 

Sisters of Frida at the Showroom in discussion about identities : Saturday 27 September 3–5.30pm

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at the showroom: people sitting on the floor

 

There is BSL signing 

Sisters of Frida have been invited by Patrick Staff to public discussion events exploring disabled and queer identity, austerity, illness and flexibility. Particularly on Saturday 27th where we will be leading it.

Since summer 2013 Staff has utilised a range of choreographic strategies in order to explore and question how bodies are presented, produced, represented and assessed within the fields of performance, healthcare, technology and labour. This has included research at the Trinity Laban archives; discussions with groups of practitioners, researchers and activists; and physical workshops with other artists, members of local groups such as Opening Doors London (which supports older generation lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) and DreamArts (a youth performance group), as well as public participants. From 20–28 September, Staff will display a series of large format posters on the exterior of The Showroom’s building which will feature an interview between the artist and one of the project’s collaborators. A series of public discussions, led by invited practitioners, will respond to the text in relation to their own work and lives. Invited guests will include the research group Manual Labours, choreographer Hamish Macpherson, members of Opening Doors London and the disabled women’s co-operative Sisters of Frida.

The discussions are free and open to all and will take place outside The Showroom gallery building, 63 Penfold Street, NW8 8PQ on:

Thursday 25 September 3–5.30pm: discussion led by Opening Doors London

Friday 26 September 6–8.30pm: discussion led by Manual Labours and Hamish MacPherson

Saturday 27 September 3–5.30pm: discussion led by Sisters of Frida

http://www.theshowroom.org/programme.html?id=1829

No to Assisted Dying

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people in a semi circle woth Not Dead Yet  tee shirts and placards

Not Dead Yet UK campaigners against the Assisted Suicide Lord Faulkner’s Bill at the House of Lord.

Sisters of Frida do not agree with Lord Faulkner’s Bill on Assisted Dying as disabled women.  We asked Maria Zedda, member of the steering group, to write her own experience and thoughts on the Bill.

maria

Maria Zedda

She writes:

I was asked to write something about the assisted dying bill and I wrestled with this thought as this is a subject touches me very closely.

But briefly, I’m going to say that I had a beautiful baby sister who was a year younger than me. When she was born my mother kept telling the doctors how worried she was about her jaundice, she just looked too ill. The doctors told her not to worry and in twelve hours her jaundice worsened greatly, leaving her neurologically damaged, with Cerebral Palsy. She was a very fragile young child but brought so much joy with her smile, laughter and I remember her very well.

The doctors kept making mistake after mistake in her care, giving contradicting advice, until one day my sister contracted pneumonia. She was kept in hospital but after a few days, she died. She was almost 3 years old by then. And my family were told that she was better off dead. Why? Because “she would not be suffering anymore”.

This is what I believed for a long time. I resigned myself to the fact that she was indeed better off – and I learned to live with that hole in my soul. Then, I met my disabled friends, many of whom would be regarded as “severely disabled” by doctors and I’m not sure about this any more. The hole that my sister left seemed much bigger.

After years of missing my sister and still not quite accepting her death fully, I asked myself when could anyone have the authority to decide when a life is worth living? Could it be that her death finally put an end to a series of mistakes by the doctors who thought “knew better” but actually didn’t?

So many of my friends are “severely disabled” and “stunned doctors” and overcame all expectations”… even myself, after being diagnosed with 75 to 90% hearing loss, I was told I could not have a job and probably won’t be able to finish secondary school.

At first this might not relate very much to Lord Falconer’s bill but in my view it does because I simply do not trust doctors or other medical “experts” to understand and interpret how disabled people, sick people and “terminally ill” people might feel and what we might be able to achieve. Although mostly they mean well of course, doctors do not always know better.

Baroness Jane Campbell explained it very well in her article where she tells how doctors wrongly diagnosed her as terminally ill five times. Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson, interviewed outside the House of Lords yesterday said how uncomfortable this bill made her feel. She says she received a great education and was very supported by her family and felt able to shrug off comments from people who told her “if I was like you I’d want to die”. She rightly says “what if I had not had that support from my family? Would I then feel that I would be better off dead?”

At the lowest of our lows, when we are suffering, that’s when disabled, sick and very elderly people might actually want help living, not dying.

I understand that many genuinely wish to die, absolutely. But unfortunately until all doctors are trained in the Social Model of Disability and understand that through Independent Living people can survive, be happy and thrive, then I cannot trust this bill to pass: there’s too much at risk.

Disabled people are already victims of hate crime, stigmatised as scroungers and a burden on society, the risk is too great that they’ll feel pressurised to “unburden” their families, when actually Independent Living, appropriate care and support will help them thrive and contribute to society. Doctors don’t exactly have a good track record of understanding this. How can they be trusted to draw a line and decide when someone is genuinely asking for suicide assistance or are simply too low and desperate and need support and help?

So I say NO to Falconer’s bill. After all, as Ghandi said “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.
And this thought, my dear sister, Anna Maria, is for you.

 

There were many campaigners waiting outside while there were many speakers at the House of Lords for this debate on the 18th July, both for and against.

Here is a video of Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson on the day

 

Here is a speech by Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab):

My Lords, this is one of the most challenging moral issues of our times. On the one hand, we are dealing with the right to individual autonomy and to bodily integrity, and with the right to make decisions about our own lives. So it is a profound issue of human rights. On the other hand, there is the need to preserve the wider fabric of an ethical society with an overriding principle that human life is to be valued and guarded against violation and abuse.

That is the bigger picture of sustaining the culture in which human rights, particularly those of the vulnerable, will be protected. This Bill, I have no doubt, is derived from good motives. I respect the aims of those who wish to relieve the suffering of people at the last stages of their life. But it is about respecting the individual. The conception of human rights that we have developed in Europe is different from that in America. We believe that it is not all about individual rights; it is about striking a balance with other rights and it is always about considering the impact on wider society. It is why we here find it so baffling that in the United States they cannot get control of their gun laws, because the individual right trumps the needs of the wider community. That is not so here.

This Bill carries us unfortunately across a line. It takes us to a different place and to deny that is not right. I believe that it will change the moral landscape. The question is whether we are creating a climate of greater compassion or stimulating a climate of chillier decision-making. Are we raising the bar of humanity or are we creating a society where our ethics are made of coarser cloth? We could with good intentions be planting a seed that bears unexpected fruit, so that we end up with different calibrations about the quality of life and about humanity. What is exceptional today so easily becomes standardised tomorrow. Sometimes that is to the good, but sometimes it is to the bad.

It is a fundamental principle of law that we should safeguard life—it is an absolute principle—and I think that it is too important for us to abandon it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, I am concerned that this Bill creates immunity from inquiry, and I would like to hear more from the movers of the Bill about that matter. Is there to be no inquest after a death, so long as it ostensibly conforms to the Bill, with the forms filled and the consents secured? Is there to be no examination of the quality of the consent or the judgment of the doctors? Perhaps it is my experience as a criminal lawyer that makes me concerned about such total immunity from the processes of law and how the malign or reckless can misuse such processes. As the former Director of Public Prosecutions, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, said, these cases are currently examined. They cross the desk of not just any prosecutor but of the most senior in the land. In virtually every case nowadays, there is no action. However, it is important for people to know that there will be close consideration of the process and that there will be consequences for wrongdoing, because that is what prevents abuse.

We must ask ourselves whether this legislation will lead progressively to other changes in end-of-life care that we would not want to see, even if we can decide when the end of life is imminent—and I question whether we are able to do that with much success. It is inevitable that the creation of powers of attorney will be the next step. We can be sure that people will say, “I’d like to be able to name a person to whom I will give a proxy consent, so that when I lose my faculties they can make the decision for me”. Many would want to see that happen.

Like everyone, I am moved by the terrible stories of miserable ends. I think that sometimes doctors err too much on the side of caution in assisting the gentle passage of the dying because we have created a society laden with fear of accusation and litigation. We need to do more about the adequate training of all doctors in dealing with pain and death. Nor are we supporting doctors and nurses well enough as they make difficult decisions. Our medical world has been infected by a model of care that is increasingly commercialised. Reforms to our health and care system are reducing trust between patients and their carers—their doctors and nurses—and sometimes reducing compassion because there is so much pressure on the time of the carers.

Relationships are built through consistency and time spent, as they were in the past when we had the GP whom we knew, rather than saw someone different every time, and there were teams who consistently worked together with sets of patients. However, I am afraid time is in short supply in our market-driven regimes.

I share concerns about the pressure that we put on the aged and the disabled, expressed powerfully by many in this debate. I know that choice is the great aim of our age—choice in all things, as though we were all shopping. But who gets the choices? How many people in our communities have real choice? The issue of choice is a snare and a lure. I look around and I think that compassion is in short supply. Our society is becoming a harder place—harder on the elderly, the young, offenders, the unemployed and the poor. Society is full of people who have very few choices.

We must be careful about creating huge moral changes when we see austerity policies already having such an impact on the disadvantaged. We keep being told that this is just a small step and we will not go further. However, I am afraid I am not so sanguine about our society’s sensibilities. I look around and see such cruelty to refugees and asylum seekers. I see what is happening to the destitute and the effect of cuts on the poor. I am not so confident that our expressions of altruism can be relied on into the future. I am not so sure that there is enough commitment to the vulnerable.

Changing law is very important. Law is the bedrock of our nation; it is at its foundation. Some laws matter more than others, and this law will certainly matter. It speaks to who we are and how we want to be. Law is our national autobiography. There are good chapters and bad chapters. We should be very careful about what we are writing now.

(http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/140718-0003.htm)

There was no vote, but the Bill now moves to Committee Stage.

You can find more photos at this Flickr album.

 

 

Speaking for Disabled women at the ESVC Global summit at the Excel Centre Wednesday, June 11th, 3 – 4PM

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Wednesday, June 11th, 3 – 4PM

Excel Centre, ESVC Summit, Room 1

Chair: Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Minister for Women

Key-note speaker: Jane Kiragu, African Women’s Leadership Network

Marai Larasi, Director, IMKAAN, black feminist anti-VAWG organisation

Elizabeth Gordon, Survivor, artist and campaigner, Non-State Torture

Eleanor Lisney, Sisters of Frida, a Disabled Women’s Co-operative

 

 

It is Gender Inequality that lies at the root of all gender-based violence – from sexual harassment on a bus to sexual violence in conflict. It is gender inequality that must be addressed to end sexual violence in conflict or rape anywhere, domestic violence, trafficking and prostitution. Essential, albeit not sufficient is a stand-alone transformative gender equality goal with a powerful VAWG element in the post-2015 Framework.

Contact:Annette Lawson,Chair@nawo.org.uk

National Alliance of Women’s Organisations

www.nawo.org.uk

Registered Charity Number: 803701

Disabled women, feminism and other diverse communities

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Michelle (in chair) with Martine (kneeling) and her son on Michelle's lap

Michelle with Martine and her son

 

Frances Ryan wrote a great article - “It’s not only steps that keep us out”: mainstream feminism must stop ignoring disabled women’ where she states that in matters of sex, sexuality and political campaigning, the resurgence of mainstream feminism overlooks disabled women.

Feminist and disability rights are born from a similar cloth. They are battles to acknowledge that oppression doesn’t come from a biological reality but a socially constructed inequality. They are concerned with idealised human bodies. They fight the structures and power that wish to control them; in sex, in work, in reproduction.

Its true that mainstream feminism do not often consider disabled women but we knew that - Jenny Morris has been writing and speaking about Feminism, Gender and Disability since the 1990’s.

Non-disabled feminists continue to treat disability as aside issue, an optional extra and in no way part of the so-called mainstream academic or political debates. The disabled people’s movement – while many and sometimes the majority of its activists are women – is still informed by political and theoretical debates which strangely sidelinewomen’s experiences and issues.

So  mainstream disability do not often recognise women’s issues neither. I spoke on intersectionality and disability at the Sisters of Frida’s gathering/party at WoW Festival at the South Bank

Disabled women who are discriminated against – from feminist communities, LGBT, faith communities because they insist on congregating in non accessible venues. And the segregation is also from the disabled people’s communities because they do not understand nor interested in other identities. Where do disabled women go to discuss about the roles of being disabled lovers, mothers if they were given the opportunity of being girlfriend, wife or mother. And there are those whose sexuality were being denied or even sterilised (often presumed to be for their  own good). And who knows how to support them when they are raped? A report by Professor Betsy Stanko, stated that the ‘rape of vulnerable women, especially those with learning difficulties, has effectively been “decriminalised”.

I guess I am speaking about the need for intersectionality also when we talk about disability – that we have more than one identity and we ought to acknowledge that – and that we should acknowledge we need a space for disabled women as disabled women, we need to listen to the different identities. And feminism needs to accommodate intersectionality too – speaking as a disabled woman of colour when I can be the only non white disabled at the table I feel a double disconnect. I m sure some of you here know what I m saying where you stop wanting to engage as a form of self protection.

Just this week we pointed to an event about campaigning black women that they had not included black disabled women in their program and offered to fill that gap. And they are responding positively so we might be the first to explore disability, gender and ethnicity/race in a workshop!