Friday, 23 August 2019

Find Your Voice All Abilities Choir = Inspiration Porn



For the past two days I've been stewing over whether to write this blog post, but I've come to the decision it has to be said.

We, meaning disabled people, are not here for your able-bodied inspiration.

Now, what do I mean by this?

On Sunday night's Australia's Got Talent, 170 people, about two-thirds of whom are living with disabilities, came together to sing a couple of songs. They are part of the Find Your Voice - All Abilities choir. There was singing, instruments, movement, and dancing.

I watched intently as the camera panned across the group, from the people in the front room seated in wheelchairs, to pausing on one excited girl jumping up and down, then moving to others around her waving their hands in the air and clapping, to a lady with Down syndrome shuffling in her seat, then to a little girl who wore dark sunglasses (we presume she is visually impaired).

A boy started to sing The Lion Sleeps Tonight, into the microphone, and he was good. The crowd erupted and Rikki-Lee Coulter is focussed on - she is crying.

Is it really that amazing that a child with a disability can sing in tune? Or even that disabled people like to sing and feel joy?

Rikki-Lee continued to sob away and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. The judges got up off their seats and danced along to the songs.

The choir went on to sing I Want to Break Free with one of the choir members dancing along the front of the stage.

The choir was obviously having a wonderful time, feeling the freedom to express themselves and happy to be seen on TV. The camera continued to pan pausing on identifiable disabilities.

To conclude the performance the judges got up on stage and there were hugs and photos taken.

In all honesty, were they that great? No. Did they sing in tune? No. Did they deserve the standing ovation they received from the judges and audience? No. Did they deserve all the gushy comments that the judges went on to make? No.

I have probably offended someone by saying this, but I am judging the performance against all the other performances that appear on Australia's Got Talent.

View the performance here if you are interested:



***

Now watching this performance as a person with a disability and who has children with disabilities, and being an ambassador for true inclusion, this is what this looked like to me.

To me, it looked like a good example of inspiration porn in video form. 

Inspiration porn is a term coined by the late Stella Young. Inspiration porn is usually an image of a person with a disability doing something completely ordinary - like playing or talking or writing. If it is a picture there is usually a caption like 'before you quit, try'. See the picture below.

The intent of inspiration porn is to encourage able-bodied people to put their worries into perspective. For example, 'That child who is blind is having a great time, I should never feel bad about my life,' or, 'Things could be much worse, I could be like that person.'

As Stella said, these images assume that the people in them have terrible lives and that it takes some kind of courage to live them.

They must be like superheroes.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-03/young-inspiration-porn/4107006


So why do I label it inspiration porn?

It is not a photo with a caption but I still think the concept of inspiration porn applies to the performance. I say this because of the way the performance progressed with the reaction of Rikki-Lee, the judges and the audience.

Let me explain by posing some questions to you.

Firstly, let's look at the reaction of Rikki-Lee Coulter. As soon as the boy began to sing, she started to cry. Through her sobs she made the comment, 'This reminds me of why it's so amazing to be able to be a performer. The pure joy that is coming off that stage is just (she then chokes up).' At the very end, she shouted, 'That was amazing!'

Why was she crying twenty seconds or so into the performance, and why was a group of diverse people singing mostly out of tune (which is an ordinary activity) so amazing?

And secondly, let's look at the judges' comments which I will then address...

Manu Feildel - '...I thought it was very moving, very inspiring and just so beautiful. Thank you.'

Nicole Scherzinger - 'I work a lot with special needs kids and athletes. I'm a global ambassador for the Special Olympics and my aunt's Down syndrome, so this is something dear to my heart. And today you should be so proud because you've shown us that the only boundaries holding any of us back are the boundaries that we hold in our minds. So thank you for that.'

Shane Jacobson - 'The most amount of yeses you can get is 4. I'm going to work towards trying to get you 5 which has never happened in the history of the show... On the count of three audience here we go.....(they all yell yes).... The judges all say yes... Nicole and Lucy Durack then say, 'Actually there's about 2000 people here so it's not 5 yeses, you have 2004 yeses... 2005 yeses.'

Do you hear these comments about other acts? Has Manu ever told another group of out of tune singers that they are moving, inspiring and beautiful? I doubt it somehow.

It is plainly obvious that the choir was not judged like other able-bodied choirs. They were treated differently. I point specifically to the 2005 votes and, 'Never done in the history of the show.' So why did it need to be done for these people? Was it the judges' way of trying to make the choir feel worthy of being on stage? Was it from some self-seeded prejudice the judges may not even know they have - something like, that having a disability is a difficult thing and it takes superhuman strength to get up on stage and sing? Now of course, I have seen judges cry for performances, but normally the tears were a reaction to a truly talented operatic singer or someone similar.


As mentioned, the intent of inspiration porn is to encourage able-bodied people to put their worries into perspective. I bet there were people in the audience thinking, 'I'm glad I'm not like that!' or, 'What am I so stressed about? It could be worse.' or, 'Look at how happy these people are. I shouldn't be worried about that next bill I can't pay.'

I believe that the judges' comments showed ignorance of the case for full inclusion of people with disabilities in society and community activities.

Manu also made the comment, 'I believe there is two things that bring people together like this, food and music.' If that is so, why was this a segregated choir with the majority having disabilities? Why aren't these people peppered through all the able-bodied choirs that exist, or is this choir the only choir they have found acceptance in or even been allowed to join?

This performance did make the performers full of joy - that was obvious and can't be debated. But why did they feel this euphoria? I think it's because they felt valued.

Another comment I debate is Nicole's, 'And today you should be so proud because you've shown us that the only boundaries holding any of us back are the boundaries that we hold in our minds. So thank you for that.' My reaction to that is, 'That is absolute rubbish.'

The boundaries for people living with disabilities are not in our minds. They are physical, environmental, social and historical. There are accessibility issues such as no ramps, or no access to toilets on trains. There are the blatant prejudices of able-bodied people that are imposed on us. We are a product of fear, because people with disabilities have been aborted, hidden away or institutionalized. Many people in the community have not grown up with a disabled person at school or in their life, so they don't know how to react, so they react with, 'They're so amazing.'

People with disabilities are not amazing. They are trying to be equal, live ordinary lives and do what other human beings are doing.

***

Each one of the choir members standing on that stage has a lot to offer society, to make the world a better place. They need to be out and about everywhere in society, mixing and participating in all community groups, not segregated into disability specific activities. And above all they should not be used as inspiration porn for able-bodied people to feel better about themselves.

I hope I have given you something to think about.

To find out more about Jenny go to www.jennywoolsey.com


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Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Don't Limit Me - A Poem


Don't Limit Me

I am not broken like a smashed car, so you don't need to fix me...
Don't limit me
I am not a retard or an idiot or stupid or any other insult you throw at me...
Don't limit me
I can learn when taught so I understand, and I will exceed your expectations...
Don't limit me

I am not a label like on a jam jar, I am multi-faceted like a diamond...
Don't limit me
I am not the sum set of my chromosomes - no that is way too narrow...
Don't limit me
If you have met one person with my syndrome, you have met one person with my syndrome...
Don't limit me
 
I will teach you about your limiting beliefs which aren't mine...
Learn from me

I am not an archaic view of disability - I will not be hidden away or segregated...
Don't limit me
I am not your inspirational porn - don't cry and say I'm amazing because I am doing well...
Don't limit me
I can think for myself and tell you what I want - and that's to be in control of my life...
Don't limit me

If you expect and accept little from me, that's exactly what I'll give you...
Don't limit me
If you speak negatively to me, be aware it will be returned through my behaviour or words...
Don't limit me
If you shove me to the side or isolate me, I know what that means - you don't value me...
Don't limit me 

I will show you your limiting beliefs if that's what you ask for...
Learn from me

Give me wings to fly and I will soar high and free like eagles do on wind currents...
Don't limit me
Build up my strengths and talents so I can reach my full potential...
Don't limit me
Accept me as I am but have high expectations that I will learn and grow and be successful...
Don't limit me

And while you're rethinking your prejudices, know that I am perfect just as I am, and if you take the time to get to know me, you will find that out.


- by Jenny Woolsey ©2019
Mum to Jessica who has Down syndrome



To learn more about Jenny visit www.jennywoolsey.com


Don't Presume my Child Goes to a Special School



Yesterday I took my youngest daughter, who is 12, and was born with Down syndrome, to see a new Occupational Therapist for an assessment. With my daughter's access to NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme), we are now able to utilise this service, and I am thankful to the government for this.

Our goal for my daughter having OT is to help build and strengthen her fine motor skills so she can be independent with her life skills and be more proficient with her handwriting, which she finds difficult due to the low tone in the muscles in her hands.

The OT was lovely, and I felt a warm connection with her straight away, as did my daughter. As the assessment progressed and a conversation ensued, which included the obligatory questions such as her age, her likes/dislikes - those types of things, one question made me stop in my tracks and triggered me to write this blog post.

The question was, 'What school does she attend?'

I answered in my casual way, ' Said High.' (I am leaving out the name for my daughter's privacy). My daughter wss wearing her uniform so I didn't think it needed much more emphasis.

The OT's response was interesting. She replied, 'I used to work at A Said Special School (name changed for privacy purposes) and I went to meetings there (at your school).'

The penny dropped pretty quickly. She presumed the school I had given was a special school, not the local regular high school.

I quickly clarified it was the mainstream high school and I was against special schools. She then asked how my daughter was going and we had a good chat about how well she is doing.

Now I am writing about this not to criticise the OT, because as I said she is lovely and we will be going back to her. I am writing this blog post because I think her response is the world's commonly held presumption... that children with Down syndrome go to a special school.

Now this wouldn't be a commonly held presumption if it wasn't so.

In a mainstream high school of approximately 1300 students, my daughter is the only child with Down syndrome. She was also the first child with DS to go through her primary school. It is not the norm. And why not?

Why is there a strongly held belief in Australia that students with Down syndrome will receive a better education in a segregated setting with other intellectually impaired students? Where will the stimulation come from? Where will they experience higher order thinking and thought provoking conversations? Where will they see gifted and talented students? Where will they be exposed to role modelling of what is expected by society? When will they be able to experience the whole range of activities that are provided in a regular school?

When Jessica was about to enrol in Prep we were shown through the early learning classrooms of the special school as they tried to sell it to us as the place our daughter should attend. Yes we could see the students were accessing the curriculum, and one of the little girls was learning to read. But I also saw things I didn't want my daughter to spend day in and day out with. I saw children with poor communication and behaviour, and a general setting that felt like a prison, with multiple locked gates and doors, and fences everywhere.

She was 4 years old at the time and we could already tell that our daughter modelled her behaviour on what the other children were doing.

We had seen a difference in the two settings she was attending. In the local C&K mainstream kindy, she was writing her name, speaking, using the toilet, trying to read books and do what the other children were doing. In the special school kindy she was only using sign language as that's what the others were doing, she was acting like she was helpless and barely used the toilet.

In our hearts we knew the mainstream school would be the best place for her, but there was so much pressure to keep sending her to the special school - and that's where children with Down syndrome went... why would we buck the system?

I am thankful to my school principal, as I wanted to send her to the school I was teaching at, who was not a gate keeper and was happy to have our daughter. If he'd been against having her, I might have been swayed to stay at the special school as this was before I became educated on inclusive education.

My husband often drives past the local special school when it is play time and he has told me about the litttle boy who stands at the fence line watching the cars go past, all on his own, and of a little girl who again sits on her own, under a tree, looking very sad. Do these children want to be there or would they rather be in a regular school with regular children being stimulated by the variety of activities that happen there?

One person who has never presumed my daughter goes to a special school is her paediatrician at the hospital we attend. He has always been excited to hear how she is going, and I love that. I hope he takes that knowledge that my daughter is doing well and passes it on to his colleagues and student doctors.

I read an article today on Facebook about  a lady, Ann Greenberg, who lived in New York in the 1940s. Her child, Jerry, was denied access to a regular school due to seizures and a developmental delay. She had a friend whose baby had Down syndrome and was told to place the baby face down in the pram so no one could see it. These ladies went on to set up their own school which grew larger and larger over time. Essentially they set up a special school system though not identified as such, and in 1953 came under the banner of the National Association for Retarded Children (NARC). Of course the parents in doing this, wanted their children to be educated, and I commend them for that. But because it happened in the 1950s doesn't mean it still has to be happening now.

https://www.ahrcnyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/History_Of_AHRC.pdf

I conducted a Google search to find out what is being said about special schools to parents, because there are plenty of parents who want their children in these segregated centres. This reality is seen in the building of new special schools, one of which is in my region.

I think these points I found listed on a UK site sum up the basic benefits that are stated by most:

  • Class sizes are smaller, even exceeding one-to-one help in some cases.
  • Work is geared to the child’s individual needs and linked carefully to their own targets.
  • Teaching is matched closely to learning styles and strengths.
  • Children have a peer group with similar needs, so they don’t feel different and find it easier to make friends.
  • Staff generally have an excellent understanding of the needs of the children and how best to teach them.
  • Progress is very carefully tracked and monitored.
  • There are strong links with parents.
Like their mainstream counterparts, special schools must teach the national curriculum and use its assessment procedures, and they have broadly the same duties and responsibilities to children in their care as mainstream schools.

https://www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/special-educational-needs/schools/special-schools

This sounds pretty convincing doesn't it, particularly if you do not know the research into segregation and how detrimental it can be for the child, and the overwhelming research that says children do best in a regular setting?

 http://www.include.com.au/resources/

Also when I look at these so called benefits, I say 'that is what happens in a mainstream setting', apart from point 1 where there are 6 or below in a class in a special school, or point 4 where the students are of a similar intellectual level.

I wish there were more parents saying they don't want their child in a class of 6, or to just be with students of their intellectual level. It is an illusion that this is a better system.

My daughter will always be interacting with higher achievers so she can hear vocabulary and topics and discussions that will stimulate her brain, and make her brain construct new neural pathways and make new connections in her brain.

The other 4 points listed above happen in mainstream high school. I have constant communication with my daughter's school, I know her work is being monitored just like every other student's is, the pedagogy of teaching and learning is a constant focus in the school and my daughter has an ICP (Individual Curriculum Plan) which links to the curriculum at the level she is at.

With 'diversity' being a buzzword at the moment, it is important for those of us who truly believe in inclusive education, to keep on advocating for our children, and educating  parents, health professionals and politicians, so the children in future generations will have their rightful place in mainstream schools and there will be no presumptions about a child attending a special school, because special schools won't exist.



To find out more about Jenny, visit www.jennywoolsey.com

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The Generational Pursuit of an Ordinary Life - Crouzon and Down syndrome



On Monday I presented a talk to a local Probus Club about my parents' plight for me to have an ordinary life growing up. You see I was born with a rare craniofacial condition, Crouzon syndrome. That's me in the photo above. No one else in my family had the syndrome and Mum and Dad knew no one with it. Statistically the incidence of being born with the syndrome at the time, was 1 in 250,000 so why would they?

My parents were told by many in society that I wasn't valuable and should be hidden away, just because I looked different. At that time institutions for the disabled were in full swing, and freak shows were still in existence in the UK and America. My forward thinking parents ignored this prejudice, and actively fought against it. It was far from easy for them but they loved me and had a vision that I would have an ordinary life like my two brothers. My life could have been well different and much less successful and happier, if my parents had caved into the pressure that was exerted on them.



The second part of my talk to the Probus Club centred on my own plight to fight the prejudices that I have faced with one of my daughters. You see, my youngest was born with Down syndrome.

I started at the beginning of my story which is where most stories start. I shared that I had a very strong negative reaction when I was told my daughter had Down syndrome. She was 4 weeks old and the geneticist bluntly delivered the news with a question, 'Why didn't you know you were bringing me a Downs baby?' Well upon posing this question to my pediatrician, it seemed she wasn't sure due to my craniofacial syndrome and passed the buck to the geneticist.

The geneticist's kind, caring (sarcasm) delivery sent a chill down my spine. I had seen my daughter's oblique shaped eyes at birth but had pushed them aside as nothing had been said. Those eyes flashed before me as I digested the acid-tongued news.

This information about my daughter wasn't what I wanted to hear. I walked out of that office as if I was a zombie leaving a grave. The agony was cemented by a phone call the next day confirming she did have Down syndrome, and it was the most common type - Trisomy 21. In Trisomy 21, there are three copies of the 21st chromosome, instead of two, in every cell of the body. According to Google, that was also the worst type to have.

My world was shattered. But why? I didn't know anybody with Down syndrome, so why was I shattered? What was behind that reaction? Why wasn't I happy? Why wasn't I going, 'That's okay. She'll be awesome!'

I think I can answer that in one sentence... Society told me Down syndrome was a terrible thing for my child to be born with. 

At every previous scan, for all of my pregnancies, the sonographer performing the scan had meticulously looked for, measured for, and I'd had blood extracted to test for... Down syndrome. We had also been asked on each occasion if we wanted to have an amniocentesis to test for Down syndrome. Why would they do all these things, (and offer abortions up until birth as has happened with friends), if this wasn't going to be a life sentence? Anyone would think that Down syndrome was equivalent to being a mass murderer!

I am sure you can understand my reaction. Most humans would feel something negative inside, with this scaremongering. But the thing is I totally adored my baby before this 'label' was put on her.

People's reactions to my news weren't generally helpful either. 'I'm sorry,' was the standard reply, or if they were trying to be positive they would say, 'People with Down syndrome are always so loving and happy!'



Fortunately, I did come to my senses pretty quickly because the love I had for my daughter shone more brightly than the label.

Did you know that a large number of babies with Down syndrome are placed into foster care because their parents do not want to take the journey I was going to take?



In the past few years I have been researching and learning about the history of disability. I now know why I was rejected by society as a youngster, and it is the same reason people with Down syndrome still are being rejected - and aborted. They are seen as a lesser form of human being. They are seen as being imperfect. They are seen as Hitler saw the Jews - an inferior race.

You would think that in present-day 2019 we would have progressed a lot further in our acceptance of differences. But sadly we have not. As I explained to the Probus Club members, while women are still striving for equal pay and racism is rife, people with disabilities will not get a look in.

Yes, there has been some progress made. Like my parents were pioneers paving the way for me and others with facial differences, there are parents today making paths for their children with disabilities. Some of us have our bulldozers out and are pushing hard on the weeds and rocks.

Target has become inclusive in its use of child models. When you flip through the pages of its catalogues and look at the advertising in its stores you will see children with Down sydrome and other disabilities. I commend Target for this.

http://www.startingwithjulius.org.au/target-award-winning-adinclusion/

Our world is a better place for having a kaleidoscope of humanity.

Another fact I shared with the members was the alarming rate of terminations of prenatally diagnosed fetuses (I call them babies). In Australia, the statistics say that 9 out of 10 prenatally diagnosed babies with Down syndrome are aborted. The article below states it is 93%. This includes the false-positives. Killed. Australia should be hanging its head in shame.

https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/national/2017/08/17/down-syndrome-birth-terminations/

After the meeting, one of the members came to me and told me his daughter's story. She'd been told prenatally that her baby had Down syndrome. She was offered a termination but declined it. When the baby girl was born, she did not have Down syndrome.

In Iceland, it is 10 out of 10. Iceland is trying to eradicate people with Down sydrome from their society.

This makes my blood boil. Who gives these doctors the right to play God?

Down syndrome used to be considered a common condition, now it is listed on the Rare Diseases database.

As a human race, our desire for perfection seems to sit high on the scale of what's important. What happened to love?



I will continue to fight for my daughter and the other wonderful human beings who are born with Down syndrome. There has always been people with this syndrome, and as long as there are parents who will give them life and are willing to go in for battle for their children, there always will be.

These people offer their own take on the world and are able to make significant contributions to society. They are perfectly perfect.

My daughter is now 12 and we keep hearing the words, 'She's so amazing!' I must admit I get sick and tired of this, but I know we have a very different perception of what she is capable of. There are no limiting ceilings in our definition of Down syndrome. And her 'amaziness' is ordinariness. She is in mainstream high school, participating in regular school and community activities, and breaking down attitudes and prejudices of those around her.

One day I know I will see her living her own independent life, with a fully paid job, a partner if she wants one, going out and about pursuing her interests. I will see her having an ordinary adulthood just like my parents gave me.




To find out more about Jenny Woolsey who writes and speaks on Be Weirdly Wonderful! Embrace your difference, go to www.jennywoolsey.com



Thursday, 18 July 2019

I Salute General Charles De Gaulle, a Proud Father of a Child with Down Syndrome



 I Salute General Charles De Gaulle, a Proud Father of a Child with Down Syndrome

In 1866 British physician, John Langdon Down, named Down syndrome. While working as the medical superintendent at the Royal Earlswood Asylum he described the characteristics of people with Down syndrome residng there, as being similar to the people living in Mongolia (he had a series of ethnic race photos he compared them to). He believed people with Down syndrome were a result of ethnic degeneration. The term 'Mongolian idiocy, Mongoloids and Mongolism' became the norm. It wsn't until the 1960s Down's theory of Mongolian origin was discounted. This was after the French Pediatrician/Geneticist Professor Jerome Lejeune discovered that people with Down syndrome had an extra chromosome - three of chromosome #21, and the syndrome was observed across many ethnicities. The term Down syndrome and Trisomy 21 then became the accepted terms. 



During the first half of the twentieth century, the majority of children with Down syndrome were placed in institutions like the one above  – frequently soon after birth. The parents were convinced by doctors that the child was less than human and their needs would be so great, their families would not be able to raise them. The parents were told that the child would be taken good care of. These children were “warehoused” in large state institutions – often in deplorable conditions – locked away so that the rest of society could not see the horror of their lives.

As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, when I read this history, blood boils in my veins, and when I hear stories of parents who bucked the system and stood strong, I rejoice. Today, in 2019, there are still many barriers and prejudices, towards people with Down syndrome. I have battled them and will continue to I am sure. I refer to low expectations, being excluded and segregated, 'she's so amazing' comments when my daughter is doing what other regular children are doing, 'inspirationnal' posts about adults with DS doing ordinary things such as working and so on. 



Thankfully there were parents throughout history who refused to give their children to institutions and chose to raise them as ordinary children and give them ordinary inclusive lives. Let me tell you about one such set of parents, General Charles De Gaulle and his wife Yvonne.



General Charles De Gaulle has been well known throughout modern history as the leader of the Free French Forces. Something less well-known was that his youngest daughter Anne (January 1, 1928 - February 6, 1948) had Down syndrome.

The public perception at the time, was Down syndrome occurred because of the parents' alcoholism, venereal disease or from ethnic degeneration as I talked about above. The De Gaulles rejected these fallacies, and refused to put her in an institution, instead choosing to raise Anne like their other two children at home.

It has been said often that Anne was Charles' favourite child and he called her, 'My joy'. Charles was described as a man who ranged from cocky to stoic by nature, but a loving happy father, who would read stories and sing songs to Anne. It is said that he showed Anne an affection that he rarely showed others, even those in his own household. Anne was raised to feel no less or different than anyone else. (I love this!)

Charles always carried a photo of Anne with him, and in 1962 the photo stopped a bullet from ending his life in an assassination attempt.

In 1948, Anne succumbed to pneumonia, a month after her 20th birthday and died in her father's arms. Upon her death, Charles is said to have remarked 'Maintenant, elle est comme les autres.' ('Now, she is like the others.'). When Charles died, he was buried beside his beautiful daughter.

***

I had goosebumps when I first read this story, because I know how hard it would have been for the family to raise Anne with society's prejudices.

Stories like this one inspire and motivate me to continue advocating for people with Down syndrome and to show society that these people are valued, worthy and deserve to have ordinary regular lives like everyone else does. And it is an ordinay regular life, full of love, that I am striving to give my daughter, 'My joy'. Thank you, Charles and Yvonne De Gualles for all that you did for Anne and for future generations.


Jenny Woolsey is an author and speaker on embracing difference, and can be contacted at jenny@jennywoolsey.com or at www.jennywoolsey.com



Friday, 12 July 2019

Why Toy Story 4 Fails on the Disability Narrative




Why Toy Story 4 Fails on the Disability Narrative


We all see the world from our own perception - I guess what other way to see it is there? As a author I often write in multiple points of view, so I have an insight into how perceptions can differ to a situation from a variety of characters. An example of this could be three people are standing on the sand at the beach. One is loving the sand between her toes and the wind whipping her hair in her face. It makes her feel at peace and content. One is hating the sand clinging to her feet and is wondering how she is going to get all the sand out of her car after their day at the beach. The third would rather have gone to the pool for a swim as she hates sea water, the lice, the seaweed and any other critter that may be in there too!

We can see from that brief scenario, three different reactions to the one situation.

Yesterday I went to see Toy Story 4, the latest instalment by Disney. I have really enjoyed the Toy Story franchise and have a Woody and Jessie doll. They belonged to my son and his name, Nick, is written on the sole of Woody's shoe. So you can see that nice memories are connected to these films.



I was quite excited to see number  4, as I'd read an online article at Variety.com that spoke about the film raising awareness of disabilities. As a disability and inclusion advocate, and a visually impaired lady, this excited me. When I posted this article on my Facebook page, the comments back did not match the article...so I went with an open mind, and not quite as excited as I initially was. .

Click on this link to read the opinion piece:

 Variety.com - Toy Story 4 Shows How Representation of Disabiliities Can Change the World



Now with that headline I think you can see why I was excited.

So how did I feel at the end of the movie?

In three words, severely let down.


Let me explain why I was so disappointed, by referring to the three elements that the article highlighted as being great disability narrative.




1) Child in the Kindergarten has a cochlear implant.
There is only one main Kindergarten scene. The scene shows the first day of Kindergarten for Bonnie, the little girl who now owns the Toy Story team of toys. She doesn't have a good start as the other children completely ignore her. See the pictures above from the movie. Woody has sneaked to the Kindergarten in her bag as he is worried about her (she didn't want to go). He sees her distress in being left alone (where was the teacher???) and rescues some craft supplies from the trash can for her, and she makes 'Forky' who becomes her favourite toy. Now as I was watching Bonnie, I did not take a lot of notice of the other kids who were around her, and in the background, as none of them interacted with her. Apparently one of those other children according to the article had a cochlear implant but I do not know which one. I hope it wasn't the 'trash boy'. (My son did not notice the child either and he has perfect vision...)

My Tip - If I was the scriptwriter I would have the child with the cochlear implant interact with Bonnie to make it more noticeable. Put it out there. That child could have made their own forky with Bonnie.



2) Bo Peep's Arm Breaks
Yes Bo Peep's arm breaks and she says to Woody who is horrified, that it happens all the time and she is fine with it. She laughs and swings with only one arm and is strong. BUT then she gets the tape and tapes it back on, then is back to being a normal two armed doll with no disability. See the picture I found above. (I don't quite get that her arm doesn't need to be bandaged all the time, but I will go with the creativity of it.)

My Tip - Again if I was the scriptwriter and wanted to use Bo for disability awareness, make the amputation permanent, and have her coping with it like amputees do.



3)  Gabby Gabby feels she isn't loved by a child because she has a broken voice box
Gabby Gabby is a creepy character, living in an antique store being guarded by multiple Benson dolls, which my youngest daughter called Snappy from the movie IT. This part of the movie played out like a horror movie to me. She is the villain of the story, wanting to forcibly take Woody's working voice box to replace her own which has never worked (was defective as she called it).She says that if her voice box worked, she would have a child and be loved, like Woody was. So with the help of her evil Benson doll guards, she corners Woody and manipulates him into giving her his voice box.This whole scene I have a problem with, particularly if it is meant to show disabilities in a good light... which it doesn't.

At the end of the movie we see Gabby Gabby deciding to go after a lost child at the carnival. The little lost girl, picks her up, pulls on her voice box cord, and she speaks perfectly. The girl cuddles her and they go off happily and the girl is found by her parents.

So if we reflect on this, in light of the article, Gabby Gabby's storyline is to reflect imperfections in humans and that we can be loved as we are. BUT, now this is a big BUT... she is not loved for how she was. Gabby is loved at the end after her 'disability or imperfection' is fixed. If we relate this to disabilities, it is saying that a person with a disability can't be loved just the way they are - they have to be fixed.

My Tip - I think it's pretty self explanatory - have an imperfect doll being loved for its imperfection. 

***

I have gone looking to see if there are any other articles on this subject and I found one that I like:


This article brought up a couple of extra points that I agree with.

Woody who has no idea what it is like to be defective, is the one who gives Gabby Gabby a pep talk. It would have been better for Bo who knows what it is like to have an arm that keeps falling off, give her the pep talk. Bo is a strong independent character, so it would have been perfect.

It is the 'normal' abled-bodied character (Woody) who rescues Gabby Gabby. It is he who talks to her after Harmony, the owner's granddaughter rejects her after her voice box is fixed. Wouldn't it have been nice to see another disabled toy help her? They could have had a broken Benson or one of the other toys in the antique shop reach out to her...

Kristen Lopez finishes her article with: And from a disabled perspective, she certainly helps me think that perhaps some representation is better than none at all. Now, from my own disabled perspective, I don't agree with this. If movies are going to portray disabled characters they need to be empowering and not ableist. They must show that people with disabilities are perfect in their imperfections and are happy to be the way they are. Being disabled can be a great thing!




 Feel free to contact me at jenny@jennywoolsey.com or visit my website at www.jennywoolsey.com

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Obstacles


O is for Obstacles

Obstacles, you know, those invisible and invisible road blocks or barriers that hold us back or pose us challenges. They cause us stress, and could even cost us financially or take a toll on our health and well being.

Some examples of obstacles are:
  • financial
  • health/body related
  • time 
  • distractions
  • conflict
  • physical objects
  • environmental factors
  • fear
  • perfectionism
  • lack of patience
  • lack of focus
  • anxiety
  • lack of education/knowledge
You get the idea I am sure and probably can think of more.

Have you noticed that some people seem to have more obstacles than others, but everyone experiences them? Can you think of someone who has experienced a large obstacle and can you think of someone who experienced lots of smaller obstacles? I am sure you can. Maybe one of those people is you.

While you're thinking about the obstacles, I want you to turn your mind to how these people reacted to their obstacles and how they dealt with them? If one of the people is you, how did you react and how did you deal with the situation?

Let's say I have a friend, Sarah. She really wants a promotion to help pay off her mortgage but she's put in a couple of applications for vacancies in her department but has not received them. The feelings of rejection have been really hard for her to cope with and she's sick of seeing her more flamboyant colleagues getting more than what she thinks she deserves. Sarah's just found out she missed out on another position she applied for within her department which has added another arrow into her heart, but she's also just been told by a colleague that there is an opening in another department. She is anxious at the thought of moving from her department as she is comfortable there, and she thinks she'll probably receive another rejection which she thinks would send her over the edge of her sanity. What do you think she does?

In this scenario, the obstacle is a combination of not getting promotions, a low self-esteem and anxiety caused by rejection, and a feeling of comfort in her current workplace.



What do you think she does?

Sarah has a couple of options. One, she could stay in her job which she isn't satisfied with and won't help her accomplish her goal of paying off the mortgage more quickly. If you look at the diagram above, that would be sitting in the red spot, her comfort zone. Or second, she could apply for the new job but to do that she would have to pass through the fear zone. These are the obvious two choices she has, but if we think about it, there are probably other things Sarah could do as well. What about approaching the head of her department and having a chat with them to find out why she isn't being promoted, and if it involves personal development or professional development, then she could work on those things. She could go and study something which would improve her chances. She could work on her feelings of rejection and developing her resilience. She could start looking for other jobs while she is in the job she is doing. In the diagram above, these would be in the learning zone.

So many people stay trapped in their red comfort zone. I admit I was one of those. Suffering from anxiety and a low self-esteem I stayed in my safety box. I went for promotions but didn't get them. After getting the 'we've chosen someone else', I'd feel frustrated and rejected and my self-esteem would take a plummet, and I'd crawl back into my safety box. I didn't grow much and my mind stayed fixed. If I even thought about moving from my job to a different one in another place, severe fear and anxiety would envelope me. The psychologist Dweck, calls this a fixed mindset.

Have a watch of these videos:




The above comfort zone diagram and Dweck talk about a growth mindset. I can now proudly say that I have one of those. Since leaving my comfort zone, forced out by severe anxiety and depression, I have been challenging myself and kicking down the obstacles, or finding a way around them. I am not avoiding them, or letting other people solve them for me. Whether these obstacles are mental and psychological ones due to my anxiety and depression, or physical ones due to my visual impairment, I am facing them head on. I have been on a journey to becoming the best version of myself, free of the fears that held me hostage.




If we look at the Growth Zone, you can see it says that if you are in that zone, you have a purpose, you are out living your dreams, you have new goals and you are conquering objectives. I can fully identify with that, as now instead of not doing things because of my obstacles, I am problem-solving, and finding ways to go and do them. If things go wrong, I am trying to stay calm and make rational decisions. It hasn't been easy but each time I achieve something new, I have grown and it has shown me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. There is so much freedom outside of your comfort zone and fixed mindset!

Can you relate?

Which zone or which mindset do you have? Are you stuck in your comfort zone cage or have a fixed mindset? Or are you in the learning zone or the ultimate growth zone?


There are different ways you can approach an obstacle to overcome it. Have a read of this blog post by Jeffrey I. Moore which I found quite helpful:

7 Proven Ways to Overcoming Obstacles




I have my own three tips for you to attack, knock down and overcome your obstacles. They are:

  1. Keep calm. When you suffer with anxiety as I do, the first reaction can be a rise in adrenalin in your body causing a thumping heart, sweating and a spinning head, or a panic attack. These reactions are the opposite of calm. What I've needed to do is to stop and stand still, take some deep breaths, do some self-talk and pray. It is impossible to make a rational decision when your brain and body is not in a calm state.  
  2. Ask for help. I hate asking for help as I have social anxiety. But I've learnt that if I want to save myself more stress, than it is what I need to do when I am encountering obstacles. Whether it is ringing someone, asking someone, or calling a company who can help you, it's good to ask for help. And I've found most people are more than happy to help you.
  3. Plan and do. So you need to make a decision about what you are going to do. Sometimes you may need to do some research first before you can plan.. You may need to talk to someone. You may need to backtrack. But if you are going to overcome an, decisions have to be made and a plan of attack worked out. Once you have made your plan you then need to act upon it. Don't let fear stop you. You can do it!

I want to leave you with a challenge. I'd like you to try and do one thing that challenges you psychologically or physically in the next week. Let me know what it is and how you go. Write a comment below or email me at jenny@jennywoolsey.com



Find Your Voice All Abilities Choir = Inspiration Porn

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