Disability Day of Mourning fundraiser

fight

Image: a black shirt with text in light blue and bright red, reading MOURN FOR THE DEAD, FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR THE LIVING, a quote from Mother Jones.

I’m volunteering as Sydney site coordinator for the Disability Day of Mourning again this year, but I need some help to cover the costs of venue hire, public liability insurance, and printing event materials.

If you can, please consider buying a shirt (or a hoodie, sweatshirt, or tank top) to help cover the costs involved. There’s an option to add a donation to the cost of the shirt if you’re feeling especially kind. They come in black, charcoal, navy, indigo, and purple.

Link to the Bonfire campaign here: Disability Day of Mourning

Alternatively, if you hate wearing clothes but would still like to help out, you can send $$ via paypal.me/robinmarceline.

Crip love & solidarity 

In the past five years, over 550 disabled people have been murdered by their parents, relatives or caregivers.

On Thursday, March 1st, disability communities in Sydney and around the world will gather to remember the disabled victims of filicide – disabled people murdered by their family members or caregivers.

In the year since our last vigil, our community has lost 100 more people to filicide. These are just the cases that we are aware of – since we began monitoring this issue, we learn about more murders every week. The total number of deaths is likely higher than the amount that reach the media. This problem is made worse by irresponsible news coverage which presents these murders as the sympathetic acts of loving and desperate parents, by a justice system which often gives a lighter sentence to a parent who kills a disabled child, and by the dangerous cultural prejudice that says a disabled life is not worth living.

Media coverage and public discourse about disability filicides frequently justifies them as “understandable” and sometimes “merciful”, rather than appropriately condemning the crimes and those who commit them. If the parent or caregiver stands trial, they are given sympathy and comparatively lighter sentences, if they are sentenced at all. The victims are disregarded, blamed for their own murder at the hands of people they should have been able to trust, and ultimately forgotten. And then the cycle repeats.

But it doesn’t have to.

For the last six years, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, the National Council on Independent Living, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and other disability rights organisations worldwide have come together to send a clear message that disability is not a justification for violence. We read the victims’ names, see their photographs, and gather what information we can about their lives.

We hold the Day of Mourning vigils to draw attention to the violent injustice faced by disabled people, to commemorate the lives of victims of filicide, and demand justice and equal protection under the law for all people with disabilities.

Find your local vigil site here: Day of Mourning Vigil Sites

View the online Disability Memorial here: Disability Memorial

NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US
 

CRIPS AGAINST THE CAMPS

“crips against the camps” in red block capitals, “rally for manus refugees” in smaller white block capitals, on a black background

On Friday the 17th of November, the University of Sydney Disabilities & Carers Collective held a protest outside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office, condemning the current refugee crisis and demanding the immediate evacuation of Manus Island.

We also delivered a statement & list of demands, which you can read below, or download as a word document here: University of Sydney Disabilities and Carers Collective Statement and List of Demands. You can also read it at the Disabilities & Carers Collective’s Facebook page here.

#EvacuateManus #CripsAgainstTheCamps

Crips Against The Camps protest

[image: eight young activists from the University of Sydney Disabilities & Carers Collective & Sydney Grassroots with their crossed arms raised at a protest outside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office in Edgecliff. One is a wheelchair user, one has a purple cane, & one has a sight cane. There is a megaphone on the ground. Two of the activists (myself and my mate charlie) are repping Annie Segarra’s excellent THE FUTURE IS ACCESSIBLE shirts.]

University of Sydney Disabilities & Carers Collective Statement in Solidarity With Manus Island Refugees & Condemning the Ongoing Refugee Crisis

The University of Sydney Disabilities & Carers Collective acknowledges:

  1. (i) That Australia is a racist settler state built on colonial violence;
    (ii) that the founders of “Australia” also came here on boats and without permission;
    (iii) that sovereignty was never ceded and there is no treaty with our Indigenous peoples;
    (iv) that the Aboriginal Provisional Government and the Indigenous Social Justice Association have stated that asylum seekers are welcome on Aboriginal lands in Australia;
    (v) and that the false Australian government consequently has no right to refuse entry to refugees.
  1. (i) That the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Australia ratified in 1954, defines a refugee as someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion;
    (ii) that 90% of asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat have been found to be legitimate refugees under the UN Convention, even though the terms of the Convention itself are limited;
    (iii) that the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Border Control’s insistence on referring to legitimate refugees as “illegal maritime arrivals” and “immigration detention detainees” is dehumanising and disingenuous.
  1. (i) That according to Australia’s ratification of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, this government has an obligation to provide aid to refugees fleeing persecution, regardless of whether Australia has processed their claim or recognised their refugee status;
    (ii) that the Convention must be applied without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, country of origin, sex, age, disability, sexuality, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination;
    (iii) that the Convention recognises that refugees are often forced to breach immigration rules and should not be penalised for entering or staying illegally, nor should their freedom of movement be restricted, and that prohibited penalties include charges of immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or arbitrary detainment purely on the basis of seeking asylum;
    (iv) that the Convention stipulates that no one shall expel or return (“refoule”) a refugee against their will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where they fear threats to life or freedom;
    (v) that under the Convention refugees have rights including the right to access to the courts, to primary education, to work, and the provision for documentation, including a refugee travel document in passport form;
    (vi) and that according to the Convention Australia is currently failing its obligations to refugees.
  1. (i) That Nauru and Manus Island are deeply harmful environments;
    (ii) that refugees on Nauru and Manus and in onshore detention centres experience a disproportionate prevalence of PTSD, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, as a direct result of their retraumatising surroundings;
    (iii) that the Australian government has placed refugees in environments that have caused them to develop mental, emotional, and physical disabilities arising out of trauma and neglect;
    (iv) that the Australian government has consequently failed to provide adequate healthcare to refugees.
  1. (i) That forcible institutionalisation of marginalised peoples is detrimental to health, happiness, freedom, and autonomy;
    (ii) that the forcible institutionalisation of disabled people is not so different to the forcible institutionalisation of refugees, and in both instances leads to further traumatisation, abuse, and neglect;
    (iii) and that disabled people in our Collective and the refugees on Manus, Nauru, and in onshore detention, many of whom are disabled themselves, share a common struggle.
  1. (i) That potential healthcare costs of refugees and asylum seekers are not a reason to deny them aid;
    (ii) that the above argument is a deeply eugenicist position and one that is predicated on the assumption that the worth of a human life can be determined by how much a person costs the state;
    (iii) that the above argument perpetuates harmful narratives around health and healthcare that are deeply dangerous to disabled people;
    (iv) that the above argument violates the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees’ protections against discrimination on the basis of disability;
    (v) that refugee lives have worth regardless of how expensive their medical bills are;
    (vi) that it is a community’s responsibility to care for each other;
    (vii) and that refugees are part of our community.
  1. (i) That Australia has a responsibility to the refugees placed on Manus Island and subsequently abandoned;
    (ii) that the “alternative accommodations” provided to the abandoned refugees on Manus are not safe or adequate;
    (iii) that the refugees on Manus have a reasonable fear of persecution and violence if they continue to stay in Papua New Guinea;
    (iv) that Papua New Guinea’s immigration department and chief of police have issued statements disavowing responsibility for the Manus refugees and have called on Australia to fulfil its legal obligations;
    (v) that to place refugees in the harmful conditions on Manus was a human rights violation to begin with, and that to abandon them there is not a solution to the harm of offshore detention processing, but rather a compounding of the violence and mistreatment directed towards refugees applying to Australia for aid in the face of persecution.

Consequently, the The University of Sydney Disabilities & Carers Collective demands:

  1. That the Australian government evacuate the refugees and asylum seekers presently on Manus Island, close the detention centre on Nauru for good, and bring all the refugees and asylum seekers to the place of their choosing, whether that be Australia or New Zealand;
  2. That all mandatory detainment of refugees and asylum seekers should cease immediately;
  3. That all refugees and asylum seekers should be released into the community, and be given justice, freedom, legal and medical aid, and proper humanitarian support without delay;
  4. That Peter Dutton, the current Immigration Minister, be sacked, for gross dereliction of duty, for perpetuating harmful misinformation about refugees, and for participating in a system that enacted dire human rights abuses;
  5. That all future legislative approaches to refugees and asylum seekers, in both the government and the non-government sectors, across local, regional, national, and international levels, be led by consultation with the refugee community and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  6. That specific laws be implemented prohibiting the mandatory detention of refugees and asylum seekers;
  7. That the Australian government fulfil its obligations to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, including providing refugees with freedom, settlement, and humanitarian resources regardless of the way in which they came here;
  8. That the Australian government implement strategies for proper humanitarian aid with regard to refugees and asylum seekers travelling to Australia in dangerous conditions, including maritime rescue operations;
  9. That refugees and asylum seekers should be reunited with their families in cases where they have been involuntarily separated;
  10. That the Australian government adopt policies of accountability and repatriation, including acknowledging the torture and abuse that has been enacted under the auspices of the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Border Control, and making amends to those who have been directly or indirectly harmed as a result of the traumatising system of mandatory detention, the provision of appropriate healthcare and community support, and that the refugees and asylum seekers who have been harmed as a result of Australian government policies should be compensated along with their families, and that compensation should also be given to families of those who have lost their lives after being deported or forced to self-deport to danger.
F R E E  O U R  P E O P L E !

Ratified by:

The 2017 Disabilities & Carers Collective Office-Bearers
Mollie Galvin, Hannah Makragelidis, and Noa Zulman

The 2018 Disabilities & Carers Collective Office-Bearers
Robin Eames, Mollie Galvin, and Ren Rennie

LOVECRY/BATTLESONG

Recently one of my poems was a finalist in the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ Pen2Paper disability-focussed creative writing contest. I have reproduced the text of the poem here.

To my crip siblings, crip lovers, & crip mentors, to Laura Hershey and to Stella Young.

LOVECRY/BATTLESONG

To the crips I love and who love me in return
from a distance or intimately close during
long nights where neither of us can sleep for pain
waiting for morning and the pain that morning brings
I am here for you.

To the crips who have been crips for longer
than I have been on this earth and who
welcomed me with open hearts and fire
of loving purpose in ancient battle
I am here for you.

To the crips who taught me power
comes from pride and pride comes from practicing
until you are proud (and that you don’t get proud
by being shit: you get proud by practicing)
I am here for you.

To the crips who do not know that they are crips
but know only that they hurt that their bones ache
that their muscles are heavy and that their eyes sting
in sunlight after another unhelpful appointment
I am here for you.

To the crips institutionalised and imprisoned
whose first crime was living and continuing to live
abused and neglected in homes that are not homes
trapped not in their bodies but by bar and mortar
I am here for you.

To the crips who sleep overnight
in desk chairs and wheelchairs
in the offices of politicians bedecked with banners
reading FREE OUR PEOPLE
I am here for you.

To the crips that have houses but not homes
or homes but not houses or neither home nor house
forced to live on the kindness and sideways glances
of strangers on public transport
I am here for you.

To the crips whose lands have been stolen
whose waters have been stolen
whose children have been stolen and whose lives
continue to be stolen
I am here for you.

To the crips who dislocate their hips
doing full service sex work to pay for medical bills
incurred from dislocating their hips
while doing full service sex work
I am here for you.

To the crips fighting to love each other
and to have their love recognised on equal terms
with all who are in love without penalty or price
or public stigma or getting bashed on street corners
I am here for you.

To the crips fighting to love themselves
after being unloved by those who should have loved them
or after being hurt by those who professed their love
but only when it was convenient
I am here for you.

To the crips who are drowning
in cold oceans seeking refuge or drowning
on dry land as their lungs fill with fluid
while emergency registrars do not watch
I am here for you.

To the crips who are burning
who have burnt out and from the ashes
are rising again charcoaled and brittle
and bold and battle-hardened
I am here for you.

To the crips who died
after living and loving and fighting
and then falling
to be remembered with love and fight
I am here for you.

To the crips who aren’t dead yet
living and fighting and fighting to live
and loving each other and fighting
for each other
I am here for you.

To the young crips, the old crips, the
queer crips, the trans crips, the brown crips,
the black crips, the proud crips, the tired crips,
the warrior crips, the poet crips, the dead and alive crips,
I think of you
I love and fight for you
I am here for you.

HELL ON WHEELS

I wrote an article recently for Honi Soit about mobility accessibility, wheelchair users & our history at the University of Sydney, my beloved but dreadfully inaccessible uni.

You can read it here or on Honi Soit’s website.

I love my wheelchair. My wheels are rad as hell. My ride is a stylish manual MOGO Infinity with Round Betty wheels and a purple and green frame. The seat and backrest are specially fitted to my spine. Before I got my chair I was, for the most part, stuck at home. My joints dislocate daily, and while walking on dislocated hips is not impossible, it’s extraordinarily painful. There’s a reason my hospital patient records all have “high fall risk” at the top. But now that I’m not overexerting, trying to make my wobbly Jenga tower of a skeleton walk under its own power, I can go out dancing in my wheelchair and stay out for hours.

This said, making it through the world as a wheelchair user is exhausting. And please don’t misinterpret what I mean here: my wheelchair is a blessing. I used to stagger around on crutches and canes that dislocated my wrists and elbows if I used them for more than a few minutes, and leaving the house was such a tiring feat that I nearly absent failed my last undergraduate unit even though I was getting consistent HDs.

The problem is not the chair itself. The problem is that the paving stones on my street are broken to shit. The problem is that the four closest train stations to me are all inaccessible. The problem is that pushing myself uphill dislocates my shoulders, and power wheel attachments cost $9000. The problem is that I couldn’t access one of my honours seminars and my professor advised me to drop out rather than dealing with the lack of access.

In short, it’s not me, it’s USyd.

In five years of ambulatory study, I saw only two wheelchair users on campus. In my sixth year I have seen four more, mostly in the Assistive Technology Lab. I don’t know of any current staff members who are wheelchair users.

This is not statistically proportional. In Australia, 20 per cent of the population is disabled. The figure is 50 per cent in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Of course, not every disabled person is a wheelchair user. But enough of us are that our absence at the University is disquieting.

nma-44066052-001-wm-w685

Image: Jacob Baldwin, a white man in a red jacket, grinning wildly as he zooms past some trees on his red motorised wheelchair. Photo taken during the Ability Trek journey around Australia: 16,500 kilometres by motorised wheelchair from 1992 to 1996. Jacob Baldwin collection, National Museum of Australia.

USyd admitted their first female students in 1885: Mary Elizabeth Brown and Isola Florence Thompson. Our first self-identifying Aboriginal students were admitted in 1965: Charlie Perkins and Gary Williams. I don’t know who our first disabled student was.

According to the university’s archives, the first record that exists of a wheelchair-using student is Jacob Baldwin, who commenced study in 1975. Baldwin had cerebral palsy, which continues to affect one  in 500 Australians. In his application to study rehabilitation counselling at Cumberland College, he wrote:

“My qualifications to embark on such a course are almost nil, but the most important factor is that I feel very strongly, partly because of my own disability, about the unsatisfactory situation facing the handicapped people of today. A lot more has to be done by the able-bodied and the knowledgeable handicapped people in the community. Disabled people are human and more has to be done to introduce them into the ‘normal’ society and I, personally, wish to be in a position to help toward their acceptance and their general betterment.”

Cumberland College was not wheelchair accessible at the time. Baldwin had to wait outside the lecture theatre for other students to carry him and his wheelchair up the stairs. He was a skilled writer, but wrote by laboriously picking out letters on a typewriter one-handed. This prevented him from taking notes during classes, so he taped his lectures and his stepfather transcribed them. He later went on to become a founding member of People With Disability Australia, and was an early proponent of the ideas that laid the foundation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The global disability rights movement had been rumbling underground for nearly a century at this point. When we are taught about Helen Keller in school, it is usually in the form of what the late and great comedian and writer Stella Young called “inspiration porn”: Keller is made out to be a helpless, animalistic youth, tragically prevented from communication by her deafblindness, and charitably aided by her teacher Anne Sullivan who taught her Braille and sign language. And yet Keller lived to 87 and became an outspoken suffragist and radical socialist.

2012-06-22-IMAGE_Helen_Strikers

[Image: HELEN KELLER CHEERS ACTORS’ STRIKE PICKETS. A newspaper clipping of Helen Keller joining the picket line at a protest of her own biopic.]

In 1949 she visited Sydney and founded the Gordon Davis House Youth Hostel in Stanmore. There were other disabled organisations constellated around the university grounds, but most of them were institutional in nature: the Weemala Home for Incurables; the Spastic Centre, now the Cerebral Palsy Association; the Callan Park Hospital for the Insane, founded in 1880, now the Sydney College of the Arts; and the New South Wales Deaf Dumb and Blind Institution, now the Institute Building, having been bought by USyd in 1961.

By the 1960s, disability activism had blossomed into a radical public movement in the United States. Like many other social causes, it began in student activism, namely at the University of California, Berkeley, where Ed Roberts and the Rolling Quads smashed their own curb cuts out of concrete, and at Gallaudet University, where Deaf students barricaded the campus with upturned buses in protest at the appointment of another hearing president. It wasn’t until the late 70s that disability activism came to the forefront in Australia. Joan Hume had graduated from USyd in 1969 as an abled student, then after breaking her neck in 1971, returned for postgraduate study as a wheelchair user. She wrote that in the 70s, “Universities, post-secondary training colleges and other forms of higher education actively discouraged enrolment of students with disabilities”.

Kath Duncan attended the University of Sydney from 1979 to 1980. For the most part she did not use her wheelchair on campus: “I stumped around more in those days than I do now,” she says. “Unless it’s changed heaps, it was abysmal for physical access.”

Of course USyd is hardly unique in this respect, then or now. Tertiary education in general is inaccessible on many fronts: poverty, rurality, Indigeneity, and disability are only some of the many factors that may keep otherwise eager students from enrolling in university. Sydney, specifically, is an accessibility hellpit. When visiting Melbourne I was flabbergasted by the functional public transport, the proliferation of decent curb cuts, and the generally higher commitment to meeting basic accessibility standards. In Melbourne, wheelchair users are frequent and unremarkable pedestrians. In Sydney, the sight of another wheelchair user is rare and kind of exciting.

I am a year younger than the Disability Discrimination Act (1992)(DDA), but the DDA is known to many in the disabled community as a “toothless tiger”. Unlike every other anti-discrimination law in Australia, the DDA has a clause for “reasonable exceptions”. This means that if a building, organisation, employer, or individual can prove that not discriminating against disabled people is too difficult, too expensive, or a cause of “unjustifiable hardship”, they are granted an exception to the law. Essentially this means that inaccessibility is the norm and disabled people are expected to sue if we want to access our environment on equal terms. Appealing to the DDA is rarely fruitful: more often than not claims are struck down and the complainant is forced to pay legal fees on top of that.

USyd violates the DDA in hundreds of ways everyday, but it’s impossible to file discrimination suits for every building on campus. For one thing, it would be even harder for disabled students to finish their degrees in between all the lawsuits, and for another thing, the courthouses are also inaccessible.

“I definitely limit my time at USyd due to its inaccessibility,” says Gabriel. “If I do have to go to USyd for whatever reason, I will opt to leave my wheelchair at home and instead use a cane or crutches because if I am using those, stairs and cobblestones are only a difficulty, rather than an impossibility.”

“I tried to get the lift upstairs to Manning Bar and spent a good 20 minutes waiting for the correct key to open the door, before being told that the security guard couldn’t find the correct key and I would have to take the stairs. That one instance of taking the stairs meant that I could not stand for at least the next three hours.”

“The stairs are a nightmare,” Saz agrees, stating that the University as a whole is “alienating as fuck”.

Accessible building codes have only been legally mandated since 2010, and it shows again and again:

“Of course we’re accessible, but we don’t have a lift or anything. We can carry you up the stairs though!”

“Yes we are wheelchair accessible, but you need to call up one of our staff members to unlock the goods and services entrance.”

“The performance is accessible, but the seats are built in so you will need to wheel in first and park your chair on the edge of the stage.”

“We are wheelchair accessible but there are several steps at the entrance.”

“We are accessible but not wheelchair accessible.”

“Yes we are accessible but we will need you to get out of your chair.”

“We want to be accessible but the building is heritage listed so we can’t install ramps.”

HELLONWHEELS

[Image: my own art, a digital collage of a street sign that says NO ACCESS with an arrow pointing to the right, beneath the traditional wheelchair symbol (the International Symbol of Access). Over the old symbol is a partially transparent glam punk rainbow version of the Accessible Icon Project’s self-propelling wheelchair symbol, with a spiky skull head and neon flames flaring out from the wheels.]

Noa Zulman, one of the current SRC Disabilities Office Bearers, says that “dealing day-to-day with disability in a professional environment becomes an all-consuming task”. Noa is determined, but her outlook is bleak. “As passionate about disability advocacy as I am, I really don’t think I could go into it professionally. It’s so draining and a constant demand.”

Still, even in a world where accessibility is the exception rather than the norm, USyd lags embarrassingly far behind when it comes to accessible infrastructure. It’s not for lack of goodwill. Well, actually, it is sometimes. This year, my professor refused to move his lectures to a wheelchair accessible building, despite having been informed about my access requirements before the start of semester. He had assumed I’d dropped out, because I hadn’t shown up to the room I couldn’t get into.

Ricky Buchanan graduated from La Trobe in 1998 and says little has changed since then. “People today are still fighting for exactly the same stuff we were fighting for twenty years ago” Buchanan says. “The technology has changed a bit, but the actual problems are basically the same: lecturers who don’t want to actually grant the accommodations that the disability services says you’re eligible for; disability services not understanding what’s actually needed; people feeling like accessibility is just ‘too hard’ and why should they change things for just one person.”

In theory, the University’s Disability Services should pick up the slack, but students are often left unimpressed.

“Like, sure, if you have a centrally timetabled classroom that doesn’t meet your requirements they might be able to help,” Anna explains. “But if you have two tutes back to back on opposite sides of campus, you’re shit out of luck.”

Elsa has similar qualms. “If you need something that wasn’t on the very short list of accommodations offered, it’s pretty much too bad,” she says. “Without the unit coordinator’s support, Disability Services’ abilities are severely limited. It’s exhausting and disheartening feeling like you constantly have to fight for accessibility. And it’s very isolating too.”

Jax Jacki Brown started studying at USyd in 2007, but left after a semester because the conditions were so dreadful. She visited recently for a guest panel during Disability Inclusion Week and told me that access is still “pretty poor”.

“People still routinely individualise disability as a personal problem and not systemic issue of rights and access and a fight against discrimination,” she says.

Many buildings do not have wheelchair accessible entrances, or wheelchair accessible amenities. Some buildings do not have elevators. There are several hydraulic wheelchair ramps, but they are usually either locked or broken, and nobody ever seems to know who keeps the key or how to contact them.

But these are not the only issues to contend with.

“The campus is huge and a nightmare navigating and cobblestones deserve to burn in hell,” says Flynn. “My bendy ankles hate cobblestones, especially since all the ones at USyd are on hills,” adds Sam. “I’ve twisted my ankles on them countless times.”

Other students agree: “murder on my ankles”, “lovely to look at, hell to ride over”, and “the bane of my life” are choice phrases. Evander tells me that “any form of bumps or cobbles were frustrating. I’d be carrying a hot soup for my lunch in one hand or on my knee and any bumps meant I got scalded a lot.”

Even the cobblestones, however, could be salvageable. “One of my favourite bits of inclusive design that I’ve seen was in the gågade (pedestrian-only city centre) in Copenhagen. The entire area is, of course, cobbled, but along each side of the street, they’ve placed a pair of tracks of smooth tiles, for wheelchair users to travel comfortably,” says Alex Haagaard, a writer and disability rights activist.

Online study is one option for students, but not an ideal one. “It’s really lonely doing online study,” says Hester-Henrietta. “A wheelchair means freedom, it means I can get out and do stuff, but online study cuts my contact from people. Chronic illness and disability meant that I lost a lot of friends or lost the opportunity to make friends in my teenage years as I had to drop out of high school, and I thought university would mean I’d be able to make friends, but because I can’t get around campus, I can’t make any now.”

For staff members, the situation isn’t much better. Dr Sheelagh Daniels-Mayes, a lecturer in Aboriginal education, is one of only eight blind and low vision academics in Australia. She estimates that she spends about 25 extra hours a week making up for inaccessibility. Turnitin and Grade Centre are both inaccessible for screen reading software, and PDF documents are “sheer hell”. And, unfailingly, the cobblestones. In order to avoid them, Sheelagh’s guide dog Nina insists on taking her on a roundabout route through the Law buildings.

The committee tasked with establishing a university in Sydney in the 1840s declared that they intended to create “a University which shall be accessible to all classes”. Later, in 1876, Dr Charles Badham claimed in his Commemoration Day address that the University of Sydney was “no inaccessible shrine for the glorification of a few”. And yet for the most part, this promised accessibility has failed to manifest.

The University of Sydney’s Disability Action Plan 2013-2018 aims to “incorporate the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities in all policies and planning” and to “provide an accessible built environment to everyone”. The plan also commits to developing a “best practice accessible environment” that is “not only based on meeting legislative requirements”.Such a sentiment is admirable, but falls a little flat considering that we don’t currently meet legislative requirements either. Perhaps the most promising aspect of the current Disability Action Plan is that it acknowledges that “we still have more to achieve in access and inclusion”, and acknowledges that accessibility is “both our legislative and moral duty”.

I love my university, but I cannot in good conscience recommend it to fellow disabled students. Hopefully this won’t always be the case. There are good people here. We are making our way forward, slowly and stutteringly, but we are getting there.

Still, if I end up losing it and taking a jackhammer to Eastern Avenue, Ed Roberts style, at least now you know why.

 

UNSPOKEN WORDS: a festival of writing

[image description: collaged text in pink orange & white on purple background, UNSPOKEN WORDS June 3-4 RED RATTLER: performances/workshops/panels/open mic reading space]

oh gosh there has been so much happening lately & i have so little time to think let alone to write anything about any of it. i am running desperately late on a numberof important projects (including salvaging my Honours degree – i have just yesterday managed to get access to Dragon dictation software which i am very much hoping will help with the writing of long essays with dislocated wrists part of that!!)

most recently neglected: my appearance in a series of panels & lectures on at UNSPOKEN WORDS, a festival of stories. the sunday evening session (including a poetry reading from myself) was Auslan interpreted by the excellent Auslan Stage Left. i am quite proud of the accessibility guide i helped develop which is available here.

the program is available here & lists the incredible lineup of artists and panels, including Hani Abdile, Evelyn Araluen, Maryam Azam, Stephany Basia, the Black and Deadly Women’s Poetry Circle, Emily Crocker, Winnie Dunn,  Stelly Gappasauress, Isaac Green, Dan Hogan and Stacey Teague of Subbed In, Lizzy Jarrett, Gabrielle Journey Jones, Holly Friedlander Liddicoat, Fayroze Lutta, Paige Phillips, Poesifika, Candy Royalle, Sea, Ella Skilbeck-Porter, Effy Marie Smith, Margarita Tenser, Thelma Thomas aka MC Trey, Bron Watkins, and Joseph Zane. the festival was MC’d and organised by Emma Rose Smith.

i ran 1 solo lecture, was on 2 joint panels, & read some of my poetry in the evening.

defining-ourselves-for-ourselves

[image description: white text on pink and blue background. PANEL – DEFINING OURSELVES FOR OURSELVES]

Defining Ourselves for Ourselves

Maryam Azam, Winnie Dunn, Robin M. Eames

11:15am – 12:15pm, main stage

Can we define ourselves by writing ourselves? We write ourselves, in whatever way possible for our individual needs, so as to create alternatives to single narratives. We need to see ourselves represented by people like us. Too many stories filter the whole world of experience through the gaze of abled cishet white people. This panel discusses the resistant power of telling our own stories, through the symbolic dialogue between living, visibility and text. We ask if and how we can write despite and beyond the dominating gaze of dual invisibility/hypervisibility that often occurs around politicised bodies.

CRIPPING THE LITERARY

[image description: white text on yellow and blue background. LECTURE – CRIPPING THE LITERARY: FINDING CRIP CULTURE]

Cripping the Literary: Finding Crip Culture, Learning Crip Language
Robin M. Eames

2:30 – 3:00pm, main stage

A fifth of Australians are disabled. So where the fuck are they? Are they at your poetry events? Are you reading their work? Are you listening to their communities? Are you fighting alongside them for their civil rights? If not, why? How do we change that? How can a gig, or space, or culture, be accessible (or not)? What are we overlooking? Why aren’t wheelchair users coming to our non-wheelchair-accessible events? How does disabled culture & community even manifest itself? For few answers & more questions, come to this lecture by Robin M. Eames, a disabled queertrans warrior poet who is only mostly dead.

queering-poetry

[image description: white text on pink and blue background. PANEL – QUEERING POETRY: WRITING OURSELVES INTO EXISTENCE]

Queering Poetry: Writing Ourselves Into Existence

Margarita Tenser, Isaac Green, Robin M. Eames

5:00 – 5:45pm, main stage

Three trans, queer, & disabled panellists speak about queering poetry, trans retrohistories, art & intersectional identity, living in ill-fitting worlds & bodies, finding ourselves in stories not made with us in mind, and writing ourselves back into the narratives.

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[image description: white text on pink and yellow background. PERFORMANCES – UNFINISHED BUSINESS]

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Doors open (and dinner served) from 6:30, performances start 6:45. Main stage.

Hani Abdile, Winnie Dunn, Isaac Green, Robin M. Eames, Lorin Elizabeth, Dan Hogan, Elizabeth Jarrett, Gabrielle Journey Jones, Ella Skilbeck-Porter, Margarita Tenser, Auslan Stage Left

Come one and all to the biggest session of Unspoken Words! Hosted by the wonderful Lorin Elizabeth, this night will feature poetry readings by Winnie Dunn, Isaac Green, Robin M. Eames, Dan Hogan, Elizabeth Jarrett, Gabrielle Journey Jones, Ella Skilbeck-Porter and Margarita Tenser.

Hani Abdile will then present Absent Souls: A conversation with imprisoned souls. This new performance will be accompanied by a Q&A session and Hani’s performance of her own poetry.

This session will feature live Auslan interpretation thanks to Auslan Stage Left!

Dinner will be available thanks to Parliament on King, the social enterprise caterer. Beautiful food made with love. Proceeds from the catering are reinvested into hospitality training programs for locals with asylum seeker / refugee backgrounds at the King St café.

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[image description: event poster with a not-quite-complete list of artists, in the style of the featured image of this blog post, described above]

the festival was held at the Red Rattler Theatre, on the stolen lands of the Gadigal Wangal peoples of the Eora nation. sovereignty has never been ceded. always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

i really can’t emphasise enough how utterly awed, delighted, & proud i felt to be sharing a stage with such powerful & beautiful artists, & to have the chance to listen to their words. we did something really special last weekend & it gives me hope.