Sunday, March 1, 2009

An Excerpt

I ran across this article at about about Francesca Martinez, a comedian, and was really impressed with her point of view:

Last December, I guested on the topical news Radio 4 show Broadcasting House. One of the stories up for debate was David Cameron's Christmas card, which featured a photo of his family, including his young son Ivan, who had cerebral palsy. There was talk of the Tory leader using Ivan as a political tool to make him seem more caring and sympathetic.

I felt compelled to point out that Ivan was his son and therefore should be in a family photo. I imagined that had Mr Cameron left Ivan out of this family scene, he would have been chastised for keeping him invisible. He couldn't win. I thought the only fair question was whether any of his children should have appeared and if it was right of him to place them in the media spotlight. As usual, someone's disability had made them an issue first and a human being second.

That's the huge secret about disability – anyone with experience of it knows that a disabled person is just a person they love. A disability is like hair colour, eye colour, height or weight, just another arbitrary feature that those around you cease to focus on and which, ultimately, becomes normality.

I was born with mild cerebral palsy: according to my mother, if I was like a newborn foal. I like to think that this charming comparison is because of their wobbly legs and slim frame. I like to call myself… wobbly. I admit that the doctor did not use that word as he informed my parents of my condition when I was a somewhat floppy two-year-old in my mother's arms, but I can't stand those depressing terms that someone deemed appropriate to burden a human being with for the rest of their lives.

No wonder people are still so nervous about disability, and I can only conclude that names for them are hand-picked from a tombola of words most likely to induce fear and panic. Just stick your hand in and pull one out. Syndrome. Disorder. Cerebral. Palsy. Disease. Spina. Bifida. The rest is easy. Take two words, mix them together, apply to one human being and, hey presto, you've got a ready-made freak. Labels are powerful tools that shape attitudes and tell us much about how the things they are describing are viewed. I have spent my life trying to extricate myself from the label that was plastered all over me at birth.

My parents were young when I wobbled into their world, and full of love for their first child. After hospital negligence during my birth, I did not breathe for seven minutes, resulting in starvation of oxygen to the brain. After I was resuscitated, my mum said that the only sign that "something was up" was the repeated reflex tests that were done on me before I left.

When, aged two, I was finally diagnosed, my parents did not seem fazed by the revelation. Sometimes I've asked them if they were shocked or upset at my diagnosis, but all they say is: "You were Francesca and completely normal to us." This attitude shaped my childhood and allowed me to be happy and confident, totally unaware of difference.

At school, I was popular and naughty, a real tomboy who had her first boyfriend aged five. My brother came along and, to him, I really am normal, and when his friends asked him why his big sister "talked funny", he'd reply with a puzzled: "What do you mean?"

I love this!!!

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