A week of lows and high

Last week I went to the Disability Hub meeting. A police officer from the community neighbourhood team came to speak to us about a toolkit they are in the process of creating to help raise awareness of different diversity groups within the public for the force. The police representative seemed to be well informed and aware, however when I asked him if he had the documents he passed around during the meeting in electronic format, he wasn’t sure what to answer as he had not thought about it!

On the way to the disability hub, I thought I was having a pleasant exchange with the taxi driver and was able to not feel on edge, only for him to ask at the end of the journey ‘if you don’t mind, what happened to you?’ When I refused to answer him, saying ‘no actually I do mind’, he said ‘it’s OK, I’ll pray for you’!

Wait, it even gets better!

On another taxi journey, the driver turned to my PA and said, ‘what is wrong with her?’ When my PA brushed off the question, the driver started to talk to me in a very loud voice saying, ‘ARE YOU OK LOVE?’. I cannot comprehend how people can be so patronising and not realise how rude they are being.

Last Saturday we went to see a play called ‘Dancing Bear’, a semi-autobiographical account of LGBTQ+ community and the isolation and discrimination they face on daily basis and even within their fate community in churches in modern Britain. I could see lots of parallels with the disability community – similar oppressive structures. A BSL interpreter was creatively and cleverly embedded in the play, which was fantastic. However, the audio description did not live up to expectation, and most scenes, including the key moments were left undescribed, so I was not able to follow the play fully.

The Q and A following the play was interesting and some disability issues were discussed. We have sent a feedback email to the writer and have informed her of my concerns. I am hoping that they will take the VIP’s access needs on board more for their next iteration of the show.

The highlight of this week was to see my article in print in the current issue of Disability and Society. It is important for me to tell my story of the Armenian academic trip in which I gave lectures and workshops while only relying on my wonderfully supportive parents. I hope my point was clear that it should not be down to my aging parents to provide support in that specific context rather academic mobility should be the norm for disabled researchers as it is for non-disabled scholars, and the academic community should be inclusive and accessible to all.

Feeling responsible

We started the previous week’s Women for Peace session by playing a game, where in two teams we were trying to grab the pen first, by passing a message down the line.  Following the game, we discussed how easy it was to pass a message along, but we felt responsible when we had to retract a false message.  Since my hands sometimes jerk uncontrollably, I felt pressured and responsible for our group, luckily our group won! We then talked through two methods of holding difficult conversations with another person – the Dialogue Model, and I Statements.  

The Dialogue model is a useful way to address a comment that a person has made that we don’t feel comfortable with like a disablist comment/opinion. The model follows four stages of ignore, postpone, refer or dialogue in order to take us through a constructive dialogue about a topic.  The ‘I’ Statements, on the other hand, are based on a non-judgemental model, where the person simply expresses how a certain conflict has made her feel and invites the other person to have a constructive discussion.  I preferred the latter as it’s more about owning up to how one feels and taking responsibility for it instead of blaming the other.  Following this, we came up with some conflict scenarios from personal experience in small groups.  We then sat in two lines to do role plays with those topics, using our new dialogue models as tools to resolve the conflicts.  I chose to use the statement ‘You don’t look blind’ for my scenario, which is often expressed in a complimentary way, however this is not received in the same way, at least by me.  While the person role playing my scenario did not appear to realise the importance of ‘blind’ identity to my personhood, when acting out, I think the group understood the message.

In our penultimate Women for Peace session this week, we individually had to come up with four words that define peace, then as a group work together to narrow it down to only four in total.  This resulted in really interesting discussions about how we work together in an environment, which is in principle based on ‘equality’, and how we can apply the lessons learned to our everyday life.  As an ice breaker, we started this session with a game, where one person in the middle said a statement and those who identified with her should have stood up, looking for another chair to sit on.  This game clearly excluded me.  Since playing not fully inclusive games has been the norm almost every session, I was really upset that even after nine sessions things haven’t changed to become more inclusive.  I burst into tears and had to take time out.  I shared my concerns with one of the facilitators and followed it up with writing a feedback email.  While on one hand I feel it shouldn’t be down to me to educate people having felt marginalised already, on the other hand I feel responsible for making people more aware.  I am continuously surprised that most equality trainings are about race, ethnic background and religious beliefs with little attention given to disability.  I wish I wasn’t so accepting and that I was more vocal through the course; perhaps people would have then understood my views better and wouldn’t have accepted some of the non-inclusive practices that have been going on.  Being a minority even in a women’s only group, which is formed around promoting peace is not without its challenges.  I’ll be talking more about this with the facilitators at the next, and last, session.

Outside the course, I participated in a focus group with some other equality hub members about how to make Leeds city centre more accessible.  We had interesting ideas about the things we liked about Leeds and the things we didn’t like. From my perspective, I like open spaces such as Briggate and its pedestrian zone, and what I don’t like is the narrow pavements, especially when people leave their black, green and brown bins blocking the path. We also spoke of an ideal Leeds and what we would like to see.  Recommendations included more lighting and safe spaces, audio signs and information (including bus/train timetables) and wider pavements.  All in all it was a productive session for us, but much depends on how much is taken on board by the council when planning a more accessible Leeds.

We have had another lot of snow this weekend, which restricted my mobility once again.  This meant my plans to walk to the Carriageworks  Theatre to see a play had to be cancelled.  It was difficult enough to go to the relatively nearby Hyde Park Picture House to see ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, a beautiful film depicting a woman’s trauma after losing her daughter, and her fight for justice despite being patronised and discriminated against by her own community.

For the second time, David and I went to the historical talks held in Left Bank Centre.  While the first one we went to was about the Leeds Zoo located on Cardigan Road around 1848, this one was about the Adelphi and Garden Gate pubs, located in Hunslet.  I find the talks really fascinating, shedding a wonderful light on some of the treasures in Leeds, both from Architectural and social historical perspectives.  I’m so looking forward to going to the next one.

Another busy week

At last week’s Women for Peace course, we explored the multiple story narrative.  We started by sitting in four groups of four, all of us writing a fact about ourselves.  Then we had to guess which fact belonged to which person.  When we had more information about another person, it was easier to guess the fact about them, while others were not as easy.  I chose to disclose some information about my spirit animal to show a different narrative to my identity.  I was not sure how the group would react to my fact or if indeed they would take it to be a fact.  Everyone was very matter of fact about it! I wish I had been able to talk about more facts about my life!  I am sure there will be more opportunities for this in the coming weeks.  Then we used a ball of wool to demonstrate how connected we all are, this was done through learning more about each other’s multiple narratives and connecting our feet together. Women for Peace 'ball of string' exercise

Following this, we created a character called Anna and we gave her many different identities/labels.  The idea was to show how a person can have multiple, yet contradictory facets to them, which interact together and shape who they are.  This full information, therefore informs their multiple narratives.  I did not quite enjoy this exercise as it was less structured and the aims of the activity were not clear from the outset.  It was interesting that no one in the group thought about the ‘disabled’ label for Anna (in terms of physical or sensory impairments), and when I suggested Anna having mobility impairment, the group then considered different access barriers and became aware of a new set of dynamics and inequalities. 

Returning to academia, I worked on the second draft for the ‘current issue’ of Disability and Society journal about my experiences of my recent academic trip to Armenia.  While I wanted to write about the disadvantages I faced as an independent researcher during this trip, the editor was more interested in the parallels and contrasts between the Armenian and British education system and recommended some changes accordingly.  Since submitting the first draft I have come across another platform where I can write more fully about my experiences of being an independent academic. Therefore, I decided to dedicate the entire short article for the ‘current issue’ to the exploration of differences and similarities observed in the two countries.  I felt comfortable with this decision knowing that my firsthand experience will be dealt with in more detail in another publication.

On Thursday we were suppose to see a throat singing band from Mongolia in the Harold Assembly Rooms, called Huun Huur Tu.  I was so looking forward to seeing this as we have seen some really good world music gigs in this venue.  Sadly we were informed on the Thursday morning that the concert was cancelled. I was gutted. I love going to the Howard Assembly Room, it is such an incredible venue, it’s hard to believe there are often big musicals going on in the Grand Theatre across the hall! Such a contrast. I have met some wonderful new friends by going to these kind of events. Music can really bring us together, and this was demonstrated even more as part of my healing work.

The healing centre was busy on Friday and we were short of staff.  I do not know where the time went as apart from a 20 minutes break, I was giving healing all afternoon.  I felt confident and happy to make a difference in people’s lives, such a privilege.   Last Saturday I met some students and some full healers for a few hours of healing.  We listened to some healing music from across the globe followed by some time to chat and support.  I felt encouraged and sustained talking to friends.

We finished watching the Human Planet series, truly an amazing and a very interesting program.  It has made me think though whether if we are ever able to live ethically without exploiting or harming our planet or other living creatures including humans? I will certainly live even more mindfully. We also went to see ‘The Post’ last Sunday followed by a Q and A with Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom at the Hyde Park Picture House.  The film highlighted important points about ‘good’ journalism including the publication of the truth and the goals of journalism, which are pertinent to today’s media obsessed world.

I spent the rest of the weekend seeing some old friends, whom I haven’t seen for a very long time.  I wish time and energy weren’t such big barriers in my life, preventing me from doing what I enjoy.

Survival and Fundamental Needs

Last week was not as busy.  Earlier on in the week, I received a rejection email for an abstract I had submitted for a journal article.  While I was disappointed by the rejection news, in retrospect, I was relieved to have more time for my other commitments.

Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs - understanding, affection, leisure, identity, freedom, creativity, protection, subsistence, and participationI attended the second session of the Women for Peace course.  This week, we looked at Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs, which explains the importance of understanding, love and affection, rest and leisure, identity, freedom, creativity, security and protection, subsistence, and participation in equal measures.  According to Max-Neef conflict occurs when one or more of these are lacking.  The chart was thought provoking, and while I liked the principle behind it, I did not feel these needs apply in equal measures across cultures or ages.  Sat in silence, we then made assumptions about one another in pairs.  Looking into each others’ eyes, while making a number of assumptions was a very uncomfortable experience for many of us, myself included.  Culturally we are not conditioned to make direct eye contact for longer than a few seconds. 

The exercise also made us aware of the challenges associated with making assumptions based on the limited information we have of an individual.  We watched Chimamanda Adichi’s Ted Talk on the Dangers of a Single Story narrative to reinforce the negative aspects of last exercise (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story).  Following this, we were asked to write down words/phrases that are associated with the stereotypes of certain groups such as Irish people and refugees, and then have a discussion.  This exercise brought home for me my own Single Story narrative, and the stereotypes and assumptions people make about disabled people such as unfortunate, unemployed, lazy, scrounger, useless, lonely and asexual.  I thought about the damaging effects that these labels leave on me and other disabled people, and the wider implications for the society at large.  

On Thursday I talked about my experiences of employing PAs for over a decade in the Employers Briefing, organised by Leeds CIL, to a group of new and potential employers.  They asked questions about different stages of being an employer from recruitment to management issues.  Although some of the questions were personal and trickier to answer than the other ones, I was only too happy to help as I know how valuable I would have found this kind of session myself, when I started using the Direct Payment scheme with all its overwhelming complications.  Hearing the firsthand experiences of people who employ PAs would have given me clarity and confidence in my new role as an employer.

On Friday I attended the Healing Centre and saw and gave healing to a new client on my own.  I had an audience – two watching as students, and two full healers.  Despite this, I felt confident with the process, something which I would have not found so easy a year ago.  The positive feedback I received from the client gave me further encouragement, knowing that I am on the right path.  I have started reading a book by Barbra Brennan called Light Emerging: The Journey of Personal Healing. I am finding its take on healing and the auric field so very fascinating.  If only I was able to undertake a course in one of the Barbara Brennan Schools of Healing!

I have been watching episodes from the BBC Human Planet series.  It has made me wonder how complacent we in the Western modern civilisations have become, with all our comforts, when comparing our lives with the harsh realities of Inuit and native foresters, and how much we are given, for which we should be grateful and yet often are not.

Shall we begin?

The first week of blogging was a busy one – just as well, as I am new to blogging and now have lots to write about!

Two basic dimensions of behavior (assertiveness and cooperativeness) lead to 1 of 5 models - competing, avoiding, accommodating, collaborating, compromising

The week started with the first session of the ‘Women for Peace’ course.  The day was a promising start to what seemed to be a very interesting course.  In a group of 14 enthusiastic and friendly women, we attempted to define five key aspects of our identity.  Then we tried to narrow these down to three core identities. Mine were ‘healer’, ‘disabled’ and ‘spiritual being’.  I let go of ‘activist’ and ‘researcher’ parts of my identity, reasoning that by keeping the ‘disabled’ identity, I can continue challenging, informing and learning about oppression without using the labels of ‘activist’ or ‘researcher’.  Following this, we thought about how these aspects of our identity relate to our beliefs and value-systems, and then how these specific values affect our everyday behaviour and attitudes.  I was surprised though that neither my Iranian nor Armenian identities came to mind when choosing the five identities, considering I am a proud Armenian Iranian.  Through a number of role play examples, we played out different conflict scenarios, to find out how we resolve various conflicts in a range of relationship contexts.  These were then linked with Thomas-Kilman’s conflict management styles diagram.  Role plays generally make me very uncomfortable but I felt comfortable enough to opt out from this activity.  The group was really supportive and I felt at ease with everyone.  In the end of the session, I had offers of lifts for next week, which was very reassuring and meant a lot to me.  Using a taxi would have presented problems in terms of walking to and from the taxi unassisted.  

On the Wednesday, I attended the Disability Hub meeting organised and run by Leeds City Council.  In the meeting a representative from the Royal British Legion gave a presentation about the scope of the charity and the wide range of support it offers to the service personnel, both past and present. Then the project manager of Stop Hate UK talked about an event to be held later on this year with the aim of bringing organisations and people working on hate crime in Leeds together for collaboration and learning.  I expressed interest in getting involved and shared my contact details.  After the presentations, members had chance to share their concerns.  Listening to different discrimination people face in their daily lives made me sad, no matter how much I push away my own frustration with people’s negative attitude towards me, disabled people’s oppression and struggle continue to affect us all.

On Thursday I participated in the Equality Hub with another Disability Hub representative.  We shared with the other members and council staff our discussions from the previous day and our hub activities.  We listened to the issues raised by other hub members.  I felt confident in this meeting to share with the Taxi Licensing representatives my personal difficulties I have experienced with taxi drivers, for example about intrusive questions they ask me like ‘Do you live on your own?’ or ‘What happened to you?’ referring to my impairments. He apologised on behalf of the company said that he would take my comments on board. We will see.

Friday was my first healing session of the year.  I felt the change of venue from the Burley Lodge Centre to the Heart in Headingley had made a significant difference, the room was much lighter and bigger with better energy flowing all round.  We even had a separate waiting room.  The visitor numbers also showed a great improvement.  I felt happy to be back in the healing centre, giving healing again. It felt right.

I spent the weekend completing and submitting an article to Journal of Higher Education Research & Development.  Now that I have time and space, writing is becoming more effortless and I am feeling positive about all my writing commitments this year although I am concerned about balancing the writing with my other academic and non-academic responsibilities.  I also watched a documentary on Netflix about the life of Nina Simone called ‘What Happened Miss Simone?’  The documentary revealed her personal traumas as well as featuring some of her more militant activism and of course her prodigious musical talent.  Nina’s activism side and determination to fight against oppression, renewed my own commitment to fight against disablism.  We also went to see ‘Darkest Hour’ directed by Joe Wright and starring Gary Oldman.  The film portrayed Churchill’s character well and his emotional life when faced with dilemmas and making problematic decisions during the Second World War.  This film brought home for me the difficulties of the choices we make and the importance of integrity and living from our principles. 

All in all an encouraging, productive and educational week.  More updates to follow.