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Byron Shire
July 7, 2022

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Bless Me! Are we willing to talk about ableism?

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We live in an ableist world. When Scott Morrison said that he and Jenny were blessed not to have a disabled child, they were repeating a historic belief that has been echoed by the world. It’s a perception that a disabled person is less than. That they are a burden. That families with a person with a disability are not blessed. So, if they’re not blessed, have they sinned? Is the inference that disabled child is a punishment for the sins of the parents? It’s a horrible, toxic statement. But what was worse I think was that he didn’t ‘get’ it. He didn’t ‘mean’ it that way. Sorry, there is no other way to mean it. It’s what generations of people have said and not been called out. That’s how embedded these beliefs are.

This was ableism front and centre. The PM’s thoughtless gaffe exposed how ableist our world is. It also put the conversation centre stage, where it needs to be. We need to talk about ableism. We need to be aware of how we make our world hard for people who aren’t able bodied or who have a disability to navigate. How we don’t make our spaces physically or psychologically inaccessible. How we perpetuate a story that allows us to occupy ALL the space and then offer just a little to people with disabilities. ‘See, we gave you two carparks outside the shop.’ But when you get inside, you won’t be able to reach over half the products. Welcome. But please, only two at a time.

As an able-bodied person I don’t realise my privilege. That’s because I am the person who belongs to all the other carparks. I don’t realise that everything I do is streamlined by a system that is built for me. My ease of passage through life is a given. I don’t question it. Because I am able-bodied.

Most venues I work in have disabled access. This provides access for people with mobility issues to attend an event. But most stages I work on don’t. I have had people with disabilities perform and had to get in a ramp for the occasion. Or physically lift someone backstage into their chair. When Ballina had a mayor in a wheelchair I once witnessed him give a speech from the floor at an event because there was no access to the stage. This was the mayor! He accessed the top job on local council but couldn’t get on stage. That’s because the ableism tells us that people with disabilities can attend events as audience members. We have parking, we have lifts. But there is no provision for a person with a disability to occupy space on stage. They have been sidelined in the story of who they can be and where they can go. This is ableism.

How many restaurants offer menus in braille? Where are the pathways to the beach? Why aren’t there quiet rooms in every shopping centre? Why don’t we all learn Auslan at school? Ableism isn’t just in the architecture of the world. As our PM has shown us, it’s in what we say and how we think. Saying things like ‘you don’t look disabled’, viewing people with a disability as inspirational when they do typical things. That is ableism. It creates barriers of discrimination and prejudice that make the world inaccessible. It pushes people to the fringe, rather than recognise that people with disabilities are our sister or our brother, our friend, our daughter, our son, our uncle, our colleague, and us. Yep, any of us could become a person with a disability at any moment of our lives.

In my early 20s I was employed as a disability support worker. When I told people what I did they would say, ‘Wow, you must be amazing. Such a compassionate person. I don’t think I could do that.’ It used to make me really angry. My job didn’t elevate me to sainthood. I was still a vain, self-centred girl. What I loved telling people was that it was actually one of the most enjoyable and fabulous places I have ever worked. It was fun. We laughed a lot. I learned a lot. I was 23. I appreciated that my workplace supported me. It was the first job I’d been able to stick to.

To be an inclusive society it is not up to people with disabilities to change; it is up to people without disabilities to stop dominating the space, and the narrative. It’s about leaving space for others. It’s about losing judgments and bias about disability that can’t be seen. We have to stop colonising people with disabilities with our broken and limiting belief systems. 

We need to keep talking about ableism. And most importantly we need change.


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30 COMMENTS

  1. The Prime Minister’s comments were never intended to be taken in such a way that only
    That the Greens & Labor could only run with
    and try to politicise .. just another personal
    Pile-on.. !! Expect anything different from the
    Left ? No .. if it wasn’t for double standards
    The left would have no standards at all !! by the
    Way Mandy just noticed you and your Guru
    Who suggested if elected as a minority with Labor
    The Greens are going to push for the general public
    To take legal action against oil & gas & coal companies
    To court for the due to the resent Floods ..
    So can he sue the Greens ? Who forced Brandt & co onto Hydrocarbon polluting Planes to fly to the North coast resently ? Uh only when it suits Mandy .. this Hypocrite is excatly why the Greens vote
    Is declining.. what a fool ..

      • I agree with Ashara. That was some of your better work Barlow. You hit all the relevant points and kept on topic. Well done.

    • Many people are getting absolutely fed up with this contrived predictable and very repetitive extremist rhetoric and the continual excuses from this failed and corrupted Morrison, his Govt and its few remaining rusted on deplorable supporters.
      There is no Left or right! There are just the facts and the truth and then there are lies, the liars and their misrepresentations.
      Why is Morrison incapable of leading and uniting this country instead of constantly dividing it with his vicious paid for subversive 5th columnist media and just stay on topic and discuss the issues and problems facing our nation. Instead of constantly singling people out and attacking the messenger and anyone else speaking the truth in what has become this dark shadowy place where the media lays in wait, like a pack of hyenas waiting to pounce on their next victim for daring to speak those undeniable facts and truth!

      • Isn’t it funny how every government seems to fail. It’s like they get their orders from above and just spin it to sound Red team or Blue team to make it look different.

    • Hung Parliament, minority Govt? Barrow, are you aware that Morrisons Liberal party only has 44 seats in our 151 seat Parliament? It actually lost a seat at the last Morrison “Miracle” 2019 election win. If Morrison’s Liberal party were to lose just 11 seats to the Independents and Labor, Morrison’s Liberal party at the 2022 election it would be in an opposition coalition, the minority party to the combined QLD LNP and Nationals. Every time the Liberals are in “Govt” they are in a minority hung Parliament, incapable of forming Govt or passing any legislation without the vote of the QLD LNP or Nat’s. And that is why a Liberal Govt can never get any legislation passed and be a real Govt and will alway fail as this one has thee last 9 wasted years?

    • “Doing a Barrow”…… off piste again. Congrats.

      Lets stay on piste, shall well.

      It’s not his fault, none of us are perfect.
      But your President ScamMO has his character flaw that appears time and time again, his total lack of E M P A T H Y.
      His lack of empathy is astonishing for someone that calls himself a Christian.

      He has no empathy for desperate refugee and asylum seekers who arrive by sea.
      He had no empathy for the 400,000 welfare recipients upon whom he Terrorised with his RoboRobberyDebt
      He has no empathy for the NDIS recipients that had their care plans budgets cut without them knowing
      He had no empathy for the thousands of Pensioners that had their pensions cut.
      His weasel words, tryon apology in 14/8/2020, over the Aged Care settings Covid killing fields said it all.

      Barrow my lady, President ScamMO gets caught with an ’empathy’ question and we get stuff like;
      – Bushfire and the Aloha Hawaii escape – Wife Jen and his daughters get dragged into the issue.
      – Leaders debate – “Jenny and I have been blessed, we’ve got two children that don’t — that haven’t had to go through that,”

      For President ScamMO, E M P A T H Y is an ask too far.

  2. As a parent, you are suppose to want your child to be health and strong and intelligent to the highest degree possible. This is what fuels parents to do everything they can to improve their children physically and mentally no matter what condition they are in when they are born.
    Feeling your child having a medical condition is virtuous, or even just feeling it’s OK, is a mental illness. Sane parents are never OK with it, even if there is nothing they can do about, cause they’re sane.

    My wife was born with physically and mental disabilities. When we had a surprise pregnancy two years ago, something that should have been impossible, we weren’t thinking about how much of a miracle it was, we were worrying that the child would inherit disabilities.
    God blessed us with a perfectly healthy daughter.

    My mentally disabled cousin was also relieved as he was particular emotionally effected by the possibly that our child could be afflicted with something. Why? because my cousin is not a nut job, Mandy. He always wishes that every baby is born without disabilities and is grateful when they are not. Why? because my cousin is a good man.

    You’ve crossed the line from willfully ignorant to straight out psycho.

  3. Mandy thank you for your words. As a woman with a disability they resonated strongly for me. Eloquent, considered and courageous and truthful. I look forward to seeing you elected to federal parliament.

  4. Why must the Left be offended by everything that is said. (p.s.- Im also Left – but not so easily offended) Yes – the PM is blessed to have healthy abled children. Whats the issue here..? It takes nothing away from the parents and children with disabilities. They can feel as blessed as they choose. Why Mandy, must you insist on taking offence in this – we get it that you hate on the PM, anything for a good old dose of virtue signalling – but you’re really stretching it now… I can almost bet for sure that those parents of children with disabilities would have also felt blessed if their children had been born fully healthy and abled, as they have every right to do. Let’s just stick to the important issues here shall we. I find it bizarre that while you want equality for disabled – you are happy to enforce inequality of abled people via their own health choices. This kind of nonsense is doing the Greens cause no good at all.

    • It’s because they are Cultural Marxists nut jobs using Saul Alinsky tactics to try and deconstruct peoples grasp on objective reality.
      You on the other hand John, are a reasonable left leaning guy that we can totally work with to come up with good solutions that address both your and our concerns.

  5. Come on out of the clouds, Barrow. Our high-flying P.M. is a cock-eyed pest of a man.
    We could write several books on the uselessness of his off-handed remarks along
    with his seething contempt of the many times he’s been cornered. It’s Trump-like
    bullying & it does not belong in this country. When words fail him – the doom & gloom
    of it all, the ‘smirk always follows. His latest attempt at selling himself regarding
    a mother’s question on her child’s disability payment was offending. Sincerity was
    was lost, totally. All he could do was talk about himself & healthy kids.

    • When you look at clouds, do you see Nazis? When you look into the swirls on your latte, do you see Swastikas? When you see the tea leave at the bottom of your cup, do you hear children crying?

  6. “It’s a horrible, toxic statement” Mandy you have completely lost the plot! To say that is completely ludicrous!

  7. Maybe the honourable thing would have been for the Greens candidate to cancel her weekly column in the newspaper during the election campaign, since it gives her an unfair advantage over her political rivals.
    Not according to Ms Nolan and The Echo.

  8. Although I wouldn’t vote L/NP in a fit, I’m bemused by your pile on into this smoke screen.
    As the parent of a severely disabled child I immediately understood what the PM was getting at.
    You wouldn’t wish it on yer worst enemy.

    Pretty useless rabbit hole to go down, Mandy. You can do better than this. Far more important issues to tackle.

    • Sujay, we are at war, upon those that need our collective help the most within Australia –
      Morrison, who Cuts the care plan budget of NDIS recipient’s
      Morrison, who Terrorises 400,000 welfare recipients with RoboRobberyDebt

  9. Thank you Mandy Nolan!

    As a Disability Specialist I felt for those I supported as an educator when we were thrown out of restaurants on the north shore of Sydney in the early 90’s amongst other stories of utter disgust. We were forerunners for change amongst the underlying fear which saw young people with intellectual disabilities without a real community. Sands have shifted since, because of legislation and not because of changing of attitudes. We have a long way to go. Thank you for calling it out, loudly.

  10. I’m not into the endless dissections of sound bytes either – especially when discussion of wider policy issues is sacrificed. However language is vitally important – it reflects the attitudes of the user and can shape the attitudes of the listener.

    Let’s think about a few alternatives the PM could have used: “Jenny and I are incredibly lucky/fortunate in the wonderful “normal” children we have”. (Implicit in this has to be: “unlike you you poor sod) Would this be any less insensitive? Rather more so I’d suggest.

    So does the word ”blessed” with its pious, religious connotations soften the message?Is it OK because, implicit in this, is not so much self-satisfied gloating but the inference of the philosophical notion of God “working in mysterious ways”. Perhaps.

    I can’t help but view the response though in the context of Pentecostalism. Noted for its emphasis on prosperity theology rather than the social justice obligations of Christianity, the notion that the godly become wealthy and the wealthy are godly – while the ungodly become poor and the poor are ungodly – fits very well with the notion that the godly in general are blessed with good fortune of all types.

    It’s a very convenient interpretation of Christianity for neo liberalism. Free rein, in fact positive reinforcement, to pursue one’s individual wealth and no pesky notions about sharing food with the hungry, water with the thirsty and cloaks with the naked etc

    Of course every parent wants the best for their children. A full and independent life free of mental and physical suffering with happiness and community acceptance. Of course parents want what’s best for themselves as well, with children without complex and demanding needs with the capacity for independence once adulthood is reached. Of course none of us wants life to be be hard for themselves or those they love.

    Disability isn’t a black and white experience either. I’d suggest many of us have some degree of disability – from crippling shyness to zero zero sense of direction. It’s estimated that up to 45% of Australians will be affected by mental illness in their lives.
    And while we all start off with notions of children through whom we can vicariously live out our most fervent ambitions we all quickly learn that every child is unique with their own precious love to offer.

    No I don’t think the commentators are reading too much into this because the point is that the PM wasn’t there to answer as just any parent, he was there to outline his party’s policy and prosecute the case for his re-election. All he needed to do was answer the question – which he didn’t- from the broadest policy perspective. The fact that he needs to bring everything back to the prism of his own sheltered and privileged experience says more about him that the “b” word.

    The mother asking the question didn’t need sympathy for the frustrations posed the system – especially from the man with prime responsibility for fixing the system. The faux empathy, like Pentecostalism, seems to me to offer just a convenient way to duck responsibility – with a bit of offence thrown in.

  11. Mandy, you know us, and I just want to say THANK YOU. It’s been 15 years now since my husbands accident, and I cannot believe how in that amount of time – practically nothing has changed. All of what you’ve written is true. I hope you continue to write articles on this topic. I encourage you to delve deeper. You’d be horrified about what’s really going on out there, for those living with disabilities and their families.

  12. It is basic lack of integrity to state an inference from what someone actually said, and then try to say the original statement was “horrible” and “toxic” when it was one’s own words expressing what they inferred that was horrible and toxic.

    Which is what I think Mandy was trying to do.

    Otherwise she was simply making a horrible and toxic statement, and then calling herself out for making a horrible, toxic statement.

    Which she does regularly enough anyway.

    Either way, she makes a very strong case for why she does not belong in our federal parliament

    • It’s really not that implausible to infer “you’ve not been blessed” from “we’ve been blessed”. People infer things from others’ words all the time – that’s what language is.

      If the PM doesn’t want to have inferences made he could try the novel approach of simply answering the questions asked. It would be a whole new experience for all of us.

      • Liz, I was not taking issue with drawing an inference; neither a sensible or a ridiculous one.

        I was talking about the verballing – as evidenced by Mandy insinuating that the inference she drew constituted a “horrible” and “toxic” statement by the PM.

        No integrity in that.

        Can you really not comprehend this, or is it just bias that caused you to make that ridiculous comment?

        • What bias is it that you imagine? Against the PM? I’ll admit to lapses of objectivity there as I experience, and have done for some years, a visceral revulsion to his smirk, arrogance, evasion tactics, and single-minded opportunism (to name a few!).

          However if I wanted to take exception to this piece I’d suggest “horrible” and “toxic” are hyperbole or overblown political rhetoric rather than “verballing”. That’s a step further.

          I can’t see any problems in inferring some attitudinal problems from the PM’s choice of words and the decision to preface a non answer with a bit of pious homily.

          As I explained above, I take exception more with the whiff of Pentecostal attitude that good fortune tends to come from God to the righteous. It’s a good excuse not to feel any obligations to those in need or vulnerable – they haven’t been as righteous as the smug happy clappers ensconced in their personal relationship with God – oblivious to “the least of his/ her brethren”.

          I wouldn’t form this impression from just one ill-chosen phrase. I think there is a much wider context here including the whole “have a go, get a go” philosophy which suggests government largesse is to be showered upon those who meet the PM’s particular criteria of “having a go”. It also suggests anyone “not getting a go” must be at fault somehow.

          Now that’s just made me think of another reason for my visceral aversion – the jingoism.

  13. Mandy does belong in our Federal parliament. She does not ‘scam’. Can’t be bought & won’t
    do a ‘sell-out’. There’s no ‘peer pressure’ because she is totally face on N.B. – her track-record
    over the years says as much & we know her as a friend & neighbor. What’s more ‘trust is not a
    4 letter word’.

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