After reading an article about how Gold Coast fitness guru, Ashy Bines regularly parks her car in a disabled parking spot, I felt angry.
It is not often that I get so enraged by an article in any print or online media that I am compelled to write about it. But Ashy Bines, you have created a first.
Some background information about me: I was born with a rare genetic condition Ectodactyly-Ectodermal Dysplasia-Cleft lip/ palate Syndrome (EEC), I have a number of visible physical disabilities such as a cleft lip and three fingers on each hand. So I “look the part” when it comes to having a disability.
The parts that are less visible are the hole in my heart, the scars from where I had an additional toe removed and the fact that I am legally blind. I don’t often give away this blindness as I don’t have a cane or a guide dog (if you’re taking orders, mine would be a chocolate brown lab called Lenny!). It is only noticeable if you see me walking into something, tripping up or down an uneven surface, reading big text on my phone or iPad, or see my large LED computer screen and zoom text on my work computer.
So perhaps my issue with Ashy Bines’ comments and justifications as to why she should be able to park in a disabled car space outside her gym can be contextualised in the fact that I have a disability and felt offended by her comments. But that’s too easy, that’s stereotyped outraged.
What enraged me the most were the assumptions she made about people with disabilities as an able-bodied person.
The first assumption was that no disabled people are attendees or members of her gym, so therefore her right to park in the disabled spot was more important. Her right to park in that spot and have access to the gym was more important that the right of a disabled person.
The current requirements for the ratio of accessible parking spaces in comparison to “normal” spaces in a car park at a shopping centre or commercial building are 1:100 or thereabouts. It would appear the number of spaces you would have had available to you, Ashy, compared to that of a person with a disability, is far greater. Just because there were none available on that day or any other, you do not have the right to take away the access to this space for someone else.
Secondly, the assumption that people with a disability are not at her gym was thoughtless. How did she know a person with a disability would not select that day to drive down to the gym and investigate a membership? And perhaps, they are now put off by the lack of access to accessible parking?
Newsflash Ashy: people with disabilities work out and exercise.
It may surprise you to know that in April this year, I completed the London marathon. And yes, I had to train for it. I had to train a lot, I still do, and I have completed a half marathon since then. The assumption that people with disabilities are not visibly attending your gym is not an excuse for your ignorance about people with disabilities working out or not having a desire to.
Third is the assumption that Ashy's time was more important than someone's with a disability. The opinion that her time is so important as not to waste it waiting for or driving around to find a normal parking space, more so than that of someone with a disability who has to wait for her to finish her workout and move her car is arrogant.
This goes to the very heart of privilege. I am privileged to not be born with a disability and ability to park in any one of the 100 other spots, but I can choose to park there anyway because I have to do a workout. It is a big two finger solute to those with a disability who do not enjoy the same privileges in our society. This action only serves to continue to silence and cast shadows on those with disabilities.
The wonderfully eloquent Stella Young once noted that she was not a poster girl for disabilities, and I could not agree more. Why should people with a disability be trotted out to highlight equity an diversity statistics of an organisation, or be used as inspirational memes about never giving up and overcoming adversity? Bugger that.
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I work just as hard as anyone else, I wasn't handed my Bachelors or Masters degrees, I worked for them. I worked hard to finish that marathon, and a number of other half marathons and it wasn't an inspirational quote by a fellow runner with a disability that made me do it.
It is hard work to have a disability and constantly feel the need to prove yourself in a world that privileges those who are able-bodied.
Not only are we fighting with against own bodies, we are fighting against discrimination, arrogance and a lack of education about disabilities.
Events such as Prince Harry's Invictus Games go some way in showcasing what people with disabilities can achieve on the sporting field, as does the Paralympics. Yet both are aired on the ABC late at night as a highlights package, whilst The Bachelorette enjoys prime-time on a commercial channel. How many bachelors arrived at the mansion in a wheelchair, or were autistic or had down syndrome? That's right, not one.
Ability is privileged and promoted, whilst disabilities are silenced and sent into the late night television slot.
So yes, I can be enraged by Ashy's actions and fundamentally flawed assumptions about people with disabilities. But when we are silenced in the day-to-day happenings in society, and our achievements not highlighted in the same way as able bodies people's are, stories such as this will continue to appear in the media, get five seconds of air time cause outrage for a moment and then fade into the background in the same way that the achievements of the paralympians do every four years.
Ashy could do with a reality check. Perhaps with some community service where she might like to volunteer at an organisation that supports people with a disability, or coach some young teens with a disability who want to get into fitness.
And importantly, open your eyes and take a good look around.