About the disabled heroes who taught me how to live

NOVEMBER 13 — I don’t like poverty porn. If you haven’t heard of it, it is just the depiction of poverty to a level that is exploitative and dishonest.

It also wearies me sometimes, how Facebook and social media has monetised stories of suffering as well as supposedly inspirational tales.

That is how motivational speakers operate after all, selling other people’s stories and embellishing their own.

One person I know who did share her story, bravely and honestly, was Yvonne Foong.

She spent much of her life dealing with the effects of being afflicted with Neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2) and despite gradually losing her sight, hearing and eventually her mobility there are few people I know who had as much zeal to live as her.

There were people who were unkind at times when she worked to raise money for her recurring medical treatment. Some would see her unflinching openness about her donation drives as “asking for handouts.”

It wasn’t like Yvonne didn’t do her best to give what she could or do what she could. Even with her health struggles, she finished writing two books and contributed articles where she could.

The thing is, people shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to ask for what they need. It’s a vast world out there and people who can, if they choose, help others.

It’s tragic that those with disabilities or needs that make it impossible for them to fund with their own labour need to ask in the first place.

Why is healthcare so broken? Because of the perception that healthcare for profit should exist at all.

Healthcare is a basic need and it should be a basic right. Yet people are driven to bankruptcy for just wanting to live.

Recently a media publication put out an article about the supposed harm asthma inhalers bring to the environment.

Good heavens, are people going to start shaming asthma sufferers the way they do people (including the disabled) who still want plastic straws?

Will they now start calling for the ban of inhalers and start patronisingly suggesting eco-friendlier alternatives?

My friend Peter Tan is an advocate for disability awareness and there was a time I considered him one of the angriest people I knew.

Now that I’ve become a little wiser about disabled people’s struggles I can see just why he’s angry.

There is so much ableist nonsense everywhere — people who think the struggling shouldn’t just “ask for handouts”, those who ask why those with paraplegia shouldn’t try and use non-plastic straws, municipal councils who build ramps unsuitable for wheelchairs... just thinking about it makes me angry too.

What I’ve learned from Peter, Yvonne and other people who loudly advocate for others like them is that life, and your right to live, are worth fighting for.

Don’t think this is going to be one of those self-righteous tirades about how we should feel grateful, oh able-bodied ones, when people not like us live harder lives.

I’m no one’s mother to be saying that and if I was, that would be some classic bad parenting.

Instead the take I’d prefer is that we see these differently-abled people for what they are — people who’ve been short-changed and left out of this business we call living.

As I’ve said before it’s this world that needs to change to accommodate the disabled and the world is a better place thanks to the people who do their very best to make us listen to their needs.

Give these people a seat at the table and please, make sure it’s disability-friendly.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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