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To Australian MP Pauline Hanson, From a Student With a Disability

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It was a typical Wednesday night for me as a Year 12 student, Pauline. I was caught in clouds of notes and study as I seem to always be, these days. I was taking a quick break and scrolling through my Twitter when I saw this from the absolute legend that is Kurt Fearnley.

Heaven forbid, kids experience a full spectrum of life in the classroom. They may develop empathy or tolerance. Obviously lacking within PH. — Kurt Fearnley (@kurtfearnley) June 21, 2017

This made my heart stop for a second because that phrase “spectrum of life” sounded like it had a lot to do with kids like me.

I should now take this moment to introduce you to a few facts about my life because then you might understand why comments like yours aren’t easy to shake for me. As I said, I’m a Year 12 student, doing the highest level of English possible, juggling three major works and having been at the top of all my classes since Year 7. This set of facts is merely an attempt by me to set you up with the picture of a girl with a strong academic record and a thirst for knowledge. Oh, by the way… perhaps the most relevant fact, but by no means the most defining is that I have a disability. I am a 17 year old girl in a wheelchair; I have cerebral palsy.

I did a quick Google to find context for Kurt’s comment, as while I know he is a fierce advocate of our community’s rights, he seemed unusually fired up for what I had thought was a relatively quiet news day. To be honest, Pauline, when I found the cause of his comments, not only did I feel he was remarkably publicly calm and restrained, but I felt as though the air had actually been physically ripped from my lungs.

I wondered what on earth could have possessed you to make such a misinformed statement about the lives, intellects and aspirations of children with disabilities?

When I was born, the doctors gave my parents a deeply grim diagnosis and what seemed like an unsettling and dark future. They told them I would never walk, talk or feed myself, and would be a girl stripped of all independence whose bright sparks many people would fail to notice. A well-meaning individual asked my uncle if he thought my mum and dad would place me in a home or institution, because he probably couldn’t possibly fathom how he would find the strength needed to do what my parents have done without complaint, little reward and a vast amount of energy for just shy of 18 years.

That’s a big commitment, Pauline, as is the commitment to have any child. But for a child with a disability, disorder or other greatly life-impacting condition, there are often things no able-bodied person can comprehend until they’ve been directly affected. You don’t know the depth of mine or my loved one’s lives, which have involved dodging bullets of ableist discriminatory bigotry like the ones you so casually fired a few days ago in Parliament.

You made a point of claiming that kids with disabilities drag others down, and do not have a willingness to learn, nor should they do so in a mainstream classroom. I will say there are some individuals for whom mainstream life is not as easy nor is it particularly feasible, but you have to understand Pauline, these decisions are not made lightly nor are they made with the intention of hampering the lives of others.  Many people with disabilities want inclusion and have a grit to do whatever it takes for various definitions of success and happiness to be achieved.

You seem to have a habit of tarring people with the same brush and making generalizations that can be dangerous and damaging. I have seen you do it consistently over your years in the public eye, and I unfortunately have no doubt you will do so again. But you should know, autism and other disabilities or conditions do not have a one size fits all, standard appearance. The spectrum for autism in particular is wide-ranging. I have three questions:

Do you have an iPhone or any other Apple service/device?

Have you ever used a Windows computer?

Does the theory of relativity mean anything to you?

These questions are all linked by the common thread that the visionaries behind these creations which influence so much of society’s makeup in 2017 are rumored to have been at various places on the autism spectrum. So tell me, do you still feel like people with disabilities/conditions don’t want to learn? Do you still stand by your allegations that we drag others down? Your refusal to apologize despite this highly emotive response from MP Emma Husar tells me you do.

People with disabilities face so much stigma and complexity in terms of being seen, heard, felt and represented. Your comments as a representative of our nation’s government scream ignorance and a mindset lacking in empathy and compassion. I’m going to extend the olive branch (which I’m almost certain you’ll refuse) of being quite happy to educate you and show you the reality of my life, the personal importance I place on my education and the strength of my ambition. That goes for anyone who might be reading this. I’m not ashamed to be who I am, and I won’t let people who are discriminatory and misinformed or just plain nasty make me feel any differently!

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Originally published: June 29, 2017
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