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Opportunity in adversity. A radical concept?

The other day I listened to Aimee Mullins, – a woman, paralympian, model, and public speaker. She presented on the topic of “the opportunity of adversity”. And when I say I listened, I mean I read, because I watched the subtitles that were included in the video of her presentation. (Three cheers for Web 2.0 technology).

Aimee suggested that adversity, discussed primarily in the context of so-called “disability”, was more a door to opening human potential than a prison. This is especially the case if the person “suffering” the so-called “adversity” is told that they can do things, rather than that they cannot.

Aimee’s right. And there lies the challenge for the deaf and other so-called “disability” communities.

We face the dual task of having to show the wider community that being having alternative needs is not the same as being crippled or unable, as the term “disabled” implies. Simultaneously, while emphasising empowerment, we must remind and encourage people to consider “disability” when developing information or activities for people in their public and private lives. After all, access to information and activities is a right, not a privilege.

Sounds hard? Well, yes but no.

Education is part of the answer. And since women have such powerful influence in their families and communities, speaking to them is really important. That’s because when the community realises that nothing is impossible with the right support, the dialogue turns from incapacity to providing alternative pathways. Think about it:

a) If you’re deaf, you can watch TV or youtube if your show has subtitles or a transcript included.
b) If you are blind, you can study at uni. You might just need Braille or electronic, plain text versions of the books you’re studying so that you can enlarge the writing.
c) If you use a wheelchair, you can still dance. The only decision is whether you choose to incorporate the wheelchair or not in your performance.

I use my website – – to provide deaf people with information about travel in Australian Sign Language. However by providing subtitles, I also make my content accessible to people who are not deaf, reminding them that deaf people do everything they do, and that creating accessible content online is really very easy. After all, I do everything with my digital camera, youtube and a free blogging site.

But showing by implication isn’t enough. And that’s where online communities come in. By sharing information, creating discussions, or providing online courses, I can educate people about the simple ways they can think about, and most importantly talk to people with a disability in their day-to-day and online lives. And this is what I would like to do on PulseWire.

Two things can stop people becoming who they should be: themselves and other people. How people choose to live their own lives is their choice. But every one of us has the capacity to be more inclusive, especially in online environments. And it’s places like the PulseWire community that helps us learn how!

Asia Pacific
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