Behind the Keyboard

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Columnist, hermit and aspiring rich man. An extremely opinionated (always right) electric wheelchair user with Cerebral Palsy and Scoliosis. I decided to write a blog to end my laziness.

The Lucky Dip

Monday, August 5, 2013

My Debut Film Clip

This blog of mine has been dead. But I’m alive. Maybe they are correlated? The busier I am the less time I have for blogging? Maybe, but maybe not.

Anyway, I’ve been working with a band. Bearbrass Asylum Orchestra are made up of three Melburnians, some of which have disabilities. I’m biased, but they are cool and talented.

They also have attitude:

I’m an audio nerd, so I jumped at the chance to mix their debut EP. Luckily for me, they liked how it sounded. I also happened to buy a camera around about the same time as I was doing the audio mixing. We then decided to make a video clip.

Being the enterprising kind of guy I am, I entered it into a disability film competition. I would appreciate it if you check out the film clip and give it your vote.

Here is the film clip: Click me! (You know you want to)

It’s worth noting that the video with the highest amount of votes will be used as disability awareness in schools and workplaces. I believe our video is pretty authentic and cool, that would be refreshing in disability education, would it not?

Thanks for reading, thanks for watching, and thanks for (hopefully) voting!

I promise it won’t be another two years until my next post. :-)


Friday, November 4, 2011

The Racist on the Train

People on trains are often a source of entertainment, insight, disgust and intrigue; sometimes all at once. They also present opportunities; I landed one of my jobs from a chance meeting on a train. Yet at the same time, I was also mistaken for a woman by a 13-year-old homeless boy who wanted my wallet. Passengers on trains also enjoy dishing out backhanded compliments, especially to those with a disability. I wrote about one such encounter in this blog post, and recently I had another run in with a passenger, yet this time the situation was even more bizarre.

Encounters on trains almost always start innocently enough; I wait at the front carriage, make eye contact with the driver, and watch them slam the ramp down as they sigh simultaneously. Then, as any modern man does, I try to avoid people and find a secluded corner from which I can fiddle with my smart phone. I must be an affable chap, as strangers often strike up a conversation with me. It's normally old men though, so maybe I should be worried instead of self-satisfied? Regardless, an old gentleman started talking to me, you know the stuff, everyday pleasantries. It wasn't a conversation that glued me to my seat (bad disability joke), but it was pleasant enough. The man took out his wallet and showed me a picture of his daughter. I feigned a genuine smile, which he bought. Then the conversation began to peter out as my enthusiasm waned. Then there was a pause, a pause five minutes long. It was sadly broken by this unpleasant non sequitur;

“Too many Muslims these days, aren't there?!” Now that is definitely a question no one wants to be asked, especially by a stranger in the confines of a train carriage. If I was drunk, I probably would have sworn at him. If I was exhausted I probably would have nodded, just to end the conversation. Isn't it funny how your morals (or at least an outward expression of your morals) can easily be compromised depending on the state of mind and body? Anyway, I wasn't drunk, nor was I tired, so my response was a simple “Pardon?”

“Too many Muslims! You know, coming on the boats and taking our jobs.” He pointed to the article on the front page of the Herald Sun he was holding, as I let out a sigh and thought of this:

I asked, “Did they take your job?” He replied, “No, I don't work.” Becoming increasingly agitated, I queried, “Did they take your daughter's job?” Again, he replied, “No, she doesn't work. They still take our jobs though!”

I didn't have the energy to reply, so I glanced down at my phone and pretended to be busy. There was another pause, until the silence was again broken by another gem of a statement;

“They also rape and kill women!” By this point I was becoming really annoyed, yet at the same time I honestly couldn't be bothered dealing with people so out of touch with reality. Again, all I could reply with was an exhausted “Pardon?” Looking like I needed some convincing, he stood up, pointed to an article in his paper and exclaimed, “The Muslims! They'll kill all our women!”

“What makes you say that?” I replied, as the racist pointed to the article in the paper, “This one, this one killed his wife!” I tried to explain that it was horrible, yet it happened in Saudi Arabia, not Australia, and the man wasn't an asylum seeker. Further still, it was one man who committed the atrocity, not the entire population. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my attempts at logic failed to convince the racist, as he continued to spout incoherent diatribe.

You mightn't believe me, but the conversation turned stranger still. I was treated to a nonsensical lecture about childhood memories, pertaining to various topics, including slug guns, icy poles, and how everything was cheaper back in his day compared to now. Then there was a quick rant about how Caucasians have bigger brains than people from Africa, and that the Muslim women who wear full headdress use it as a convenient excuse to shoplift from milk bars and banks, all to avoid detection.

Again, I'm not making this up. In fact, I don't think my imagination stretches that far into the depths of madness.

Luckily for me, I arrived at my stop, and as the train driver once again slammed down the ramp to allow me a swift exit, the racist wished me goodbye, to which I replied, “You’re an idiot, have a good day.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Guest Post: Rory Thompson - A Riveting Adventure

Now, I have written about this tale of woe already, but this post is from the point of view of my brother Rory.



“Don’t worry about it man, it’ll be alright.” That’s what he said when I found the rivet embedded in his tyre. But it wasn't alright. In fact it was the beginning of an out and out debacle.  At the Macleod train station everything seemed fine. By Heidelberg the tyre was suspiciously pliant. By the time we rolled into Flinders Street all was lost. I was freaking out a tad by then, giving mumbled exhortations of “FUCKING HELL!” and  “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST”, but Carl was remarkably collected about the prospect of being marooned in a train, doomed to be constantly entering and exiting the city loop until the heat death of the universe (my mind was racing a bit, admittedly).

As it transpired the wheelchair was still mobile when we arrived, albiet severely slowed, with me trying to simultaneously walk alongside and lift up the side with the flat tyre - quite possibly looking like a complete turnip along the way. We clearly looked like we were in need of some unsolicited folk wisdom because during the tortuous trundle from platform 1 to Travellers Aid not one but three people said: "Gee, those things should have solid tyres!"

To anyone out there who thinks for even a moment that solid tyres are "a good idea" - they're not. I know, because my first bike had solid rubber tyres. It was awful. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never experienced it, and is one of those people who thinks they "just know" things without actually experiencing them, and should be corralled off from the rest of humanity and fed only grass and perhaps hay on Sundays.

When we arrived at the beacon of sanity that was and is Travellers Aid, conditioned by the days past events we were all set for disappointment. But they smiled, listened to our tale of woe, let us park Carls felled behemoth in the corner next to the free books and gave us the use of one of their spare manual wheelchairs for as long as we needed it. Seriously, if anyone is underfunded it's these guys. Hint hint, nudge nudge.

Anyway, we went for a walk to pass the time, stopping at a cafe where I ate some kind of pork soup and also called RACV. The soup was pretty good, the call was a mistake. When I finally (after being transferred thrice) got to speak to someone who could actually help me (after calling the Emergency Wheelchair Assist number), this person explained to me that in order to receive any assistance, we would need to *somehow* drag Carls rooted and extremely heavy electric wheelchair from the middle of Flinders st Station to the side of the road because "they can't leave the van." They "can't leave?" Were they glued to their seats? Incurable agoraphobes? Were they on detention? The rest of the conversation was a kind of ludicrous feedback loop, with her saying "they can't leave" and me reiterating "the wheelchair can't really be moved, that's why I called you." The conversation, like the wheelchair, was going nowhere.

In the end it was the cavalry to the rescue, with mum and dad driving in to the city as soon as they could to pluck us from our 'riveting' nightmare. Bad puns aside though, the lesson to be learned here is that Travellers Aid is wonderful, and also that if you ever see someone in a wheelchair with a flat tyre and feel the sudden urge to mention solid tyres, please don't.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Disability as an Economic Cost?

If you are an Australian reading this blog, I am currently costing you money. This blog entry was written on a computer that was bought with my disability support pension, and further still, I pay rent for the roof over my head out of your taxes. As I type, I am playing music on speakers that cost way too much money. I purchased them with your hard earned dollars.

With my disability support pension, I purchase beer and spirits. Sometimes I even spend taxpayer’s money on a $50 meal, a meal of which I often do not even eat half of. I spend my taxpayer’s money on tipping taxi drivers when I'm drunk, even if they are late. Your money is spent on clothes I hardly ever wear; it buys videogames I probably will never finish. Many people could argue that using my disability support pension to purchase five separate versions of the one album is not a good use of taxpayer's money.

But what else do I spend my disability support pension on? For every $50 meal there are countless packets of instant noodles, budget tuna and rice. My pension, through me paying rent to my parents contributes to the ongoing costs of my wheelchair accessible car, of which without it I wouldn't be able to easily attend university or work. I save my money, lots of it, and I invest it wisely. It is my goal to be off the disability support pension as soon as is financially viable.

But the government also spends taxpayers money on making some buildings accessible (not enough mind you), more money still is spent on accessible transport (but again, not enough). Taxpayer’s money subsidises vital medication, therapies and surgeries for people with a disability.

And what is the cost? Billions of dollars. Currently it is approximately 6 or $7 billion per year for disability services alone, and that doesn't nearly provide adequate support for those who really need it. It's still lots of money, and yes, it's a very big cost.

But is it an economic cost?

I'm not arguing that disability support as the moral thing to do, I'm not talking about it being the right thing to do. I am saying that proper disability support is not an economic cost, but rather an economic benefit. A benefit that actually pumps money into the economy and reduces unemployment.

I don't know how many times I've heard people say that government measures cost money. I scratch my head when people say this as though they are surprised, of course these measures cost money! But do you really expect that society will get nothing in return?

Why do you as a person, spend money? I would guess that you spend money to receive benefits. Whether these benefits are impressing someone with a nice meal, the warmth from the clothes on your back, or to present yourself in a positive light by driving a nice car or owning a luxurious house - people never buy anything (even charity) without expecting something in return. The same can be said for government spending on disability. It costs lots of money currently, but this isn't an economic cost. An injection of more funds, coupled with a system of fair distribution can only benefit the social and economic participation of thousands of people with a disability.

And with this, everybody benefits - even if you are a begrudging taxpayer who clings to your wads of cash like Scrooge.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Travellers Aid Allows Me to Work and Get Drunk

Travellers Aid in the city of Melbourne is a unique organisation. They don't fall neatly into any existing charity structures, nor do they aim to run at a profit. So what exactly do they do? Lots.

I spoke about Travellers Aid briefly in this post, but there is much more to be said about the organisation.

Travellers Aid operates out of two main locations, one at Southern Cross Station, and the other at Flinders Street Station. Both train stations are the largest in Melbourne, and thus they both have an enormously large and diverse make-up of people passing through.

Perhaps intuitively, Travellers Aid as an organisation attempts to cater to pretty much everyone. Whether it is tourists looking for simple directions, the elderly requiring assistance with transport, people escaping from abuse or domestic violence, and in my case particularly - those seeking personal care assistance.

I've written about personal care at ABC RampUp, and it is an issue that frustrates me to no end. So last year, when I found out that an organisation in the CBD of Melbourne provides public, free personal care without needing to book in advance, I was pretty impressed.

I found out that Travellers Aid provided free personal care due to some research I did when contemplating starting paid employment through an internship program at my university.

Unfortunately, I can't work wherever I want; location, space and funding are all major considerations of mine. In polite terms, I need personal care assistance and facilities at my potential workplace. In not so polite terms, I need a place to do a wee, and someone to give me a hand.

And how many workplaces have completely accessible facilities, including an electric hoist? And I'm not just talking about your standard accessible toilet, I'm talking about the full works. The answer is none, at least none that I could find. And yes, maybe I could rant and rave, complaining about discrimination and the like. But it was only for work experience, and if I make too much of a fuss then they might not hire me! Even if they do, they might just make me the guy who does the coffee runs.

I had an epiphany; enter Travellers Aid! I worked out that I could conceivably work anywhere centrally in the city of Melbourne, and make a trip to Travellers Aid whenever I needed to do the proverbial business.

In short, I went for the job and I got it! Hooray!

Was the personal care regime with Travellers Aid perfect? Definitely not, it took a good 15 minutes at full pace to reach the facilities from my work - through wind, the rain and the heat. There were also often queues, I hate queues.

But was it bad? Not in the slightest. The staff were great, all of them. Going to the toilet was really quite a quick and painless process, and that is just how it should be.

But let's think about this for a moment? I have said it already, but I physically could not work for more than a couple of hours without having a facility such as Travellers Aid nearby. If that was the case, and Travellers Aid didn't exist, it wouldn't have been worth applying for the job. As such, I now wouldn't have seven months work experience at a prestigious organisation under my belt. I wouldn't have some key references, I'd be a couple of thousand dollars poorer, and perhaps most importantly, I wouldn't have met many great people who have opened some pretty large doors for me.

What I am trying to say is this, without Travellers Aid I would have much less work experience, and much less life experience.

I've been talking about Travellers Aid in the context of work. But life isn't all work, and the city of Melbourne isn't all work. Travellers Aid often stays open quite late, and is thus also a social enabler in a context different to work.

Travellers Aid allows me to get very jolly and quite drunk in the city - all without worrying that my bladder will explode. I know they can't exactly use what I have just said on promotional materials, but it's definitely another great aspect of the organisation. It enables us disabled folk to leave the house and have a good time for once. Beware people; we are in your streets and in your towns, drinking your beer and eating your food!

Why am I telling you about Travellers Aid now? Well, I was asked to help them out with a couple of promotional activities, but as they say, that's a story for another time.
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