reflections related to disability advocacy, family and (needed) cultural change
Monday, April 20, 2009
Another Blogger Commenting on Susan Boyle
I can't resist, I just can't.
I loved listening to this woman sing. You could just swim in that music. It was wonderful. AND Les Miserables is my favorite show of all time.
But the articles about it are really begging me to comment.
The first one I read was from a Toronto paper and it said that Susan Boyle sang karaoke all the time in a neighborhood pub and the whole town knew she could sing...
I hope this was not a case of people saying "she can sing, too bad she will never be able to do any thing with it."
I have met many parents over the years who say things like, "My son is really a genius at _________, but he has _______ diagnosis and he can't butter bread (direct quote!) so he is moving into ________ group home and working at _______ sheltered workshop assembling ___________... It's too bad he could never do anything with math... sigh."
This conversation always discourages me because in at least a few of the cases that I know of those kids truly did have genius (and a disability) and with accommodations could make some real contributions but fear of their needs, difficulty fitting into the accreditation systems (one guy couldn't get a college to work with him because he had a disability--aargh!!!) and failure of imagination ("But HOW could he work for _______ company? He can't even drive a car!" This about a kid who had worked successfully at a local electronics shop all through high school--because he got a ride.)
My dad was an electrical engineer whose secretary used to pin a note to his jacket to remind him to pick me up after school and the company security guard would tell my dad that he was closing up and it was time to leave many nights. He was an inventor. He was allowed to invent--encouraged to invent, paid even--even though he had a few absentminded tendencies.
Why? Because he doesn't have a disability. If he had a disability diagnosis his life would have been turned sideways and his same brilliance would have been written off as a "scatter skill" in an otherwise disabled life.
It's called accommodation and actually it is a natural part of everyone's life--all of our doctors call us to remind us of appointments, all of our churches and theaters use programs or bulletins to let us know what is going on, tons of organizations use shared calendars and alarms to keep folks on track, etc, etc, etc. But when we add the word disability to the mix, suddenly people start thinking in terms of impossibility.... Whassupwiddat???
This lack of imagination or will to apply ingenuity to situations because they seem difficult forces people with disabilities to live from their weaknesses, where they could and should be living from their strengths. (To read more about accommodations see here and here.)
Miss Boyle is a singer. And there were people in her life who knew it. Why did it take an extraordinary feat to give anyone the idea that she should pursue it?
And then there's the New York Times article... and the debate about whether or not Miss Boyle should have a makeover.
As part of the 47 and frumpy crowd (though you will be happier if you don't ask me to sing,) I hear the anti-feminist and ageist as well as the ableist undercurrent of this discussion... And I think it is up to her. I don't think she should feel she HAS to have a makeover, but I think if she wants one she should go for it-- and I do think whether she does or not will have an impact on what kind of carreer she will have.
I object to the judge's assertion that a makeover would spoil Susan Boyle's specialness. The surprise of the beauty contained inside of an unsophisticated package was a valuable lesson (that honestly, no one really learned.) But that ship has sailed, the world was surprised once and will never be surprised by her again.
I really don't like the talk of packaging her always as the unsophisticated woman who sings rather than as a singer... reminds me of the freakshow mentality that always packaged 'the cripple who can.... count toothpicks... play Vivaldi or whatever. (There is debate about whether this was such a bad thing which you can read a bit about here, but it turns my stomach.)
If she wants a more mainstream singing carreer she will need to do the things to make herself successful in that realm... it may well require a new look. I see this stuff as external and it doesn't bother me--if you want to play for the Yankees you will have to wear pinstripes... And she can go as far as she wants with that, I think. If she wants to sing jingles for local advertisers she can probably choose a different look than if she wants to consort with famous contraltos.
And can she do all this and maintain her individuality? Of course she can--she's a woman, isn't she?
As for myself, I am glad for the beauty her singing brought to my living room.
I am the mother of three, wife of one. I am a Partners in Policymaking graduate and a committed disability advocate. I want to catch up on my scrapbooking, learn more about art-journaling, get my house in order, read all the books I have set aside to read and change the world--not necessarily in that order. The opinions in this blog are my own and not those of any of employers.