With many thanks to Raven Wilson and Mary McCrae for their assistance in preparing this transcript.
In some ways, just disability is already in a travel adventure in itself. It’s a kind of constant complex interaction that also changes your experience of travel, and changes the places that you go and the ways, the ways that you connect with people and the kind of, the adventure of it and what you find out, and how you how you interact with a place.
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Welcome to Disability Crosses Borders, a podcast and blog featuring stories where disability, migration and culture meet. I’m Áine Kelly-Costello and today, I talk to Peter Torres Fremlin. Peter works in international cooperation for disabled people and has lived abroad extensively. Following his life’s trajectory, we cover how Peter found his love for the field, disability rights between countries, living your values as an international consultant, and more. Enjoy. Áine
I’m talking to Peter Torres Fremlin on disability crosses borders. Welcome Peter, could you introduce yourself and just talk a little bit about your main areas of work, where you’ve lived and how you identify around disability?
Hi, Áine, great to be with you and be able to talk about this intersection of disability and migration. I’m Peter, I’m a disabled person, I’m originally from Britain, which is where I am now. But I spent over 10 years living in different countries and a lot of that was oriented around Work I was Doing on Disability which is in sinternational development, which is support from richer countries to poorer countries on social issues, and I was looking at disability within that. I’m just back from Egypt. Previously I lived in Bangladesh and Brazil. I identify as a person with a disability or disabled person. I’m kind of happy to use those terms equivalently. I have a disability from birth. So physical impairment. There are different parts of my experience that aren’t necessarily encapsulated by that so that’s definitely an identity, but it’s not the end of the stor., Even on the subjects related to disability.
Getting into disability advocacy
Of course, yes, good distinction. Can you talk about how you initially got into disability advocacy consulting, and, in particular, what drew you to the international space?
The origin of this was I’d been started thinking about disability more in my own life and studies, I’ve been studying literature at university, and started thinking about that. And I was already traveling while at university and so I was in Bangladesh, and by chance, someone met me and saw that I was going up some stairs with difficulty and so he said “ah, you’re a disabled person. We’re disabled people, we have a group. Why don’t you come and visit us?” And so I thought well I’ll go for a few days, why not? I was learning Bengali at the time and ended up staying more than a month and now they’re some of my closest friends. And it was a small, I’d call, organization of people with disabilities that were mobilizing with support from an international charity in a town and villages in Bangladesh. And that really connected with me and got under my skin in a very deep way and that was the first time that I was meeting with disabled people on a kind of political basis. I’ve really learned from them. And so that when a couple of years later I was thinking, Oh, where do I want to be? What do I want to work on? The answer in my head was clear: I want to sort of ideally go back to Bangladesh and be working on disability issues. I think at that stage in my life, I really loved travel and exploring, getting to know new cultures and learning new languages. That really motivated me. I wasn’t as idealistic about international development as some people are when they start, but I really wanted to be in Bangladesh and work on that issue and sort of fortunately, it worked out to get started and then, one thing led to another, and that’s still the area I work in now.
Wow, it’s cool that disabled people in Bangladesh kind of spotted you and just went “Hey, you wanna like get to know us?” That’s great.
It was literally someone passed me on the stairs and then was like, “Hi, excuse me?” I don’t know how much of the conversation we had on the stairs but it was, I think, when the invitation came we were still on the stairs. We had a deeper conversation before I went. But I’m sort of very lucky and grateful to that connection and it’s something in Britain I hadn’t identified so much as a disabled person I haven’t been connected with or aware of it so much as a movement or known the groups that had made the changes that I’ve benefited from, and so yeah, it was part of my growing up.
Physical disability in Brazil
Yeah, that’s fascinating. So tell me, changing gears slightly, about your master’s thesis. So how did you end up choosing the topic for that? And briefly, what did you end up finding out in that process about physical disability and how that’s kind of understood in Brazil.
Yeah, so it was in parallel to going to Bangladesh, and learning Bengali, I signed up to a master’s degree in Brazil. And in my second year, I think sort of choosing a topic again, it sort of was clear partly from that influence that I mentioned, that I really wanted to explore disability. I went into it with a lens of let’s meet people with physical disabilities. I think what I hoped the transition that I could make was if we start from the lives of people with physical disabilities that say, using crutches, or using wheelchairs or getting about in whatever way. Maybe we’re different from what the general population might be.
Seeing the lives and sort of day to day experiences, we can understand things that don’t just apply to disabled people, right? Because we’re all in bodies in relationships with the objects that we have, with the sidewalks we go on in whichever way we go on them, and the stories we tell about workers so I was saying, what does disability tell us or give us as a kind of experience that sees beyond. I think that the group of people that I happened to meet during my research, they used a term that doesn’t exactly translate to crip, but has some of that same potential of, let’s sort of get off disability, quote unquote, and use a different word that let’s us connect and imagine ourselves in a different way.
Lots of things surprised me throughout it. I ended up playing wheelchair rugby for part of the thesis, or part of my research. Being a social anthropologist, you get to do all sorts of great things for research. I also went to the beach to see an accessible project. Because that’s important. But I really didn’t think I could play wheelchair rugby, it turned out that I could. And sort of the surprises, to be honest, last to this day, because recently, my body and disability story have been changing and revisiting my thesis, I kind of see that trajectory was a bit anticipated. I’ve just had a fall. Some of the research I did with people was about falls and how they get enfolded back into people’s lives. So it’s something that, yeah, sort of being able to witness that moment intensely with people of where they were at is still rich to this day, and I’m still in touch with the people that I’ve researched with and the supervisor of my thesis, and they remain important connections and guides in my life that have helped me show the possibilities of living as a disabled person in a way that I found quite liberating. Because I saw from the research there isn’t just one fixed way of dealing with the same set of problems or same set of circumstances.
For any listeners who might speak Portuguese, out of curiosity, what was the term that was sort of similar to crip that has been sort of claimed by the disability community?
It was chumbado which means “stuck to the ground”, can mean “lead”. But it’s not necessarily widespread. I think I sort of happened upon a group of people that one of the people that was more vocal in expressing a kind of disability identity, was using that to express it and connect with people and do so in a way that got out of the official stories that she didn’t resonate with so much.
Disability Movements and Rights around the World
In the Anglophone countries, the sort of histories of disability movements from the US and the roots of the social model that come from the UK, are quite routinely considered foundational to how we’ve come to understand disability. And around the world, these, you know, probably hold quite a lot of influence as well. But disability movements have also their own precursors and develop in their own ways. And throughout your work and travels, what have you learned about the longer term history and development of disability movements outside the sort of Western, English speaking bubble?
This is a kind of–such a sort of, important question that I won’t be able to answer but I can give some thoughts. I think the first thought I have is that in the US and UK, we don’t have a deep understanding of where our movements come from. I think that we’ve got some narratives around the recent past and recent changes. But I think when we watched Crip Camp, when it came out, about this Britain movement in the US, there were a lot of surprises for us. And that’s still very recent history. When, last year, it was the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK, I was learning some of that history for the first time. And I think there’s now increasing research in other areas of what was the presence of disabled people and how were people mobilizing are not in the 19th century or in earlier times, and in, say the UK or other locations, that we don’t have a strong awareness. So I want to flag that. But I really do acknowledge your question that it’s both the narrative of the movements and some of the systems of change around disability from the US and UK are particularly well known. So for example, sometimes when you describe the social model, you might describe that and say how the UK did it, or you might, when you’re thinking about legislation, you might think about the ADA, Which is Americans with Disabilities Act, I guess, from 1990. And those remain very influential. I find it interesting, because then the way change happens in the US isn’t necessarily how it happens abroad.
A long–long clearing of my throat to get to the side of the question that you were interested in. I think there’s a lot of mutual influence; the disability movement has been in touch with itself globally for longer than I would have imagined. I think I was recently listening to research on the disability movement in the Soviet Union, , which then had quite established groups of deaf people and blind people. Don’t know if it also included hard of hearing, or people with partial vision. I don’t know sort of how broad they were, but the groups were very established and had a relationship with the state and some of it was quite progressive from the time and those movements did have quite a complex interaction with groups from the west, right? I think the kind of other thing to flag is that sort of the way community organizations or movements form in different places can, sort of, have very different priorities and effects. So even when it looks like this organisation I knew in Bangladesh inspired me so much when it was that they were supported from Western disability work, but in practice, what their organization looks like, and what it’s trying to do, can be different.
I’ve seen research in Guatemala, I think, by a friend, Steven Myers. He’s looked at how sort of community groups around disability are originally taking a more service-driven mentality. And then in connection with the pride movement internationally, there’s that tension that might want to take them away from that and more into representation. Right? So I think that these aspects and formations around the world can be so different like this group of people that I was mentioning in Brazil and sort of in some ways, things you’d find quite comparable that they had both sort of through shared time in hospitals or institutions or whatever, they got to know each other through, connection around impairments they got to know about each other, but yet the vision of what disability politics is, is a bit different.
Do you think that the passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has started to perhaps unify how disability is understood within local and national disability organizations, and what they’re fighting for now that the set of rights is in place in international law?
Absolutely. But with limitations. the CRPD has been really very widely ratified for UN convention is what we all refer to, and it gives us a central reference. There are some standout exceptions to that, including, in fact, the US, which hasn’t fully ratified that, but nearly everywhere else has. And so disability organizations will refer to it and governments will refer to it if the government makes a new rule, they’ll say the CRPD and if the disability movement says something, they will say this is CRPD. And they will both say that, whether it is CRPD or not, right. So that is the kind of limitations that we quickly get on to though it has given us a unification and a lot of the passage of a more Brightspace approach or understanding disability socially has been adopted by disability organizations and office. However, the depth with which they take that is quite variable. And people will say things that you might say, well, that actually seems pretty contradictory to the CRPD. And also, like our ability to see how the CRPD can be put into practice is , even with the best most up-to-date perspectives in line with everything, there’s a lot of things that we don’t know how to do, we don’t know how do you make systems that identify people with disabilities in line with the CRPD and then help to guide guide giving social protection benefits, still, it remains very challenging, and as to so many other issues of rights. Right?
And I think the other aspects I would add to this is, I feel that within the disability umbrella, there are kind of two different tensions. One, lots of disabled people do not identify as disabled people. So they’re kind of, they don’t even know that we would want them in that umbrella. And then the other, I think, like the CRPD has brought different groups together, right? It’s given lots of people with lots of different issues or sort of say impairment stories or lift experiences given an umbrella, but I think there’s always a kind of tension and you see this in practice, one group identifying around specific impairment might say, well, like okay, “that’s fine for you, but that isn’t working for us.” But with those limitations, CRPD has been sort of remarkably, widely adopted in guiding us and as advocates, has given us a remarkable base that has very boldly put the issues out there in a really positive way.
Yeah, that’s interesting to consider the CRPD not just from that, you know, the legal standpoint, because it only has a certain amount of teeth as being the instrument that it is in international law, but also from that communications, and kind of framing of disability standpoint. And yeah, definitely picking up on that disjunct between the social model being pretty clearly in there in terms of the definition of disability on the one hand, and on the other, so many countries relying still on very medical models in order to decide who counts as disabled in terms of when it comes to being able to receive support and services.
Yeah, for example, making the CRPD in practice would transform our societies totally. So we haven’t done that yet. And you’re totally right, its value and effects has been far beyond just quote unquote, a legal instrument.
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Making Grassroots Connections in Bangladesh
Can you tell me a bit about your decision to move to and work in Bangladesh, and as a foreigner working for international organizations there, what were your experiences, like building up trust and relationships with those in the disability community working locally, or nationally, at sort of a more grassroots level?
As I started to describe, it was a small disability organization that really got under my skin, and also sort of other personal connections that made Bangladesh sort of, in my early 20s, the place that I needed to know more, the most different places that I’d been. I think as you kind of touch on working for international organizations has a kind of whole baggage and not an easy one working as a privileged expatriate in a place of your allegedly diminishing poverty, but disability organizations helped clarify my intentions and purpose in that when I was able to make links or hoping to help shed light for people on the official systems of international development, I think I was really welcomed with open arms by every disability organization that I met in Bangladesh and maintain those relationships to this day. I think that sometimes people said you understand disability because you have this disability yourself. But as you’re so struck by the difference in their experiences, I had been able to sort of pursue a full inclusive education myself and work in the area that I chose that making a comparison with people that hadn’t had those privileges seemed, can seem very distant. And on the other side, as I’ve said, the kinds of connections I made with people that influenced the story of my life, and many of them, dear, dear friends, and I hope to continue to be able to support them in that basis.
And an important part of this was that I have the relationship as a person, and often outside of the formal steps of meetings or consultations or whatnot. I really sort of emphasise that and give time, I hope, to engage with people where they’re at rather than what your work needs from them.
That’s great. Yeah. And really speaks to the importance, I think, of that final point of finding a way to, you know, be part of the disability community. And that’s wonderful that you have lifelong friends from your time there. Just for a little bit of context, do you want to talk a little bit about what your work actually was in a little bit more detail in Bangladesh?
I started on a large international project that was in the Bangladeshi government to reduce poverty in poor, urban communities and I was looking at how that could also reach disabled people. A lot of my work is kind of writing reports and going to meetings. And I also sort of got to speak to some real people as well. But there was always that distance. And then after that I got onto, by accident, but it remained a big theme for me, sort of inclusion of persons with disabilities in employment and work related programs and what kind of policies or approaches you need around that. And on the side, as a personal initiative, I tried to contribute by moral support or sharing some of my professional perspectives to the disability community and organizations that serves them. Those were the main areas that I was in.
Living your Values as an International Consultant
And you’ve started touching on this already, but you’ve written about the challenges of living your values when working as a well-paid, international consultant within an environment of development aid, which, as you’ve noted, too often can reproduce the hierarchies and inequalities it’s meant to be challenging. Do you want to say any more about how you personally try and reconcile these kind of disjuncts and what sorts of factors, principles maybe, do you weigh up when determining whether to take on projects within that international development sort of space?
Yeah, thank you for asking that question. Holds me to account. I fear the accounting comes up short as this is a kind of inherent concern of this sector connects efforts from richer countries, with missions to do something in less well-off countries. I think these tensions are built in which may be used as a kind of escape card to not reconcile these disjuncts.
There are some things that I do in general and some things that actually disability is being part of the solution. I learned to speak Bengali. I think that was very important part for me of working in Bangladesh. And I tried to emphasise my work where I do have/can have a longer term relationship or knowledge of the place that I’m in, rather than sort of being the kind of fly in, fly out. I think that on some of the projects I’ve been on, I’ve been able to stay in touch with colleagues afterwards to find out what were we doing, what was going on. and in some sort of very small ways being able to stay in touch a little bit with people that the projects were allegedly supporting. Yeah. And so I try and maintain those kind of broader set of connections and that’s very important. Obviously there’s some things I work on I can’t live up to that.
Disability has been part of the solution. I think, as I’m indicating these kind of connections with the disability community in Bangladesh gave me a huge amount of meaning that working on disability was something that I then kind of ended up pursuing as a topic of engagement. When the career incentives were, in some ways, to kind of lock into more mainstream things, that’s a little bit different now that disability is more popular in the international space. There are more sort of professional opportunities from it, even though it’s a kind of problematic comparison as the same. But me being a disabled person working on disability and getting the engagement that I can have with disabled people in that area is an important factor for me. And I think over the past year or two, I’ve sort of developed the ability to have my own voice in this space that is independent. I’m able to hopefully ask some, like the question that you asked me, and kind of get out of some of the institutional priorities which are aligned with reproducing those inequalities. But I still question myself about this reconciliation to this day, and I imagine that if I remain in the sector, I will continue to do so. Yeah, thank you.
Thank you for that.
Disability and Employment around the world
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You’ve worked extensively, as you mentioned, within the employment sort of consulting area, and in this field, what are some of the key similarities and differences you see between countries? In terms of perhaps what the priorities are; which interventions, you know, work or don’t work so well; how fast progress happens, anything like that?
Yeah, I think that the challenges you can describe in a way that fits many places. And it’s a kind of a challenge of, on the one hand, many persons with disabilities due to kind of social exclusion, not having the profile that the labour market expects. So the labour market will look for certain qualifications; certain sets of experiences; or certain sets of sort of candidate profiles, sometimes in quite overtly discriminatory ways. And people with disabilities often haven’t had that same access to education; haven’t had that same sort of access to previous work experience; or maybe it’s like you had the education, but you didn’t have the access to the same social network, and it’s mainly the social network that people find through work. And then all of this is compounded when you kind of turn up in a slightly different way to an interview – if you, if you can get to the interview, even.
That’s on the one side, and then on the other side, employers sort of have quite specific ideas about who employees should be; the workplaces aren’t necessarily sort of accessible or inclusive or whatnot. So there’s, this, this kind of set of challenges exists in lots of places. And it’s, it’s, kind of, I hope we haven’t been sort of too dispiriting in describing the challenges first, because then the solution, the solutions are also in in common, I would say, it’s like, how do you, how do you find a bridge between, kind of, a profile that people aren’t expecting so much; part of the labour force that they aren’t accessing so much, and how do you get entrance into environments that aren’t fully ready, and that you can’t wait for perfect, so you have to, you have to crack on.
And for, for better and worse, in lots of countries also, this dynamic means that people with disabilities do, do their own thing, right? Like they, they make their own podcast, or newsletter, or business, or whatever it is to kind of set out, set out on their own way, and this can be everything from various levels of success to really conditions of work that are completely unacceptable.
The other aspect of this in common: policymakers too often sort of think people with disabilities need different types of work, right? The idea that, oh, you need this special thing, or people say, well, what, just tell me like what work a person with this disability can do. Right? So we’ve really, we’ve really tried to resist that, right? So I think these, these kind of commonalities are there. I think that the, the interventions that can make the bridge, the interventions that can really see things from the employers point of view are the ones that can deliver more, more successful results. So you can’t just work on one piece of the puzzle. Right? So all too often we see kind of training programs that haven’t considered how do people go into employment, right? Or if you just work with the employers, but you don’t work with kind of any, any input mechanism for people with disabilities, that, that will really struggle as well, right?
In terms of the speed of progress, I think we’re in quite different places. If you, say, look at the UK, there are people with disabilities in lots of, lots of areas and sort of, really, sort of, striking out as, as persons with disabilities in sort of, say, media or culture or different, different areas of the economy, but the, the, employment gaps for people with disabilities remain quite stuck. And the benefits system doesn’t, doesn’t sort of support entry to work, it can create barriers, that is, that is another kettle of fish that is an all too common, all too common aspect.
In other countries, the visibility of previous generations is, is less, in terms of people that are kind of openly identifying, but you have, in different forms of economy you also have different forms of like, like getting on with things and people with disabilities are in, in all groups. So part of the ‘getting on with things’ is putting people in different jobs in different areas. And you also see some, like, quite a rapid adoption in some places that this, this issue is suddenly thrown in, that might, might consider employment questions from the point of view of disability, you get sort of quite a level of excitement and new, new initiative in countries where it’s, it’s less, less established and less baked into legislation and less infrastructure and apparatus around it that make it a bit more stuck, as we are in some of the richer countries that have worked on this for a longer time, and have very fixed approaches, and approaching it as a legal issue rather than other ways you might approach it.
Speaking of approaching it as a more fixed issue, I wonder if you have any thoughts on the use of quota systems, because I know sometimes those can be a little bit of a smokescreen in some ways, or those quotas sort of be abused or seen as sort of this regulatory burden, rather than what they’re meant to be in terms of getting more disabled people into work. And ideally, not just into, you know, junior or segregated work, in theory, do you think quotas have potential? Do you think they can work?
Yeah, I’m not anti-quotas. I think that quotas can be an important tool in social transformation. And maybe groups other than people with disabilities are easier, easier to illustrate this with, access of black people to education in Brazil has been really helped by quotas, or access of Scheduled Castes and other groups in India to work, has been really helped by, by quotas.
I think that we should be careful with quotas, that we shouldn’t, for people with disabilities in the workplace, that we don’t assume we know what the intention is, right? Like, from our point of view, we assume that it’s to kind of help people get into work. But while I was in Egypt, I saw how the quota system was working at length, that the, the local government office would give employers a list, and then the employers would sort of pay people to stay at home. And I’m like, well, that isn’t how it was designed! But, I mean, maybe it was, right, like, maybe that was the intention of the quota, to provide, like a kind of social protection or charity through the employer. It’s a very sort of back to front way of taxing and providing social support. But the, I wouldn’t think the quota was for that, but I mean, that’s how everyone’s using it. And too, I might say that wasn’t the intention behind it.
I’m not sort of a fan of the quotas that that recreate, recreate, stereotypes, or sort of enforce a kind of persons with disabilities in very low level work, as you said, or just make the discussion like really unproductive, that the, the employer is saying like, “ we can’t do that” the government saying “ well you have to” and an employer saying “well, you’re not even doing that”. Right? And that’s, that’s, kind of like turning a discussion into a discussion about compliance, rather than about the opportunities that working on this could be is like a slight step in the wrong direction. That that said it can already be can really mobilise employees it can mobilise sort of further entry into this, I guess they’re a good example for us of working on social change, the mechanisms that we might want to make social changes can have like the the opposite effect from what we want. Right. And I think that’s, that’s a reality that we should acknowledge, it’s particularly visible with quotas. But I think it’s sort of very context specific and political what, what decision you take. And beyond saying, like, I wish they were better designed and, and supported, supported by measures that help the employers to fulfill them, I’m not going to be able to take a sort of stronger, stronger position one way or the other.
I think that makes sense. And I liked that you also raised how positive action in other settings, like in education or in relation to groups with other shared identities have had really positive outcomes in a lot of cases. So I think it is good to have that kind of nuanced discussion about the potential drawbacks, and benefits of quota systems and how you mentioned before as well, that in countries such as the UK, perhaps, and others that have more fixed legislative systems around disability and employment, you know, it is how do you move beyond these binaries of, Oh, this is the policy oh we don’t like it, we don’t have the support to do it, to actually get to the point where we’re talking about what we’re ,as disabled people at least, wanting the discussion to be about, you know, how can you support disabled people to have meaningful work on an ongoing basis. And that, you know, permeates all areas of society.
And it really, really diminishes the trust that disabled people are going to have in the, quote unquote, nice things that are being said, schemes that that sound like they, they might be to help us, or support, support us to get inclusion in society have been, also the mechanisms that have stopped us getting inclusion in society. So that that that is very, very difficult. I think you took that further, I haven’t been sort of, thinking of backlash within the disability community. But the, there, is certainly there are certainly that, and in the UK, the, the, attitude toward quotas were that they were discriminatory. And I definitely see, see and share, share the arguments, the arguments for that.
But the point also stands more broadly on, when you’re promoting employment, or anything else, like, I mean, if your government says that it’s helping you, do you believe it, like, I mean, for instance certainly not always, even from the front, and then, like after 10 years of your situation not changing, you still don’t. Which is, which is another one of these, these disjuncts that working on disability policy makes us reconcile, right. Disability policy is more popular now; people that work on it are in, more in demand; but is the life of disabled people better as a result?
Yeah. And it talks also to the pace of change, I think as well. And maybe that mismatch in expectations or in sort of how things are messaged around when a policy is actually going to not just be talked about but when is that actually going to be implemented? How is it going to be implemented? Will it be followed up and monitored and everything.
Disability and Travel
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When you’re deciding where you’re going to live or looking at options, does your disability play into that and what kind of ways does you know being disabled affect those decisions for you?
It’s, it’s, kind of, very intensely in a way that has changed through, through my life. I think my, like my parents traveled a lot and travel was really important to them and they took my brother and I on a lot of holidays. So I already had that, that perspective of wanting to travel, but really didn’t know if I could quote unquote, that’s the that, those were the terms that I saw it in, but through some different trips and different, different, experiences as a young, young adult, I saw that Ah you can, you can make it work even when you’re in environments that aren’t, aren’t accessible.
I think in some ways my disability drove me to travel more, because I was a bit aware ah, look if my disability changes, like, or the way I thought about it, I might not think about it like this now, but I was like, hey, maybe I can now but maybe I can’t later. Right? I saw that in terms of like, the evolving nature of my disability and that really inspired me to kind of crack on.
I remember one, one time, I sort of thought it was a good idea to go on holiday in China by myself and I was scared, right, and then I was like, “Ah, but being scared of it is not a reason not to do it”. This, this is my logic and I don’t sort of agree with all of this logic, and so that that drove me on, right, like I don’t know if you’d describe this being attracted to the challenge or whatnot, but it’s, definitely that tension of “maybe you can’t do it” is, is related.
And I think I first went to Bangladesh, so for instance to teach, teach, English, at a small charity that I was connected with in the UK, and I think it was perceived as a very specific thing, and I saw it was inaccessible, but I saw there was a way around. When I went back, in my first week I went back for the six month thing, signing up to Bengali courses like what have I done? There steps everywhere I can’t go anywhere! Why am I here? right ? And then, like, roughly the next week I also saw, well, wherever there are steps there are also people that are happy to help me on those, on those steps. What people don’t assume, is that, they’re like, Oh look you have a mobility problem, like that will mean you move less, right? But transport is not, like it’s motorised, right, very few people get around by their own limbs only.
And connections with, with, disability groups, like I was like I described about my connection with the disability groups in Bangladesh motivated me to travel more, then being connected to the disability movement and the disability policy work, has then been a great reason to travel more and connect with people around the world, so, overall like the disability, my disability experience, has led me to travel more.
Now it’s, it’s, it’s a factor in in a different way – I’m at different stage of life, I think my disability has, has changed. The world is also changing. So now that the, the, where I was in, in Bangladesh experiencing all those steps 15 years ago, there are now more places with ramps. As well as more and more comforts of other sorts as well.
So that’s, that’s different. My mobility needs are also different, I reckon, I can walk less than I did, I use more assistive device, which probably my next travel will be around that. And that brings like the whole set of issues of its own – what sort of assistive device are comfortable to fly with? How will you make it work when you get there? Can you stick it in the back of a car? Do you need specialised transport? When you’re traveling you see it very much from your perspective, in lots of ways, but there are disabled people doing all sorts of things in these societies wherever you go. So they sort of give me both, sort of, the moral courage as well as practical, practical guidance, but also yeah, I know in a lot of places I go that I have quite a lot of relative privilege of wealth and, and other types of privelege can help you get around, get around barriers. If you can pay for the transportation you need, for instance, which you can get around in places where the transport isn’t accessible, if you fixed it yourself. And I know disability organizations in all parts of the world and now we’re sort of like oh, if I can’t make it work who can? See that, that that inspires me a little bit, but it’s the kind of constant complex interaction that also changes your experience of travel, and changes the places that you go and the ways, the ways that you connect with people and the kind of, the adventure of it and what you find out, and how you how you interact with a place. That, thank you for being a platform that people can, can discuss this because I think ,sort of, in some ways, just disability is already in a travel adventure in itself. Even if you don’t move, move environments, as people’s lives are, in different ways, but when you make when you make the connection that really sort of brings up, brings up a lot of exciting and less exciting surprises and new interactions with the world.
Yeah, thank you for sharing all that, it’s very relatable.
Disability Debrief Newsletter and Closing
[Short interlude: four forthright piano chords]
I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about how you were saying you’re developing kind of your own voice in the space. You run a newsletter called disability debrief, which is a round-up of disability news internationally, and, and interviews as well. And I wonder what inspired that project and what your aims with it are?
Yeah, that, that, sort of was inspired by partly by this dynamic that we’re talking about, that disability policy has become more popular. So it’s just sort of a felt like this experience that I think we all get in different sectors, of the flood of information, right. And I didn’t quite know what to do with that. So I was like, well, let’s share, share some of the distribution used with, with, colleagues, right, so I was doing on with a certain set of colleagues, and then they found it quite useful. And then I found that interesting, because I found it stressful, right? Like, you’ve got too much news you’re already behind. But then this this was they were finding as a useful reference and, and way of feeling like you’re keeping on top of it. So I made the newsletter last year, I made it sort of quite naively, before the COVID pandemic, and the crisis of that brought across the world, which then generated, like, also much more news than any of us wanted or liked. So that that kind of then accelerated the newsletter that and then it became, it became a bit bigger than I’d anticipated. And now I kind of like, the way that I would like to see it, is that disability is really exciting and it’s changing quickly across the world, and how governments and others approach it and what what disabled people are doing is really dynamic. And it’s one of the ways our society is changing, it’s one of the, it’s really noticeable how society is changing. It’s one of the really noticeable changes in the world over the past, say 30 years, I think, some people are much more conscious of, say, decisions countries have taken on, say, same sex marriage is much more visible social shift. But I think the, the, shifts on disability are just as, just as profound and unexpected. And this is kind of my small, small way of documenting a little bit and giving a kind of perspective, that’s kind of informed by, like you’re saying some perspective, from some places that aren’t on so much on the US or UK, UK track or though that news does, does dominate as that that’s, that’s what is produced more and that’s what I see more, and it’s, it’s in English more.
I want to give a kind of snapshot of what’s going on. And then the interviews with the people making, making these changes happen and I want to keep it as a space for, for, reflection. And I hope it’s a small celebration as well of the, of the huge efforts that our community is making all over the world and the successes that they’re achieving. And, and, unfortunately, the, the, challenges that disabled people continue to face.
And I really appreciate the newsletter as well, for anyone who hasn’t subscribed yet, it’s, there’s interviews with disabled people as, as Peter mentioned, and then there’s also just these very extensive round up issues of international news, organised into topics. It’s really great to have all of that in one spot and just to be able to use it as a reference tool. I think that’s super valuable. How can people sign up to the newsletter and are there any other perhaps of your contact details, or, you know, social media handles that you’d like to share.
The newsletter you can find by searching for Disability Debrief or disabilitydebrief.substack.com where you can see the back issues which like you say can be useful as references and you can subscribe to get new ones as they come out, which is, fairly, fairly irregular, but I aim for once a month and sometimes manage it!
On Twitter , I’m @desibility, which is clever Misspelling of disability, it’s @desibility, and we’re always happy to hear, to hear from people who want to connect with different parts of our community.
Peter Torres Fremlin, thank you so much, I really appreciated this conversation as well and learning from you.
Yes, thank you, thank you for this opportunity to, to explore the different parts of my, my research and work, and work and life, that trajectory that they played out.
[Outro piano music begins quietly under speech: forthright melody accompanied by a habanera dance rhythm.]
I’m really glad that you’re exploring disability and migration, migration issues and how they how they fit together and I look forward to the the further conversations you have
Did you enjoy this episode? I love putting Disability crosses Borders together and do so voluntarily, so it would mean a lot to me if you could tell a friend or colleague about it to help it reach more people. You can also like Disability Crosses Borders on facebook. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening. Till next time!
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