The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Assuming the Experience of Disability: A Critique of the Netflix Film “Bird Box”

bird_box_(film)As someone living with a disability, one of the things that frustrates me is people without disabilities assuming what it’s like to live with a disability. While there may be some truth in their assumptions, these assumptions can also be very wrong.

Take blindness, for example. Most people have played some game where they have needed to be blindfolded. Therefore, being blind must be like wearing a blindfold all the time. Right?

This seems to be the assumption behind the Netflix film “Bird Box”. I wasn’t going to watch it, but when I saw a headline suggesting that the movie had inspired someone to drive while blindfolded which inevitably caused an accident (if that’s the right word – https://fox17online.com/…/driver-who-crashed-while-blindf…/… ), I was curious to know what fresh madness this was. So I watch it. Seeing how this movie is current, it’s well worth a comment. It wasn’t my kind of movie. It was more of a horror movie. To say I’m about to spoil the film would be overestimating its quality as you wont be missing much. But I’ll only spoil the relevant details.

The earth’s population is set upon by mysterious invisible creatures who make people see their worst fears. As a result, people either commit suicide or turn into a zombie-like state who in turn force others to look at these creatures who then suicide or turn into zombies. You get the picture. Lot’s of bodies. Lot’s of blood. Lot’s of mayhem. It’s hardly a celebration of the sanctity of human life. The only way to avoid being affected is not to make eye contact with these creatures. So you have our heroes in the movie running around wearing blindfolds, and driving a 4wd with the windows blocked out. Now, I’m sure they’ll be people who will watch the movie just to see how silly this is!

Now here’s why I’m raising the issue. In the movie, there is a group of people who remain unaffected by these mysterious creatures – people who are blind. So a refuge is set up in a school for the blind. Now, if you think blindness is like wearing a blindfold, it all makes sense. But if you know a bit about blindness, the movie looses all credibility – assuming it has any left by the time it gets to the school for the blind. While there is a form of blindness where there’s no light penetration at all (what may be assumed by most people), this is very rare. There are other types of blindness where people have some form residual sight, even if they can’t identify objects or people by sight. Other forms of blindness may allow a person to identify objects and people, yet their blindness can still pose a danger. This may explain the somewhat bizarre instruction by Jesus to a man born blind to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (John 9:4). How can a man “Go” if he’s blind? It could very well be he had sufficient residual sight to navigate safely, yet unable to work or assume a productive position in the community. Yet it’s still right to consider him “blind”, and none of this doesn’t detract front the miracle of Jesus giving a man sight who had been blind since birth.

So, knowing this, I couldn’t help but wonder, how blind does someone need to be for someone to be immune to these mysterious creatures in the film? Would having advance cataracts have the same effect? It was yet another one of many loose ends left hanging by the film.

While I applaud the idea of one of the most vulnerable people in the community being framed positively as a “saviour”, I am again concerned that what is being portrayed is an abled-bodied person’s idea of having a disability. Ultimately, this is unhelpful for everyone. While people with disabilities may have commonalities, it remains to be appreciated that every disability is unique, and every experience of disability is unique. So we must treat portrayals of disability in the media with caution, and not use them to assume the experience of disability as we seek to connect with individuals.

 

First published on Jericho Road’s Disability Advocacy Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/disability.advocate.nsw/

 

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January 16, 2019 Posted by | Articles, Disability | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newsletter – Christmas 2016

2016 has been the year of the project, or more accurately, the projects! I’ve always had one project or another going, and I’m not happy unless I have a project to work on. But this year there’s been more projects than what I’d like.

Working with Jericho Road has seen many projects, from trying to get my head around the NDIS, to reviewing policies, to becoming aware of issues people with disabilities face. A large portion of the year has been spent reviewing the Commonwealth Government’s Senate Committee Report on violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings, including the gender and age related dimensions, and the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability. There’s a title if there ever was one! Strangely, even though I grew up in the “disabled world” the report revealed a side to Australia I was blissfully unaware of, and one which I found very disturbing. The day I wrote this newsletter, I read yet another report of a school student with a disability being sexually harassed by another student, and others left on a school bus and neglected. Yet, reflecting back on my experiences, in the final analysis, none of this really surprises me. I have now finished summarising my summary of the summary of the enquiry which still summarising! It’s a big issue, to make an understatement. Nonetheless, the greater task at hand is to work out how, as a denomination, we can begin to the respond to these issues. If Christ reached down to the depths of human depravity in order to redeem it, then so must his church! But to achieve that, we’re going to need a bigger think tank that comprises of more than just my head!

Other projects have been in the transport department. I had been spoilt by my last trip to New Zealand 2 years ago. Even though the camper I rented was a bucket of rusty bolts (the one’s that were still there!) and was horrible to drive, everything on the camping side of things was usable and made for the best holiday I’ve had. So I began to think seriously about converting my truck into a camper. Then the head gasket blew – big dollars there! So, I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what sort of camping setup do I want, should I be changing vehicles, and if so what vehicle, and how I would want it set up? In the end, I was reluctant to spend the money converting a vehicle that is now 20 years old. It’s at the stage where something will go wrong with it. The question is what? This doesn’t bother me unless I’m a long way from home. So, I’ve made the decision to change vehicles in the next few years, and find someone who will fit out the new vehicle the way I want – not someone who thinks he thinks he knows what I think I need… I think. It’s not an urgent project, but it’s simmering away in the background.

Trikes, trikes, and more trikes. How many trike projects can one person have going on at once? 3, apparently! It’s now been over a year since my fastest trike has come out of the shop. A critical component failed in 2015, which is no longer made. The part was shipped off to the manufacturer, and after 3 months, the manufacturer decided they couldn’t repair it! Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it. It hasn’t helped that I keep changing my mind every 5 minutes! I had intentions of buying another trike with full suspension, and build it for the road – I do like suspension! But, with a new van in the pipeline, I decided this probably wasn’t wise, and made the decision to make my existing trike as fast as possible. Some may find this a scary prospect!
While this was going on, I was given a tandem recumbent trike, complete with a trailer that the occupant can peddle. I didn’t want it, but I feared it would end up on the scrap heap if I didn’t take it. A machine like this should not be on the scrap heap! It should be out on the road being enjoyed. I looked at the trike the morning after it was dropped off and decided it was a strip down and rebuild job. My bike mechanic agreed. So, I took it upon myself to have it restored. Hopefully I can find a buyer who can appreciate its value and use it.
Then there’s the never-ending story of the Monster (my offroad trike). I picked up a friend’s mountain bike and realised I was never going to compete with that – at least not going up hill. The decision was made to fit an electric assistance motor – which is still sitting on my living room floor. It’s a decision I’ve been resisting. I like competing with friends, even though my trike twice the weight of their bikes. A motor would take all that away. But, the way I was going up the steepest hills, I was either going to break the trike, or break myself, or possibly both! Besides, I’m hoping the motor will give the trike more versatility, and open up other opportunities.
Meanwhile, my touring trike is the only vehicle that hasn’t needed major repairs! It’s done 2,500km between since its last service, which is astonishing – although it needs a service now. This has allowed me to build on my fitness. With everything going on, I’ve changed to shorter, more intense rides less often. This seems to have had an impact. Even though this isn’t my fastest trike, I’m matching some of my fastest times. Some may wonder why I put so much prominence on cycling. As I found out a few years ago, it’s quite simple – if I’m not fit, I don’t function. So, I remain thankful that I can get out on my trike.

However, the biggest project started this year has been my research master’s of theology. I had to begin by completing a research methods subject. To be honest, I thought this was a bit rich. After 10+ years of study, I’d expected I would know how to put a paper together! It turned out I didn’t, and found the subject quite useful. Studying at this level is a whole other ball game. I realised a research master’s is pretty much a baby doctorate. It’s just shorter, and not quite as intense. But my supervisor keeps assuring me I can do it. No doubt I can!
At this stage, I’m preparing a proposal for my topic to present to the academy. This is a big enough project in itself, which involves a lot of study. The more I know what my paper will contain, the better I can present the proposal. I’ve never read so much in my life! It’s almost like I need to come up with an answer, then get permission to submit my answer. Not quite, but almost! There is flexibility to make changes after approval. So far, I’ve narrowed my topic down to, “How does Jesus’ healing ministry to people with disabilities fulfil the prophecies in Isaiah?” There’s three big topics right there – the development of perceptions of disability, the gospel of Luke, and Isaiah. To put the question simply, “Why did Jesus heal people?” I’m really am responding to liberal theologians who see the healing by Jesus to be metaphorical, and conservative theologians who see disability as being a direct consequence of the Fall, thus Jesus’ healing ministry is part of reversing the effects of the Fall. Neither position I agree with. That is, I agree Jesus came to reverse the effects of the Fall, but I don’t think the elimination of disability was part of that reversal. Hence my question. So far, I’ve been very much enjoying it, and I praise God for the support I’m receiving from Christ College. I’m being looked after very well. I’m also thankful for my work who allow me to manage my time as I need I expect to graduate in 2019 – mark the date!

I did manage some travelling this year. Though, for once in the past four years, I managed to stay in the country. I had four days in the ACT when I went to visit the Presbytery for work in late February. That made for a nice short break taking in some of the sights of Canberra, included the War Memorial, which was quite an experience! I had another week in the ACT in June working with Gungahlin Presbyterian Church as part of my advocacy work. That was a non-stop week. I even managed to get a 30km mountain bike ride in with one of the members, which I really regretted the next day when I had to preach! But it was a lot of fun. It reminded me a lot of mission trips with college, except the mission team this time consisted of one – me! I managed to do a quick 10 day trip to Victoria, taking in a conference on Spirituality and Disability as part of my work – I didn’t present (probably a good thing given the theologically liberal nature of the conference). This also gave me the opportunity to catch up with friends around Victoria. Later on in the year, I enjoyed a couple of camping weekends with friends from church at Belbora and Newnes. Happily, the Monster came out both times, and had I some enjoyable rides.

The ministry at the Allambie Heights Cerebral Palsy Alliance continues. By now, I was hoping to have offloaded some of the work. But no one has stepped up. Services are now once a month, and if I’m away, or sick, that makes for a big gap between service. Yet, the regulars remain eager to come, and occasionally, one or two extras join us. We had our Christmas service at the start of December and a number of people came along who aren’t regulars. This was exciting to see, and I pray something of the gospel caught their attention. I’m also thankful for the many people who help me with this ministry.

2017 is shaping up to be another big year. Some how, I need to keep cycling, so I can keep working, so I can keep studying, so I can know God’s word and apply it all the more. The trick will be to manage all this without becoming overworked. So, as always, I appreciate your prayers and support as we all enter the new year by God’s grace.

December 27, 2016 Posted by | Newsletters, Site News | , , | Leave a comment