In this Embrace your Otherness podcast episode, we explore the critical role of language and communication when interacting with others, especially those with disabilities. Our special guest, linguist Belinda Downes, joins us to share her expertise and provide valuable insights on how we can improve our communication skills with others.
Listen the complete episode #7 here:
Belinda Downes is a linguist, language scientist and a teacher who was born with a rare Bilateral Tessier Cleft. She is a disability advocate using social media to connect with other people and raise awareness around facial differences, asexuality, disability, language/linguistics and health.
You can follow her on her YouTube Channel - Coffee With Belinda Downes
Complete episode transcripts below:
Brad Webb: Castle Services operate from the lands of the Darkinjung people to the South, the Awabakal people to the East, the Worimi people to the North and the Wonnarua people to the West. I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands where we work and live and I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
Welcome to the latest episode of Embrace Your Otherness, Castle's inaugural podcast series. This is a space where we have both casual and in-depth conversations with disability community members, leaders, activists about disability identity, culture, work and rights with a real emphasis on challenging people's perceptions and raising awareness about marginalized identities.
My name is Brad Webb, I'm both the CEO and the host of this podcast and joining me today is the wonderful Belinda Downes. I first became aware of you, Bel, back in 2017, I think it was when you appeared on the ABC series, You Can't Ask That. Since then, I've really jumped off the deep end into your YouTube channel, Coffee With Belinda Downes and we are Twitter friends.
So I've learned a lot about your insights on the world and we've had some lovely interactions via Twitter. But, Bel, you a linguist and a language scientist and a teacher and you were born with a rare bilateral Tessier cleft. You are a disability advocate using social media to connect with other people to raise awareness around facial differences, asexuality, disability, language and linguistics and health and you wrote an extract or made a contribution to Growing Up Disabled in Australia, which was edited by Carly Findlay OAM and produced by Black Inc.
I'm going to read a quote that you provided to me and that is that:
"Popular culture said and still says today that people like me, born with a cleft face, are scary. We were the villains in TV shows and movies. These representations were not true, of course, but they meant that people in authority got used to hiding people like me and what we had to say from public spaces. In my younger life, many people sought to speak on my behalf."
Welcome to the podcast. I want to jump straight in to that quote and ask if you can tell us what it was like to have people speaking on your behalf.
Belinda Downes: Wow and the really interesting thing about that is that we're in a podcast space and I get to say whatever I like, wow. So fortunately, in the intervening years, I've been able to find a voice, been given space to have a voice. So back then, I knew that I needed to say something, but I didn't have access to the language in order to speak for myself.
And so part of the problem of not having a voice is not giving people the language to speak for themselves. So it's one thing to say nothing about us without us, but it's another thing to give people access to the language in order to speak for themselves.
In one way, it was very much a time of innocence in that I didn't know that I needed to say something, but I also felt like I needed to say something, but I wasn't sure, it was very difficult to get myself out of that frame of reference. But when I found my voice, when I was given the space, I went, "Boop," and I found the words and I found my voice. And so now, a lot of that is thinking about the past and what I would've said if I'd known that I could say something.
Brad Webb: I can tell this is going to be an interesting conversation, because having a voice is certainly about having the words and the language to use, but there's two people in that conversation, and the other is the listener. You are a linguist, a language expert and I think, perhaps for the benefit of the listeners, what on Earth is a linguist and what does a language scientist do?
Belinda Downes: So when linguists get together before COVID, we'd have barbecues just like everybody else. So when we got together at barbecues, we'd compare notes on how many people said to us, "Oh, you're a linguist, how many languages do you speak?" Because that's not our job. So what I tell people is that if you think of language like a car, the language learners are like the drivers, linguists, the car mechanics. So there's a difference between learning a language and learning about a language.
And so when you get under the hood of a language, there's all these things, I'm going to be incredibly vague here, because I could go on for hours, but there's this really neat diagram that shows circular, they're in concentric circles and it goes from phonetics to phonology to morphology, syntax, and all the different areas of language and how incredibly, I say to my students, I find it absolutely incredible that things actually go from our brain to our mouth, given the complexity of language and how we take it all for granted. And so basically, linguistics is the science of the stuff that we take for granted when we are talking language and using language.
Brad Webb: Is there a correlation between finding your voice and becoming a linguist?
Belinda Downes: Oh, yeah. Very much so. Very much so. When I first became a linguist, I basically fell in love with linguistics. This is showing my age a bit, but when I signed up for the subjects in my BA here in Newcastle, we went to the Great Hall and we went to physical booths and talked to actual people and signed up on physical pieces of paper. I said, "What's linguistics?" And they said, "Oh, it's a science of language." And they gave me a few examples and I went, "Where have you been all my life?" So very much so. I can definitely see a link between not having a voice and being a linguist.
Brad Webb: Person on that booth must have thought that all their Christmases had come at once. That kind of enthusiasm. When we talked about having this conversation, you asked us to really focus in on the topic of languages and assumptions, more than on making this particular story about you. You use the words inspiration is not communication. What do you mean by that?
Belinda Downes: When we're talking about inspiration, there are two types of inspiration. There's the inspiration where a student comes up to me in class and says, "Look, I'm really inspired by what you've been saying in class. I want to go further with education. I want to go further with linguistics." Great, fantastic. But more often than not, people are inspired by me just leaving my front door. I've literally had people say to me, "Oh, it's so good that you're out and about." I'm like, "Really?" I mean, really. Really. I'll stop there, but it just, ugh.
Brad Webb: Do you think this is changing? You've already referenced your age and I'll just disclose we're the same age, so we can have this chat, too, as long as we want. Do you think that's changed in the decades of life that you've lived?
Belinda Downes: It's changed in two ways. One, I think, there are more disabled people in the public space. We really need to have better public spaces for disabled people to talk about disability in a average context. But also to, I feel like I'm boasting here, but it is actually true. The more people get to know me in public, the less I become an inspiration. So they know me as Belinda or Bel. So I become less of an inspiration in that sense, because they know I'm a real person and that's because of my work and because of the work of other disabled people.
Brad Webb: We talked about inspiration. But aligned with that is the concept of role models and you used the word you can't be what you can't say, I think earlier, just a second ago. Is there a tension between those two things or are they separate things, inspiration and role models?
Belinda Downes: They're two different things. Role models are real. Inspiration is imaginary, if I can get the word out. The imaginary part is where people have an idea in their head and you can tell that it's imaginary and inspirational, because it's something that isn't true that apparently, I am heroic for just walking around with scars on my face when it's actually them that has the problem, not me. They're giving me a problem. A role model on the other hand is very real. They're not perfect, they're not flawed, they're not inspirational in the way that we've been talking about. They're a real person, a 3D person.
Brad Webb: So I'm a bit shocked you don't have superhuman strength and bounce out of bed-
Belinda Downes: I know, right?
Brad Webb: Flying around the wall?
Belinda Downes: No, I know, right?
Brad Webb: I also was surprised to know that linguists have barbecues, but anyway, that we can tack on that later.
The book, I'm not going to go any further without talking about the book. I'm a huge fan of the Black Inc books, the Growing Up series and I think they're such important tools for people to have an insight into that ordinary world that people live in, whatever that is. Whether it's growing up disabled in Australia, growing up queer in Australia, growing up in rural Australia, old favourites. It's one of the series of books and I'm gonna read to you a part from your section of the book, your contribution, which was entitled Having a Voice, 'cause I was really struck and you can see my dog ears on this, I dog-eared these well before I even thought that I'd have the honour to be talking to you. But you write about an experience in the call centre and your decision to leave the call centre and to leave that job.
And then you write, "I was shocked that I'd been so misrepresented. More people talking behind my back and making decisions for me without my consent or knowledge based on unfounded assumptions."
Can you tell me a little bit about the context of that situation and this issue of being misrepresented, which ties a little bit into this idea of inspiration.
Belinda Downes: So I can tell this story by coming one step back and then answering that more directly.
It might shock people to learn that even though I've been teaching linguistics at a university level for 15 years, I've never actually had a job interview. I've never been in a situation where I've had to sit down and sell who I am for a job and that's partly because when I got the teaching job, I was doing a PhD, which I didn't finish, but I was doing a PhD. But at that time in my life with the coursework, I was with a disability employment agency. I'm going to say not Castle, nothing to do with Castle. I know that, but I just should say that. But this particular organisation sent my resume around behind my back without my knowledge. I said this in the book as well, without my knowledge, without asking me what I actually needed to be a good employee.
And so, I was basically told that I had to accept this job or my payments would be cut off. And so I did. I lasted two weeks in the call centre itself on the phones. And just a quick aside, I think this is a really interesting part of that journey where for those two weeks, I won Call Centre Officer of The Week. I knew exactly what that was about. That was not about me being the best call centre worker. That was Bel inspires people. Isn't inspirational that somebody could look like that over the phone?
Belinda Downes: How encouraging for you. Oh, no. So I won that. I won two diaries.
Brad Webb: Two?
Belinda Downes: What do you do with two diaries? So two little pocket diaries, which I didn't keep. But then two weeks in, my face was in so much pain that I actually had implants at this stage and they rejected because I was on the phones all the time. They sent me out to the mail room, because I was still on contract and I spent the next 12 months out in the mail room and people weren't working with me and then I found out later that was because my face smelled and nobody told me, 'cause I can't smell. So nobody, they just chose to avoid me, put me in the mail room. At the very end of my contract, my boss said to me, "You're a linguist, aren't you? Can you help me with this work?" I'm like, "Why didn't you say this 14 months ago?"
Brad Webb: So it sounded like that experience started with an assumption of one, who you are, two, what you could bring to the workplace and didn't actually start with the actual thing that you could bring to the workplace.
Belinda Downes: So I was basically there as a token. I was basically there to, I felt and I still feel, to make the business look good, because they're employing somebody with a facial difference and isn't that really, really sad and oh, aren't we great?
Brad Webb: So in that experience, if you were offering advice to employers or to the community generally, how would you suggest that should have been handled, that situation?
Belinda Downes: It should have started with a conversation. It should have started with... Actually, instead of talking about me, let's talk about a theoretical person, 'cause I think that might be more useful. So let's talk about this theoretical person. They have something X that is either gonna limit them in the workplace or is perceived to be something limiting. You sit down with them and you have a conversation and things like Growing Up Disabled in Australia, things like You Can't Ask That have told us that people with disabilities, disabled people are not precious.
They're not fragile people. They need conversations. And it's not that the disability itself is the problem, it's the perception. So if we have those conversations about what do you need? What can you bring to the company? What can we do for you? What can you do for us? Those kinds of questions, which frankly, are questions that everybody should be asking anybody that goes into an employment situation. So actually, we are no different. We might give different answers, but we are actually no different. So if I'd gone in there and had that conversation, I could have said, "You know what, I would've been fantastic at, not the phones, but the email. Put me on the email questions, like people emailing about their plans and the services that this company provided and we would've been great."
Brad Webb: So what was interesting, you rattled off four questions then. They were all very, very direct questions. Not one of them referenced disability. And coming back to your profession as a linguist, what can you tell us about language, the importance of language and the value of the words that we use in these conversations? And this is a really open-ended question. Should I just lie back and let you?
Belinda Downes: There's this myth about language that it's just about wants and needs. That is not true. Language is used to talk about who we are as people and that's what a lot of language around disability is missing. If I could say that the whole debate around person-first language, person with a disability versus identity-first, disabled person, very important. Not debating that. It's also really important to talk about disability slurs, because that's a whole big thing. But the biggest issue to do with disability and language is access to language.
At one end, you've got people who are deaf who are being told not to sign, that they have to speak. That could be triggering for some people, so I won't go on about that. We've got autistic people who are not given access to language because they can't speak, so it's assumed that they can't use language, not true. Language needs to be available. So we need to be able to be creative with it. We need to be able to initiate with it. It can't be a case of we only have access to language when somebody puts a board up in front of us, so we can look at particular letters. So the biggest issue is access to language. And then after that, what we're talking about earlier about somebody to listen.
So how do we listen to people with different access needs to language. So it's not necessarily about the words we use. That's true, but it's also about the way that language is used as a toolkit for communication and people have far too narrow a view of language to be useful. Language is far broader than that.
Brad Webb: It's somewhat ironic that we're having a podcast, which is all about spoken language, but the point you make is that there's a myriad of tools in the language toolkit. And the second point is that the listener has to move beyond accepting just the spoken word, verbalised word, as the tool of language. If that's a new concept to somebody and they're experiencing that for the first time in a direct sense of receiving communication, receiving language that isn't spoken, where do they start? What's the trick?
Belinda Downes: The trick. That is not something that I can answer directly. However, it's the listener that makes the meaning. So if we're in a situation where language is compromised, the listener has to make sure that they are getting the full meaning. There are some people for whom behaviour is communication and it's possibly because they don't have proper access to language. So you might have a child who's acting out, that's communication. We need to find a way to listen to that and to find better ways to use the language. So for example, it might be the case that somebody... I'll give you an example. A friend of mine can't speak. So he gets on Facebook and I learn about how his life is going from Facebook. Even though I couldn't speak with him, I have to listen to Facebook and what he writes on Facebook rather than hearing his words. Just to answer your question more directly, I think it comes with keeping an open mind. I really can't recommend a place to start. But I think it's about keeping an open mind and trying to find resources.
Brad Webb: So if the listener makes meaning of what they're receiving, whether that be spoken or written or non-verbal communication, other tools like that. Interesting and I've seen research around social media that can be tracking the language to identify whether somebody's having challenges with their mental health, for example, and to plan an intervention. So the listener makes meaning. We've talked before in the extract from the book about assumptions being made.
How do you guard, as a listener, how do you guard against thinking, you've heard, interpreting that, making meaning of that and getting it completely wrong? How do you guard against that? And without preempting the answer, I also want to touch on the comment you made before about tending to try and protect the person with disability, not tax them too much with too many, so I'll throw that out there. So what do you come up with?
Belinda Downes: We need to check meaning. We need to find a way to know that we may not have the whole meaning and say, "Well, what did you mean by that?" Or, "Can you tell me more about that?" Or even changing the context. So for example, somebody might be stressed in a particular context, so if you take it out of that context, really good example is if I need to have a serious conversation with somebody, I say, "Okay, well, instead of facing each other across a coffee table, why don't we go down to the pub and sit side by side and talk that way?"
Brad Webb: And if the listener, 'cause asking for meaning and repositioning the question, reframing the question, trying different things and I love side-by-side conversations, walking conversations or strolling conversations, particularly, 'cause you're totally yourself, you're with yourself.
But the person that's taking that on, thinking, "Oh, I really want to test this," but that person might think then that I'm ignorant or I'm ableist or feel awkward about that. What do you say to that listener?
Belinda Downes: Thinking too much? The whole ableist thing. The people who are ableist usually don't care whether they're ableist or not and then the people who really care about being ableist are usually ableist because they're going too far. I'm gonna be, maybe, take a chill pill and just say, "Okay, well, maybe it's in my head too much." I mean I'm speaking from experience here, because I'm going through a conversation with somebody about this very thing, which I won't share, but I found myself unable to check their meaning, because they stopped talking to me and I'm like, "Hang on, that's what they're saying. They're saying they don't want to talk. Okay."
Brad Webb: So what I hear you're sharing with me here is there's more than one way to listen and don't overthink it.
Belinda Downes: Don't overthink it.
Brad Webb: Just have a conversation.
Belinda Downes: We are all gonna make mistakes. And talking about the so-called fragility of disabled people, we're not fragile. We go through a lot of stuff. I know when I used to catch buses that people would just come up to me and say just the weirdest stuff. I had more than one conversation about somebody having their children taken away by dogs. They'd just literally turn around, look at me and they'd launch into this whole conversation about... And I'm like, "Um, I can't listen to you."
Brad Webb: "I'm just catching the bus."
Belinda Downes: I'm just going to work. I don't how to deal with this. I can't listen. I literally can't listen. And so when people do have conversations with me, it's that that they're competing against. I'm not fragile. I am quite robust. There's not a lot taboo in my world about my face. In fact, there's nothing taboo about... People are precious because they're precious, not because I'm precious and they're competing against some really weird behaviour.
Brad Webb: I don't want to give the over-thinkers of us too much more to think about, but in those scenarios of receiving and giving communication and testing, how do we communicate respect as a listener in your view?
Belinda Downes: I think honesty and integrity. So being honest and saying, "Look, I don't know how to talk about this." Being able to say, "I don't know," is a really good first step. And even being guided by that other person saying... Say I'm talking to somebody with a disability that I find difficult to talk about, 'cause I don't know anything about it.
I'd just be honest and say, "Look, I'm not sure how to talk about this. Can you guide me?" Now, if they say no, hear that no. I know that some people are completely over-educating other people. It can be fraught with, surprise, interpersonal difficulties like everybody. And this is what I'm saying that conversations around disability are just the same as conversations around other topics.
People think that there's this brilliant thing that you just have to say one thing and then you'll understand everything about a topic and that's not true. It's like when people say, "Oh, linguists. They learn languages, do they?" No, actually. Sometimes they might learn languages. Sometimes they won't, because that might be in their work, it might not. But there's a whole... I've been a linguist for 30 years. How long's a piece of string? The the takeaway point here is that yes, we do need to have conversations. They won't go perfectly, but we need to have them.
Brad Webb: And keep trying.
Belinda Downes: And keep trying.
Brad Webb: Keep practicing. I want to come back again to the book. And it's related to the question of inspiration. But it's also about identity and who we are as individuals. In the book, you talk about your scars and you make a quote here, "I've always loved my face and its scars." Can we talk about that? I know you didn't want to talk about yourself. Can we talk about that for a second? And particularly, the conversation around not seeing your scars.
Belinda Downes: So the first thing that I'll say is that it is not true that scars equal trauma. Trauma, scars are not equal. But they've been so ingrained in our society that people automatically think scars equal trauma. I mean that's the whole premise of the movie, Scarface. But it is not true. I think a lot of people have had trauma in their life. I've had trauma in my life, but that's nothing to do with my face. Nothing at all. Here's the thing though, I like my face. It's the only face I've ever had. Bar a few months, I guess. But people don't seem to recognise that I'm completely okay with my face, because it's the only one I have and the only one I've ever known and the one I grew up with and it's the same as any other person who... I mean, in fact, to be completely honest with you, I'm one of the very few people that actually likes their face.
Brad Webb: Yes, we spend our lives curating and filtering ourselves into a perception of what we should be.
Belinda Downes: Yes. I actually once lost an ad, because I don't have a skincare regime.
Brad Webb: Right.
Belinda Downes: So the premise of the ad was that I was going to compare my current skincare regime to this new one that the ad was for and I said, "Oh, I have to be completely honest with you, I just wash my face with soap and water." And they go, "Ah." I said, "Well, I don't need to do more than that. I'm completely fine with my face." And she go, "Oh, okay, right."
Brad Webb: So the next question, then. I come to you and say, "We've spent time together, we've had this lovely conversation, Bel, I don't see your scars anymore."
Belinda Downes: What's the problem?
Brad Webb: What's the problem with that?
Belinda Downes: So the problem with I can't see your scars is that they're taking away a part of me, because of a problem that they have and I'm going to lay a model on you now.
So I have this model that I use called the HAVE model and people who've seen my work have probably, bob on, HAVE, have probably heard this model, but here we go. So HAVE, H-A-V-E. People with facial differences are either in hospital, so this is their representation in media.
We're either in hospital or we're an alien or we're a victim or we are evil. And because people have only seen that representation, they automatically assume that that's true and it isn't. And so when people say, "I can't see your scars," what they're actually saying is, "I think your scars are evil," or some kind of HAVE and so they think I'm a good person. So that dissonance between thinking that my face is evil, but that I'm good means that they have to take away a part of me in order to reconcile that.
Brad Webb: Hmm, hmm.
Belinda Downes: And that just does my head in.
Brad Webb: And so your message to me if I said that is, basically, this is who I am. And all of the bits are who I am.
Belinda Downes: I've actually said to people online, "Do you recognise that by taking away my scars, you're actually taking away part of who I am?" That I would be a completely different person and I think a worse person for the lack of experience of scars on my face.
The scars are a big part of who I am. It's not the complete person, but they're a big part of who I am. Like the time in the book where I had to fight for and the people who see the video get to see this, but basically, I'm pointing to my top lip. So when I mentioned in the chapter in Growing Up Disabled in Australia, this is the thing I had to fight for, this top lip. It's got a Manchester repair. I could have had that removed, but I didn't, because it's part of my lip and without it I would be missing a part of me.
Brad Webb: Yep, yep. It's such an interesting space to talk about, isn't it? And again, an example of the conversation where people won't wade into the conversation. So if your disability is certainly part of you, but it's much bigger, there's much more to you.
Belinda Downes: Can I just interrupt there and say there's a nuance here.
I have a facial difference that people can see, but people can't actually see my facial disability. 'Cause obviously, when you think about it, the face is more than the skin. But because in our society, and I'm sorry for interrupting your question, but our faces are seen as just skin deep in our society when actually it's, unless you're doing one of those dorky jazzercise, I don't why anybody would want to do that to themselves, like exercise they do. But the facial difference is what people can see. The facial disability is what affected me in the call centre and is actually my disability, which affects my sight and sometimes the middle third of my face.
Brad Webb: That point, Bel, raises a really interesting point for me and that is that the disability that you experience is not about how that presents to the world. And if I hadn't asked that question, I could have made a range of assumptions about what it means to you and how it shapes your life and your thinking.
When in fact, in the call centre example, it was the pain that meant you weren't able to work. Yet people made assumptions that it was because you didn't feel comfortable with the way you looked. This is the point you were making as a linguist about having conversations, listening, interrogating with respect, having those conversations, testing assumptions and if we don't do that, it is a terrifying space, though, for people if they haven't embarked upon that type of conversation. Genuine listening, genuine inquiry.
What happens if somebody has a bad experience in that conversation where they embark upon it, they go to interrogate and they're shut down by the speaker? How do you recover from that as a listener?
Belinda Downes: This is the interpersonal position that I was talking about earlier. I can't go into details, obviously, but with this conversation that I'm having with this friend, that's basically what's happened. They've shut down and I understand why. So taking it away from them, if a listener is being shut down, I think the best thing to do is to just to pull back, but to actually think in their own head about what they want from that conversation. And again, this is interpersonal skills. So this isn't just about disability, this is also just about people having conversations.
Brad Webb: It is interesting we're having this conversation and it clearly was stemmed from a conversation about disability, but the point you make is that these skills of communication, the skills of listening, listening with intent, questioning with intent are skills that would benefit all of us to practice in our day-to-day lives with everybody.
Belinda Downes: And added to that, not just seeing language as a narrow focus, but also to see language in a more broad sense, as I say, as a toolkit, so that if you can't hear somebody speak, you might be able to hear them via Facebook, you might be able to hear them through sign, you might be able to hear them through SMS messaging.
Look, we could get really strange here and say maybe you might be able to send them a skywriting message. I can give you some pretty bad examples, actually, of not being able to listen.
There was a group who took out an ad on a billboard leaving Newcastle, I think it was on the Pacific Highway, this is 20 years ago and the message they put on this billboard was just their address. And so, if you're driving along in a car, you've probably got part of a second to see this billboard. And it failed, the billboard failed. And I just remembered it and I didn't remember the address, but I just remembered it because it was a really bad way of getting people to listen to your message. So I sound like I'm contradicting myself here, but both the speaker and the listener have responsibility here, but it's the listener that makes the meaning.
So I guess, in that billboard sense, the people who were trying to speak their message completely ignored the listener and just saw the billboard, "Well, yeah, okay," and then didn't think about the quarter of a second of people driving past it and trying to understand this message. But interpersonal relationships are difficult. I think for many people who are disabled, it's even more difficult, because, getting back to the inspiration thing, I found that when I was having conversations with people, they were just instantly putting up a wall of inspiration and a lot of that was about their guilt, because they thought I was evil or that I had a problem with my face, because they had a problem with my face and it just made communication so difficult. So if they'd let go of all of that and just said, "Hey, you know what, she's just a average person."
Brad Webb: The issue with the inspiration thing is that also that filter of inspiration means that people don't hear the important messages that you have to share.
Belinda Downes: That's right.
Brad Webb: And having spent time watching your rye humour and interesting observations and grammatical corrections and non-corrections and-
Belinda Downes: Oh, no, no. We don't correct grammar.
Brad Webb: We don't correct grammar.
Belinda Downes: No, we take notes.
Brad Webb: I've learned so much from you via those interactions. And again, we had no verbal communication for many years. We've only recently met. So it's a good example of using different tools and being open to use different tools and building connection and relationship and communication through those tools.
I want to go back to round out our conversation and I will come back to you and ask the question of that word, disability, and what does disability mean to you personally, Bel?
Belinda Downes: So to me disability is the gap between a person's physical limitations or mental limitations and society. And that disability pride is about us meeting that gap ourselves. Whereas it would be probably better if society gave us more access and more space.
But for the moment, disabled people are pushing towards society and teaching society how to give us access. So it's not just about what they can see, but it comes back to nothing about us without us. Just ask us what we need for access. So it's the gap. So in an ideal world, as far as I'm concerned, there wouldn't be any disabled people, because that gap, everybody would have access no matter what they looked like.
Brad Webb: That's the social model, isn't it?
Belinda Downes: It is. It's exactly right.
Brad Webb: Fundamentally. We all have a thing about us and wouldn't it be nice to think that historically, we called that thing a disability, but we've overcome the barriers to engagement, to participation, to inclusion through the social model. I'm gonna end as I do all of these podcasts. It is the Embrace Your Otherness podcast, after all. What does it mean to you, the concept or the phrase embrace your otherness?
Belinda Downes: When I first heard the word otherness, I immediately went to othering. But that's a negative. So when I talk about embracing who I am as a person, I understand that many people have othered myself and other disabled people and other facially different people. But embracing that otherness is about saying, "You know what, we are here. We are part of the fabric of society." We're not actually other, but everybody is an other. It's important to see otherness as part of the human condition. It's not an us-and-them kind of thing. So when I embrace my otherness, this is my part in the world to play. This is the thing that I bring to the world as a human being, as a person with dignity and respect. And that's what I should show other people. So when I am disrespected or othered, I'd just remember that situation and I don't project it onto other people, but I'm mindful that other people have that sense, as well.
Brad Webb: Bel, thank you so much for your conversation today. Thank you, actually, for years of learning, education for me, personally, and today, for the listeners to this podcast. I think there were some really important messages that you conveyed and fundamentally, if we could learn to communicate better, to apply the tools of language, as broad as they are, of listening and of testing that listening, we are halfway there to starting to be able to have meaningful relationships. So thank you, thank you very much. And thank you for being part of today's podcast.
Belinda Downes: Thank you for having me.