Thursday, May 28, 2009

OK, It's About Susan Boyle

I admire Susan Boyle. Not for the obvious reasons. Sure, I loved watching her sing, watching her easily jump over expectations of failure. I loved her humble interviews. I loved the dignity with which she carries herself as a world cheers an 'ugly' woman with a 'beautiful' voice.

At breakfast the other day a man walked by my table and looked down at her picture and said, 'I don't see how they can call her ugly, she looks just like my mom and all my mom's friends. When did everyone but a few become ugly?" He looked at me and said, 'I just don't get it.'

I don't either and obviously neither does Susan, because she continues to look like a woman her age. She continues to simply be who she was before.

What I admire about Susan is that she is 'out' with her disability. She doesn't hide the fact that she has a learning disability (British for Intellectual Disability). She talks about her difficulties in school. She talks about suffering at the hands of bullies because of her learning problems.

She could have chosen to 'pass' as a plain and simple woman, but she did something much braver. She came out. She said, 'Thank you for your praise, I'll take now what I didn't get then, but never you forget that I still am and always will be a woman with a disability.

I know a man with Spina Bifida who refuses to be part of the disability community, gets angry when his disability is noticed or accomidated for, he is NOT DISABLED.

I know a woman with one leg who refuses to be part of the disability community, she sees adaption as weakness and can get almost abusive if referred to as having a disability.

I know that disability has low status. And with that comes even lower expectations. But I also know that Susan Boyle can sing, Gretchen Josephson can write poetry, Raymond Hu can paint, Hikari Oe can compose ...

Disability. We're here. We're off kilter. Get used to it.


Kate said...

Disability doesn't have low status if you, if anyone, can be proud of it. If you are proud of who you are, if you are okay with who you are, your light will shine as brightly as Susan Boyle's does, and then, disability or not, who wouldn't to be like her? Disability or not - doesn't she look happy? Doesn't she seem satisfied to some extent about where she is? All this keeping up with the Joneses - it's exhausting. There is something to be said for disability, because it makes up appreciate what really matters, it makes us see things for what they really are. Disabled people in my experience can cut through the bullshit and be real, authentic people much, much more easily than nondisabled people. Not all, but all I have known anyway. And then what so the meaning of disabled? It depends on what you value, and I value truth, honesty, integrity, realness. And not to be biased against able people but all the people with some sort of disability I have known - were forced to learn those values, and forced to discared unnecessary farces, much more often than able ones.

So disabled or not disabled , I say, it's all how you think about it, and go Susan Boyle, I do love her.

Kate said...

Dave - not to do 2 long comments on your entry but. I wanted to tell you. Your post "Fingers" from a few weeks ago moved me so much, at the time I thought to myself, "I wish I could react so well, so calmly, so peaceably" and it just inspired me . Well fast forward a few weeks later and a very similar thing happened to me that happened to you, someone yelling from a car - and my reaction to it was indeed much calmer and more reflective because of what you had written. I just wanted you to know you had an impact on me. I thought of how his life must basically suck if the only way he can make himself happy is to hurl insults from a car; and how my life was so much richer than his because I was happy just from taking a walk on a sunny day to an ice cream place.

Anyway if you'd like to read the blog entry I read about it, email me (, I posted it on my blog but had to make my blog mostly private because of long story.

Either way I just wanted to say thanks for being there, so thought provoking and inspiring.

Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

"We're here. We're off kilter. Get used to it."

I love this paraphrase, Dave!

Kate: This may be a semantics thing, but unlike other things like self-esteem, or the true underlying value of things, "status" is one of those things that is determined on a communal basis--if society puts you at a low "status" in its regard then that's where you are. I see it as a "pecking order" word -- someone inevitably ends up near the bottom of the pecking order (or with a "low status") whether or not they deserve to be there. But I think what you're saying is that society is very wrong in deeming disability as something that *should* automatically confer a low status on someone. And that our value is sometimes worth a lot more than the value that society tries to assign to us. In other words "status" in the eyes of others doesn't mean anything if you know you're worth more than they think.

Andrea S.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an unpopular view, but Susan Boyle is overrated. Yes she's a good singer, but she's not great. When you listen to her performance out of context, not seeing her appearance or watching her being interviewed, you realise there are plenty of people out there who can sing just as well or better.

Furthermore, while it's great that she's happy because she's doing well, there's a definite element of patronisation. She walked out on stage and people laughed at her appearance and behaviour. When interviewed, her neighbours also admitted that she's been picked on by others in the community. Suddenly they realise she can sing a bit and go "Wow, she's great. Good for her. She's a local character and we love her"

It all strikes me as very fickle and shallow. If it hadn't been for a good performance on that asinine show, she still be being treated like that. Instead she's being patronised and hailed as a disability heroine by the chattering classes. Like most reality TV "stars" she'll be forgotten soon.

Frankly, I can't wait for this moronic programme to end. I'm missing interesting, intelligent programmes because I'm outvoted by people who want to watch this dross. And the series finale of Primeval has been delayed because of it. The sooner this nonsense is over, the better. Of course then, everyone will be watching Big Brother again. It's a wonder anyone in this country has any brain cells left.

CJ said...

I don't watch reality shows but I've read about Susan Boyle.

"Ugly?" Anything but. When has an everyday kind of woman been "ugly?"

Hollywood is so twisted and distorted.

I'm confused about how the term "learning disability" is used here.

I've been to graduate school and I have a learning disability. I do not consider myself "intellectually disabled."

Should I?

Kristine said...

I think that one of our biggest weaknesses in the disability community is our failure to actually come together and think/feel/act like a united community. Other oppressed groups have had to unite on a large scale and take pride in who they are, before they could fight for their rights and civil liberties. The disabled community is so far behind, and we have to take at least a little of the blame on ourselves. At the macro- level, we have little pride in who we are. We don't want to be a part of this group. We want to believe that we're different. We certainly aren't like those people who are "more disabled" than us, and those who are "less disabled" than ourselves can't possibly understand what disability even means. It's hard to get society to acccept and accommodate us, when we're still struggling to do it for each other.

Andrea S. said...


Different countries often have different terms for the same concept even when they otherwise speak the same language. So much of the language we have evolved to talk about distinctions among different disabilities, but perhaps *especially* all the various learning-related and psychosocial disabilities, did not really emerge until the past century or so. And there isn't always as much international standardization as you might expect. In some countries, there is little or no distinction made at all -- all intellectual, cognitive, learning, and psychosocial disabilities are lumped together under the same vague label of "mentally ill" whether or not the person would be considered as having mental health conditions by US definitions!

In the UK, instead of saying "intellectual disabilities" they say "learning disabilities" to refer to the same thing. So people with Down's Syndrome in the UK refer to themselves as "learning disabled." If a person has dyslexia or dyspraxia or whatever, then they simply say that, and don't use the term "learning disabled" (at least, I don't think). I *think* the UK umbrella term for all of these non-intellectual disabilities affecting the learning process is "specific learning disabilities." (Incidentally, "dyspraxia" is itself a term that I think may be mostly a UK term--in the US the equivalent term for roughly the same condition I think would be "Non-Verbal Learning Disability" ... gets complicated, doesn't it!?)

So, no, I don't think you have an intellectual disability as most people define it. And if you were in the UK you would probably want to stop using the term "learning disability" to describe yourself lest you be misunderstood, in the same way that you would have to unlearn US/Canadian slang and learn UK slang instead in order to communicate effectively.

CJ said...


Thank you, for taking the time to explain.

Whatshername? said...

I think people get like that after years and years of not getting the help they need, getting it after so much prodding, and getting it with a great heaping dose of abuse, for some reason it breeds the notion that this must only be happening because they are weak, not because the able-bodied masses are assholes, much like the gentleman with spina bifida you mentioned in your post.

It's sad, really. :(

Complicity Theory said...

I like the fact that I can identify with Susan as a pwd, though not as a singer.

Even before I officially had a disability, I just told people that I was weird and here's why, and here are my expectations. I think peeps with cognitive challenges find it a bit (not easy) easier to say it in public than people with physical challenges for many good and bad reasons. Now I'll get a bloody t-shirt. And that's what she's doing. Announcing it.

People without a challenge who do sweet all with their lives... now there's a tragedy, a crime and a waste. And I see that all to much around me. the pwd I know are the greatest mentors and models in my life.

Thanks for the post.

Miss J xx said...

I'm an avid "lurker" on this blog and have never commented until now.
Susan has an amazing talent and has touched lots of people. Unfortunately fame has a dark side and I believe the british press and public wait for some "weakness" or vulnerability to show.
Now members of her community are talking about her "temper", how she gets annoyed and vents her anger... Don't we all!!!!!
Prior to this weeks tabloids all we heard was what a "lovely little woman from Scotland could achieve!"
Now folk are amazed that someone with a disability could be getting annoyed rather than grateful by the (sometimes negative) attention
Susan doesn't need all this pressure. She is a woman fulfilling her dream and has far more courage than I do. She is true to herself and I hope that she never changes.
Susan, good luck for Saturday xxx