Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spelling out hypocrisy

Stephen Fielding, Victorian Senator and the Federal parliamentary leader of the Family First Party in Australia, speaks out on the Punch about the mocking he over his disability.

He revealed that disability – dyslexia - this week. He has frequently mispronounced words, including stating "fiscal policy" as "physical policy". He was questioned about the mispronunciation. "I'll make it quite clear: fiscal, F-I-S-K-A-L," he spelt.

Journalists were quick to jump on the gaffe. The incident was a God send on a slow news day, and it appeared in every paper and every site. In the Senate, a Greens MP called out ''spell it'' as he tried to speak.

Unwilling to take the roasting lying down, he wrote back, revealing what many people suspected; that he is dyslexic.

He makes some excellent points. He argues that we shouldn’t mock people for their disabilities, that one disability does not negate their ability in other areas. There is nothing wrong with being dyslexic and a difficulty with spelling does not mean a difficulty thinking.

“Let’s face it, sometimes it’s easy to have a crack at people who might not be able to spell or articulate themselves as well as others. But I ask you, would you have a crack at someone just because they’re in a wheelchair? I don’t think so.”

But, as he says himself, people did not know he had a disability because he was unwilling to tell them.

I have a disability – my hearing is badly impaired. I can not hear high-pitched noises full stop. Doesn’t sound bad. Until you realize that this means I can’t hear people speak when there is background noise, hear dialogue in movies, anything over the phone.

I frequently make horrible mistakes; mishearing people, ignoring people, answering questions they didn’t ask. It is embarrassing. I’ve lost jobs, and worse, potential dates over it.

And the quickest way out of it? Tell people I have a problem. It’s a common problem. Most people are decent and once they understand will take it onboard.

But he decided not to tell people. ”We shouldn’t look down on people just because they can’t pronounce their words properly or they muck up their spelling.” Perhaps not – I am sceptical but that’s an argument for another day - but should we expect an elected public figure to be able to apparently understand, spell and pronounce long words related to the economy?

Should we expect people elected to communicate and change policy to be able to express themselves clearly? Is that unreasonable?

Of course it’s not.

He was roasted because he was giving answers that made him seem unfit for the job. Now it’s known he has a disability, he will be given some leeway. But you can’t attack people not knowing things you didn’t tell them.

It reminds me of something I read in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. "Just because someone's a member of an ethnic minority doesn't mean they're not a nasty small-minded little jerk.”

Stephen Fielding could have admitted his disability. He could have, in fact, been a poster boy for what you can achieve with dyslexia. A Senator, with an MBA and an engineering degree. But he chose not to be.

He was too ashamed to admit that he had dyslexia, and now tries to shame others. He maintains a disability is no big deal, but he doesn’t want to reveal his. People should not be ashamed to have a learning difficulty; but he is.

And that spells hypocrisy, whatever way you want to spell it out.

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