Meeting the Goodleys
April 26, 2015, Sunday Peter Tan
IT is not always that I get to meet a distinguished personality from the field of disability studies. So when Professor Dan Goodley asked if we could meet, my response was an enthusiastic “Yes!”
Goodley currently directs and teaches the MA in Psychology and Education at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. We first got in touch in 2008. I was exploring plans to pursue disability studies and was told that he was proposing to introduce the course in Malaysia. Over the years, we communicated through emails occasionally. He has always been very generous in sharing information, answering my queries and providing valuable advice although we had never met in person before.
I was especially keen in meeting him as my notion of disability is shaped by principles established by disability rights organisations and activists in the UK. And what better way to learn than from someone whose research interest is in critical disability studies and is from the UK?
He was in the country again recently as a member of a four-person research team to share about the Big Society Project. This is a study on how people with learning disabilities in the UK are coping at a time when the government is implementing deep cuts in public spending.
As the team had a full programme during the weekdays running workshops, meeting government officials and stakeholders, and making presentations of their research findings, we arranged to meet on a Saturday morning at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
When my wife and I got into the lobby hotel, we were greeted warmly by Goodley. He then introduced us to his wife Professor Rebecca Lawthom and his two lovely daughters, Rosa and Ruby. Lawthom teaches Community Psychology at the Manchester Metropolitan University and is also a member of the research team.
Both Goodley and Lawthom are no strangers to this country, having been here on many occasions to share their expertise on disability with government agencies and disabled people’s organisations in Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Penang. They were also directly involved in research cooperation with Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
They presented me with a set of briefing cards which summarises the findings of the Big Society Project and a very useful guidebook giving advice for family members on the employment of adults with a learning disability. (More on the Big Society Project and the briefing cards can be found at bigsocietydis.wordpress.com.)
In one of our email exchanges before the meeting, Goodley had said that he was looking forward to talking about disability politics. I wondered if there is any difference between the UK and Malaysia since disabled people everywhere face similar struggles against discrimination and exclusion.
Hearing about the issues shared by Goodley and Lawthom was an eye-opener however. I wish the kind of support in terms of service and benefits available in the UK can be provided here. At the same time, unfortunately, the austerity measures implemented by the present UK government are particularly hard hitting on the well-being of disabled people whose benefits and financial assistance are being cut drastically.
We talked about the enormous influence the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) has in leading Malaysia to become more inclusive. Jica’s three projects on disability that spanned over a period of 10 years have garnered tangible results in the empowerment of disabled people and created more employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities, among others.
We also discussed a host of other issues like Independent Living, the support for disabled people in various communities and the studies they have conducted. Lawthom shared an interesting account of how a group of young Icelandic disability activists mobilised themselves to run an Independent Living programme. One of them even managed to get 24-hour personal assistant support.As we talked further, I gave a run-down on disability issues we are facing here like the lack of access to buildings and public transportation.
After listening patiently, Goodley asked, “What is the way forward then?”
Without hesitation, I replied, “Listening to disabled people.”
I did not give the response much thought until a few days later. Thinking back, it was too cliched an answer. I must thank Goodley for asking me that question. He gave me food for thought which pointed me to the direction I should move on to next.
Yes, it is good if our voices are taken seriously, but they should be rights-based and in the spirit of inclusion. As such, I will be focussing more trainings at the grassroots level so that the common disabled people too can become effective agents of change themselves instead of relying on only a few to speak and decide on their behalf as is happening now.
I truly treasure the fact that Goodley and Lawthom took time off from their busy schedule to meet us. The one hour we spent chatting was as enlightening as it was interesting. Their easygoing disposition made the conversation such a pleasure.
Their insights are valuable in giving me a better understanding of diverse issues faced by disabled people in other countries. I am sure the stakeholders they met when they were here have similarly benefited from the findings they have so openly imparted.
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