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Liel K Bridgford: Life As A Disabled Immigrant

I loved talking to Liel. They are such an interesting person.

Liel belongs to many communities, the disability community, the LGBTQI community and as an immigrant to Australia. All of this meant this is such an informed and nuanced conversation of the meaning of belonging and identity.

Connect with Liel:

Liel's website:

The (Un)marginalised Podcast:

Connect with Peta:

Instagram: @petahooke


Episode Transcript:

Peta [00:00:00] Before we get started this week, I just want to flag that we speak briefly about sexual violence. So that's an issue for you or you think this episode isn't right for you right now. Please skip it. Also, please remember that you can always contact the National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service one 800 respect that is one 800 737732 or there's always lifeline on 13 1114. Hello and welcome to the @icantstandpodcast the podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peter. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. This week I have the amazing Liel K Bridgford. If you have a question for me to answer on a future episode of the podcast, or want to suggest someone that you think should be on the podcast soon, please let me know. You can contact me via my Instagram. My handle is @petahooke via email or via my website

Peta [00:01:26] My editing woes continued a little bit with this episode. I do apologise. You will hear a little bit of vacuuming in the background. I did my best to remove it. So without any further ado, let's get into it.

Liel K Bridgford [00:01:51] My name is Liel K Bridgford. I'm a writer, podcaster, disability and justice advocate and the poet by day. I'm also a provisional psychologist and a trainer and parent and identify as a proud, disabled immigrant non-conforming.

Peta [00:02:11] Thank you for being here. You also have a podcast and it's a fantastic podcast. It's called UN Marginalise. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Liel K Bridgford [00:02:21] Sure. So I marginalised to the forecast about intersectionality. We explore what it's like to belong to multiple marginalised communities. For example, myself, I identified as being disabled as well as being a non-conforming female as well as being. I belong to multiple communities that have been historically marginalised in society. We kind of divide societies, gender issues, stability issues, immigration, parenting issues, etc.. And I think that a lot of us in our communities deal with multiple issues. And actually when we do them often multiple marginalised communities, we actually deal with kind of unique challenges as well as unique joys and creativity.

Peta [00:03:08] It's probably speaking to my privilege, but I'd never really thought about how your life would be impacted if you came from two different or more marginalised communities. How is that impacted your life?

Liel K Bridgford [00:03:23] I feel that not every space in the disability community, but some spaces can be very narrow in terms of what disability, what is considered disability and who can be included and what topics are kind of included in that conversation. So for me, I think my experience of gender, for example, had a huge impact on my disability experience. I was and it's a bit of a context for sexual violence. I was assaulted, sexually assaulted multiple times, and one of those times was by a doctor who was examining me for my disability. So in that example, my disability and my gender both have really crucial part in that. And I think mainstream feminism doesn't address that and sensibility advocacy doesn't address that issue as well. It took me a long time to realise that I need to connect with multiple communities and that's where I feel that sense of belonging when I can validate and be connected to all the different parts of myself, I guess.

Peta [00:04:29] I'm really sorry that happened to you. I know violence against disabled people is really prevalent, so thank you so much for sharing. I really appreciate it. And I think it's an important area that not only the disability community but also allies needs to think about more. What sort of other techniques or other ways we can support as both fellow disabled people and allies to marginalise communities that also have disabilities? How how can we be better allies to you, in your opinion?

Liel K Bridgford [00:05:05] Well, it's a great question for that. I think that the main thing is to reduce our assumptions, and that's across the board. I think when we when we have those assumptions, it really colours how we interact with people and challenge what you think other people are doing or can do. I can do those walks with the baby. I bet the maternal health nurse would just recommend that to be the solution. Sometimes dropping those assumptions and actually opening your mind. It sounds really great, but I think it's actually quite important to actually be more curious and open minded about what people might be experiencing.

Peta [00:05:49] You also have a background in psychology. And for me, like obviously I'm not a psychologist so I'm not kind of project, but I really relate to the, the need to better understand people and to try and better understand yourself through other people. How do you think your background in psychology has influenced your self as a person with a disability?

Liel K Bridgford [00:06:15] So very thoughtful questions. So thank you for asking that. I think the main thing actually that this happened for me during my training in my bachelor's, I took an elective from disability studies and that was the first time I learnt about the social model of security in my mid-twenties. That was the first time that I was used to that term and that idea of society being the disabling for all of them, the person. That started the process of changing my whole view about myself as a disabled person. My experiences with the same person influence my work as a professional psychologist every day. Firstly, I think it allows me to develop a much better understanding and empathy and ability to write and to to kind of understand what someone might be experiencing and step into the shoes of another person, for lack of a better term, makes me feel connected with other disabled people because mostly I support people with disabilities and health conditions and it helps me feel that connexion to the broader community. And you know what I often said? What are the commonalities that we face? One of the barriers that so many people face and how can we make that change both individually in terms of the psychological aspects of our being, but also socially?

Peta [00:07:39] Has it also made you reflect? Because I as you said, you you speak you work with many people with disabilities in your professional practise. But has it made you reflect on your childhood and your disabled identity as a young person? Hearing other people's stories?

Liel K Bridgford [00:07:58] I think that I've been reflecting on my experience in my childhood alone for a long time. You know, it's been a big part of my journey and my work in mental health has been parallel to that. But the main factor that helps you reflect on my childhood and see it from a different lens was actually connecting with the disability community. So when I was introduced to the online disability community and the idea of a disability slide, that's when I reflected even more on parents and how it instigated that for me when I had my first baby. And that's a very common experience for people. When you have a baby, you suddenly go, Oh, I wonder what I was like. Analogy. But definitely I think when you work with people, when you hear about their deepest struggles and their deepest joys, it does make you reflect on your own. And to appreciate kind of the little things and to remember to do the work itself. When I was growing up, I was told that I wasn't. I was told that I just had a problem. But I'm life. And I heard you say that you were told you don't have a disability. Just a similar thing. You know, I just couldn't walk softly or I could walk on my leg. I was missing bone, etc. Only when I was in my thirties and I had my child and I started writing again much more. And I started reading more people, more stories by people with disabilities. I started realising that is a thing that's called a disability community and it's been the biggest challenge of my life to actually.

Peta [00:09:38] Do you have any advice for people who might be listening that haven't actively participated in the disability community before? How how do you suggest anybody to start?

Liel K Bridgford [00:09:50] I think being an observer is always a good start. Whether it's podcasts or books of poetry, you can always find the same voices in there and just see what resonates with you and do that over and over until you find your people and reach out and be scared to reach out. I think I send messages feeling so nervous to other disabled people. Just wanted to say hello and I love your work and surprised that I got responses back and from some of my greatest friendships.

Peta [00:10:23] The importance of belonging, I don't think can be overstated. And as somebody who is always lived in Australia and for many generations my family have been in Australia, what is what was it like for you being an immigrant and also having a disability as far as finding your people feeling understood and feeling like you belong?

Liel K Bridgford [00:10:47] It took me a while to to do that. I think when I first was first really off, I mean, I fell in love with the place of the live in Melbourne and I fell in love with how seemingly people were much more open and accepting and walking down the street as so much more diversity than I ever saw before. And I love that. But at the same time, I arrived firstly on a tourist visa. Later on I changed to a student visa study. Yeah, I took a long time. So I got I only got my citizenship in the last couple of months. And so while I was not a citizen, I was pretty scared of actually talking really honestly and openly about what my sense of disability is, because I was making really vague articles about people with disabilities being refused visas. I was struggling at the time because I had a baby and I just had very minimal support. And I was terrified of telling people actually really struggling that I need more support because I didn't know whether that was going to get on to my, you know, my health records and immigration records and that sort of thing. I don't know. I that's just the reality that maybe the people in my communities have dealt with them so deeply and told me, say. So yeah, it took a long time before I felt like I was saying, actually, I have a disability, someone who I love, you know, quote unquote, someone in the system and to to ask for help as well.

Peta [00:12:27] I have a friend. She doesn't have a disability, but she's working on becoming a permanent resident herself. And I've been in the process to try and get her that permanent residency, trying to support as much as I can. And I've been really taken by how complicated it is. What was that process like for you and how do you think with that disabled lens that you have, how do you think it could be more accessible for disabled people?

Liel K Bridgford [00:12:57] Well, it's a good question. The process was very long. And I'm very I just have to say that I'm very privileged and feel very privileged to have gone through the process and of becoming Australian citizen. It was a magical gift. You know, it's expensive, it's really long, it's complicated. So it was very stressful for the disabled person because, you know, knowing when to disclose and how to disclose and what do I say when there's forms and forms asking about your background and your health and the relationship, just like with any access you've gotten, I think that there's no easy, correct solution to making it more accessible. I think the bigger picture has to be that disabled people have to be able to see all of those systems. Do we have disabled people in those positions and that those disabled people cycle? Until then, we're not going to get that. The example is, is having multiple ways of life in multiple forms. That's not something that exists or existed within the system. When I was going through it, I think is really important. But ultimately, as long as we have discriminatory practises that we still have, we still refuse business based on disability. It's still going to be terrifying for people and it's still going to be discriminatory. So we have to remove those systematic discrimination that we have across the board.

Peta [00:14:32] People with disabilities are still considered less then are the citizens in Australia that internalise ableism that we have is continually reconfirmed by these sort of systems that we come up against because you know, as you mentioned, you were you were worried about when you should disclose and all that sort of thing and that goes directly against the pride I know you have in your disabled identity. So we we really do have such a long way to go. You also mentioned that you're a writer. What does putting words on a page do for you?

Liel K Bridgford [00:15:13] My team needs my most powerful tool. I think this writing I have full control over the narrative. One of my biggest struggles growing up was that my voice was either ignored or silence. And writing is an antidote to that. That is me fighting against that form of silence home with some truth. Even if no one is going to read it, I'm going to read it. And I'm going to save my truth. And. At least we have found to myself that my experience matters, even if it's painful and if other people don't want to be up, which is what? That's what it was like when I was going out. People didn't want to hear what it was like for me because it was too painful for them or it was too challenging for them. And so, yeah, writing is the antidote to that.

Peta [00:16:10] What is something that you wish people better understood?

Liel K Bridgford [00:16:14] I really wish people would understand that they have the power. Too many things to actually help us, whether it's voting for someone who cares about these issues and someone who has experience or whether it's speaking up against insensibility, knowing that you do have the power and that we need you, we need everyone because I don't think we can do it alone. We have to come together. We have to have allies in order to make this world what it needs to be for it to be equitable and safe for everyone.

Peta [00:16:48] What do you love about having a disability?

Liel K Bridgford [00:16:52] You know, I was thinking about that question for me. I mean, we will never know because I was born disabled. But I think that all of my best qualities come from my disability. So I don't think I would be mean if I was in the same. Yeah, I love that. It helps me develop a sense of justice for I really want to see variance for looking out and see discrimination for what it is and fight back with the little tools that I've had throughout the years. So I do love that part. I don't mind any problem obviously, but I think the fact that it made me who I am, I think I'm pretty awesome. So.

Peta [00:17:37] With the more and more I do these conversations, I think I should do a little sentence before I ask that question to say that it's okay if you don't like anything about having a disability. That's okay. I mean, love is a very, very strong word. And I know that many of us are at different stages of accepting our disability. And as we've mentioned before, there's so much ableism both externally and internally in us. Do you think your continually growing to love your disability more as more time goes on?

Liel K Bridgford [00:18:12] Yeah, definitely. You know, when I was growing up, as I said, it was seen as a negative and I saw it as a big negative and I felt that there was something wrong with me. That's what I've been told, that you have a problem, if that's such a strong word, to actually say you are a problem. I've come a long way, actually loving who I am and accepting my body. And yes, sometimes I love my body, sometimes I just feel it's neutral and that's also okay. But for me it's important. My pride has definitely gone from negative to positive. I do feel possible. I am. I still want to belong to the disability community and I feel very hopeful.

Peta [00:18:56] So what don't you like about having a disability?

Liel K Bridgford [00:19:01] I think the main thing is that I feel a burden on my shoulders every day. To not just deal with ableism and discrimination, but to think set. I feel that void and ever since I can remember being alive. So that sense of injustice and something needs to be changed is really having to cope. I know that it's not up to me personally because I don't believe that one person can fix its whole world. But I do feel a really strong sense of responsibility to speaking up and to advocating at every moment that I possibly can. And that's exhausting. So I definitely understood that it didn't have to happen. Definitely got up in the morning and I about what happened once. But that's not the case. My mind is very occupied with what do I want to do today and how can I speak up today?

Peta [00:20:01] What do you hope for in the future for people with disabilities?

Liel K Bridgford [00:20:05] Well, I think just like everyone else, I hope that we are going to be free of violence and sexual violence and abuse and that every disabled person is going to have the safety to live the life that they want to live and be what they want to be.

Peta [00:20:26] Thank you so much for listening to this episode. I hope you enjoyed it if you did. Can I encourage you to leave a writing interview? If you listen on Apple Podcasts, follow the show on whatever platform you're listening on or shared on social media or with a friend. It'll help small people find the podcast. And I really appreciate you listening every single week or if this is your first time. Welcome and thank you. Until next week. Have a good one, guys. By.


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