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  • Writer's picturePeta

Life with a disability. A life of gaslighting.

By Peta Hooke

According to the Oxford Dictionary Gaslighting is "to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity".

Let me backtrack a bit,

Hi, my name is Peta, I'm in my thirties and I live in Melbourne. I also have Cerebral Palsy. My Cerebral Palsy means I can't walk or stand, which for me means I use an electric wheelchair.

Last night I sat down to watch "What does Australia think about... Disability? on SBS.

I knew it would be viewing that probably called for a cocktail, but I was not prepared for what was about to be shown to me.

The documentary was presenting the results of a survey undertaken by Australians of what they thought of disability. The respondents to the survey were asked if they agreed with certain statements.

For example,

People are likely to avoid people with a disability.

48% agreed with this statement.

So that's why I'm single.

A more pleasing stat then popped up on the screen. 85% of people agreed that they would stop to help if a person with a disability needed it.

Phew, that's better.

But then a guy called Murray appears. Murray has Cerebral Palsy like I do. Expect his disability has presented differently to mine. Murray can walk. Murray looks 'normal' walking down the street. It is his speech that has been affected.

To illustrate the finding of the survey Murray then begins to ask for help. He approaches strangers on the street and asks for directions.

I feel tears fall down my cheek as I watch these strangers physically run from Muarry as he tries to ask which direction Circular Quay is located in. Full credit to Murray as he then runs after the strangers, repeating his question.

This is what I mean when I say living a life with a disability is a life full of gaslighting.

When someone ignores me, for a split second, I question myself. Did I actually say that out loud or was it only in my head?

This person can't be this rude when I'm right in front of their face, can they? The irony is, talking is something I do best. I host and create a podcast for a living.

I mean is there any clearer form of non-verbal form of communication than ignoring someone? Indicating that they don't respect me and they certainly don't think of me as equal to them.

The documentary then follows Kiralee and Sinead. They have forms of Dwarfism. The ladies were illustrating 'a day in the life' with their disability. People stared, sniggered and laughed as they were doing their weekly shop. Pretty awful.

But then a group of people, pointing their phones at them and laughing, threatened to run them over with their car.

This complete disregard of fellow humans is so unsettling to me and I am sure also for many of you.

The ladies are shaken, upset but eventually, they get on with their day. And people think people with disabilities aren’t resilient.

Then the doco cuts to the very real issue of disability employment and societies low expectations. It is then reconfirmed to me in a few seconds that non-disabled people do not want to employ us. People with disabilities handle being ignored and abused sure but Australia believes we can't hold down a job.

Is it only me that experiences whiplash with how inconsistent these belief systems are?

Are these beliefs because you don't have anyone with disabilities in your life? That's understandable maybe you've just never met one of us. If you do have someone with a disability in your life, then you understand how insulting it is to be told by society that we don't work.

I can’t stop thinking about people I love and support who are a part of the LGBTQI community. Are these the same sort of misunderstandings and misconceptions that that community was facing 40, 30, 20 years ago?

70% of respondents to the survey believed that there was not enough representation of disability in the media. I believe this is a big part of the problem. Reflection and representation humanise a community. It is beginning to work for the LGBTQI community and I think it would work for the disability community. Please make one of us the bachelor or bachelorette. Make our version of Will and Grace.

I can't believe I have to ask this but please start to show Australia that we are human. We might ask you for help in the street, we go to the supermarket, we have friends and we do and want to work.

We might communicate differently, behave differently or look different to you but we are a lot more like you than not like you. Please don't make disability the tragedy that it is not.


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