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Julia Daniels: On the Subject of Voice

Thank you to Julia Daniels for allowing us to reblog this.

For lots of other people, this ‘blog writing’ malarkey seems to come so easily… and writing as a way to express my emotions has become a very precious process…so why is it that the words; ‘developing an on-line presence’ seem to invoke such terror in me?

Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of an introvert, naturally seeking enjoyment out of quieter pastimes like reading, yoga and, to be honest, blissfully day-dreaming about anything and everything. And maybe (I think this is the crux of it) it is due to the tangled mess of emotions that prevent me from speaking – the fear that I will have nothing of value to contribute to the world. Fear, also, of being exposed as the worthless waste that I know myself to be, or that living in this ableist world has taught me that I am. Fear of exposing myself to public ridicule by using the last remaining method I know to express my thoughts to a select few of my fellow academics.

For I do use writing to express myself, but always under the cloak and relative protection of academia, twisting and cultivating glimpses of my private, personal life into theoretical and political concepts in order to fool people into thinking that I do indeed have the flair and proficiency to be a successful PhD researcher. I fear that by writing a blog like this, I will be caught out, recognised as an imposter. Nevertheless, I feel the time has come for me to ‘speak out’, as it were.

Maybe for you to understand where I’m coming from, I first need to tell you a little bit about my life. 15 years ago, I was involved in a car accident which left me with an assortment of broken bones to my upper body, a paralysed right arm, a severe head injury and damage to my vocal cords from incubation. 6 operations later, I still have a peculiar, breathy-sounding, very quiet voice. This compounds with the damage to the language and memory sections of my brain to make communication quite difficult for me. I have trouble processing auditory information, so it takes a while for me to fully comprehend what is being said in a conversation. Teamed with my natural tendency towards inhibition, this leads towards a potentially isolated existence. Whilst I do enjoy meeting new people, the dread of the, ‘what’s wrong with you, then?’ questions, or even worse, the grabbing of the throat and trying to mimic my voice makes me want to SCREAM (but, ironically, I can’t physically do that. Bugger). This makes me silently shrink away, back into the close circle of friends that I know and love.

It is taken for granted that the spoken voice is an accurate depiction of who you are as a person. If you are articulate, reasoned and comprehensible, this is taken as evidence that you are well-educated (whatever that means). This presupposition leaves no room for the disfluent speakers who stutter and stumble over their words, or for people like me who’s words push and shove together in a maddening array to get out, leaving me so confused that none end up getting expressed. Is it possible to imagine a world where disfluent speakers are equally validated? Where the non-disabled population appreciates and respects that the answer to those, ‘what happened to you, then?’ questions is something a disabled person might not actually want to go into on first meeting? We can hope, that’s for sure.

By increasing the voices – however they are expressed – of disabled people, we can hope to destabilise hegemonic practices and move together towards a better world. I hope to contribute towards this move with my research.  To be continued…

 Julia Daniels is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. 15 years ago she was in a car accident which resulted in a head injury and paralysed right arm, but it was years before she got involved with critical disability studies. Now her research interests involve feminist approaches to disability, Voice Relational Methodology and the biopolitics of disability.

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