Succeeding on the Marginal Path

The third article in a series by my guest blogger, Melissa Giles, about text, editing, and media accessibility.

For many people, career-building moments such as job offers and invitations to attend industry events are not only seized and accepted, but also celebrated. For others, including Sydney-based writer and editor Gaele Sobott, no matter how flattering or significant such opportunities might be, there may be no choice but to turn them down because of disabling transport systems, built environments and organisational cultures.

Black and white headshot of Gaele, before a bookshelf. She has chin-length blond hair and glasses and is wearing a dark turtleneck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sobott, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, usually works from home in a space designed for her specific needs. She received advice on aspects of the set-up from an occupational therapist whom she employed through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. As a member of the Australian Society of Authors, Sobott was also eligible for a benevolent fund grant to purchase an ergonomic chair that has subsequently relieved the pressure sores, neck spasms and migraines she previously endured.

Appropriate office furniture, computer hardware and use of the internet enable Sobott’s home-based employment. Her capacities are further enhanced with chat apps, meeting software, email and the track changes function in Microsoft Word. Being at home allows her to avoid ‘the stress of trying to negotiate a city and workplaces that are built for non-disabled bodies’. She says she can rest, sleep, eat, stretch and adjust the lighting as required, which helps her to better manage her energy levels.

During Sobott’s long career, which has included writing children’s fiction, editing publications, working on theatre productions and directing disability-led arts organisation Outlandish Arts, she has developed substantial expertise as a wordsmith. Because of her skills, she is sometimes offered projects that entail being onsite at other organisations. She now declines if her requirements – such as manageable hours, and toilets and buildings that are accessible with her mobility device – are not met.

‘The stress, physical pain and exhaustion I experience from [inaccessible workplaces] mean the work is not worth taking on,’ Sobott says. ‘I have learnt to say no, no matter how prestigious the work may be, how much I admire the organisation or people in charge or how much money may be offered.’

Her need to turn down otherwise beneficial opportunities also extends to industry events. For instance, a peak arts agency invited her to one of its meetings – in a room that she could only have accessed by walking up a long flight of stairs. The inaccessible location made Sobott feel like her presence was not important to the agency. She encourages event organisers to be mindful that venue choices can directly exclude people and devalue their participation.

Alternative linguistic paradigms

In contrast with the recommended term person with disability, Sobott calls herself a disabled person, as a political statement. She is comfortable saying that she has impairments, but refuses to say that she has disabilities because, from her perspective, she is disabled by society.

‘Although there is no doubt that I experience pain, fatigue and other difficulties due to my various impairments, the more distressing aspects of my existence and the factors that I find most damaging to my mental and physical health are social and economic,’ Sobott says.

She is committed to ‘developing a consciousness of how language is used to oppress disabled people and enforce disablism’ because, she says, language is never neutral.

‘We make choices about the words we use, and we have a responsibility to understand the connotation of the words we choose. I try to interrogate metaphors and other forms of speech in the same way I investigate and understand any theory or concept before I use it in my work.’

The political power of metaphors is important for Sobott. She would like writers and editors to replace ubiquitous and damaging pejorative disability metaphors with ‘innovative, politically accountable uses of metaphor that make people think more deeply and alternatively’.

New voices and perspectives

Much of Sobott’s recent work has involved disabled writers she has met through Outlandish Arts and /dis'rʌpt/ (Disrupt), a publication she co-edits with blind editor Amanda Tink, which was designed to showcase disabled writers internationally. Sobott says that such writers see many topics differently because of their embodied experience of life in a world that commonly excludes them.

When editing their writing, Sobott has noticed that, at times, she must ‘disengage from the dominant editorial and discursive paradigms’. One example is recognising that editors do not always have to enforce standard grammar and spelling when non-standard word choices are important for communicating particular emotions or affording particular rhythms.

Sobott finds working with writers who have disabilities rewarding for many reasons. In her experience, they often communicate new ways of thinking and are fearless about experimenting and improvising across a range of art forms.

‘They end up with exciting, surprising outcomes that often challenge the reader or audience to question preconceived notions,’ Sobott says.

For more people to access the richness of disabled writers’ work, of course, more work by disabled writers must be published. Sobott wants the Australian writing and publishing industry to be more inclusive and support this aim. She highlights Writers Victoria’s award-winning Write-ability Fellowship program as one outstanding example that helps emerging disabled writers to develop professionally.

To increase the number of disabled editors, Sobott advocates for the creation of dedicated internships with publishers and the introduction of employment quotas. She urges established editors not only to mentor emerging disabled editors, but also to use their position within their workplaces, unions and other representative bodies to agitate for affirmative action.

About the author

Melissa Giles is a copyeditor from Brisbane. She would like to advance the understanding of communication accessibility and related professional practices. This includes encouraging diversity within the editing profession and highlighting ways that editors and organisations can incorporate people who are often overlooked in the communication process.

This article was first published in the Editors Queensland July 2019 newsletter OffPress. Editors Queensland is a branch of the Institute of Professional Editors Ltd (IPEd) in Australia.

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“I wish I had heard all of my dad’s eulogy”: Hearing Aids as a New Lease on Life

Patricia MacDonald is one of a few editorial colleagues with a story to share about hearing. Hers is honest and hopeful. I'm taking her words to heart as I go to get my hearing retested later this month.

She also touches on how she uses closed captioning, reminding us that not all users are totally deaf or "hearies" using captions for other reasons.

 

Headshot of Patricia Morris MacDonald.

I can’t remember when I started noticing my hearing loss. I was probably in my late 20s. I do know the exact moment I couldn’t deny any longer that it was a problem: when I couldn’t hear everything my brother was saying as he was delivering my father’s eulogy. What a thing to miss. 

But still I didn’t get my hearing checked. I knew I needed hearing aids, but I didn’t want to wear them. Hearing aids are for old people, I thought. Everyone will notice them. So I struggled on for another few years, constantly frustrated when I caught only bits of conversations, wondering what I had missed when others around me were laughing at something I hadn’t heard. My husband bought me a cheap little device that amplified sound, and I used that a lot, especially when I was watching TV. It worked great but could only do so much. I was still missing out on a lot in real life.  

I did eventually get my hearing tested, and the results were as expected: significant hearing loss in both ears. The culprit? Otosclerosis. Basically there was a hardening of the bones in my middle ear, and they were unable to vibrate properly in order to conduct sound. The good news? I was a perfect candidate for hearing aids. The bad news? I was a perfect candidate for hearing aids. I still didn’t want them, and it was at least another year before I finally went for a fitting.  

The catalyst was an editing conference I attended in Ottawa in 2012. The sessions were fine because I had my trusty sound booster with me; socializing, however, was a different story. One-on-one interaction was okay for the most part, but put me around a table in a noisy restaurant and I was lost. I still ended up having a wonderful time, but it was a wake-up call. I needed to do something.  

So I took the leap and got two hearing aids. And suddenly I could hear all that I was missing—and it was a lot, trust me. I was very grateful for this new lease on life, although I was extremely self-conscious for the first little while, the first couple of years, even. To this day I’m still a little self-conscious. But I can hear better, and that’s really all that matters. 

Hearing aids aren’t the perfect solution, though. I often have trouble hearing on the phone and when I’m in a crowded room. I still miss some things.

Closed captioning has become a good friend, especially when I’m watching a show with fast dialogue or accents.

So there’s still frustration. But I can function almost normally again. And I must say that when I “take my ears out” at night, I welcome the quiet and enjoy a good sleep. It’s not all bad. :^) 

It’s taken a while, but I’ve come to terms with my hearing loss—I have a disability that fortunately I was able to correct. I just wish I had done it years earlier. I wish I had heard all of my dad’s eulogy. But I was thinking about how I would look instead of how I could hear. If you have hearing loss and are hesitant about trying hearing aids, for whatever reason, I urge you to give them a shot. It will change your life for the better.  

 

Patricia MacDonald is a freelance copyeditor in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, specializing in sports books and memoirs, guides for athletes and coaches, and textbooks for physical education and kinesiology students.

She can be reached at powerplayediting@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of P. MacDonald.

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Cinema Gets Heritage Status

 

I'm sharing this good news as posted. I worked at these theatres (as did my dad as projectionist) with Dawn and Dan's father Peter.

 

City grants Mt. Pleasant theatre heritage status

Davisville landmarks opened in the ’20s and continue to show films today

 

 

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Councillor Josh Matlow stands outside Mount Pleasant Theatre

Councillor Josh Matlow stands outside Mount Pleasant Theatre

The Regent Theatre and Mount Pleasant Theatre have both been a prominent part of Davisville village since the 1920s. Now, thanks to a motion put forward by councillor Josh Matlow of Ward 22, St. Paul’s, both buildings will stay that way. The two theatres were granted heritage status by the Toronto and East York Community Council in May.

“These movie houses are iconic institutions in our Midtown neighbourhood,” said Matlow. “When you come to the Davisville village, they stand out. They tell you where you are and give you a sense of identity and a story in the community. This is clearly linked to the architectural and cultural story of our community.”

The designation comes at an important time as several historic buildings in Midtown have been torn down in recent years, including the century-old Bank of Montreal building at Yonge Street and Roselawn Avenue and the Stollerys building at Yonge and Bloor Street.

“These movie houses are iconic institutions in our Midtown neighbourhood.”

Mount Pleasant Theatre, at 675 Mt Pleasant Rd., opened in 1926 and is one of Toronto’s oldest surviving movie theatres.

Regent Theatre, at 551 Mount Pleasant Rd., opened in 1927 as the Belsize Theatre. The marquee on the building facade and the architectural styling of the building represent the work of architect Murray Brown, who was well-known for designing movie theatres across Canada.

Both theatres are currently owned by Dawn and Dan Sorokolit. While a heritage designation is widely considered an honour that ensures a building will remain a part of Toronto’s history, it’s possible the theatres’ owners might not be happy about the designation. Moving forward, any plans to demolish or build overtop of either property will be subject to further approval from Heritage Preservation Services.

Post City reached out to the owners about the designation, however neither was available for comment.

“The theatres really are important to the landscape and the streetscape along Mount Pleasant Road.… They were both built at a time when the city was really expanding northward,” said Kaitlin Wainwright, director of programming at Heritage Toronto. “They really are touchstones in a way that hearkens back to that period of change.”

Although community theatres across Toronto have largely been replaced by big multiplexes, like the Scotiabank Theatre, Mount Pleasant and Regent theatres both continue to show films today.

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