19 October 2016

The murder of disabled children is often excused.

Warning: This post contains content about violence, murder and suicide related to disability. 

I've been struggling reading about the alleged murder-suicide that happened in Sydney earlier this week.

Two parents, their children and their dog were found dead in their home. Police report an elaborate gas system was deliberately set up in the home. Media states the children had profound disabilities and their mother struggled to cope. Neighbours said they were good, loving parents.   

(It has also been reported that the mother wanted to move back to her homeland of Colombia " to relieve the crushing pressure of raising two severely autistic children.")  

That's all we know for now. I hope it was an accident.

But police have confirmed the worst. And the focus on the children's disability in reports suggest their disability might have been a motive. While we don't know all the facts the media has a lot to answer for in its reporting and portrayal of people with disabilities.   

The commenters sympathise with the reports of the alleged murder-suicide. Comments like: "It's understandable." "Walk a mile in their shoes." "We shouldn't judge." "It's so hard raising children with special needs." "As a parent pf children on the spectrum, I relate." And "It was an act of love." (You can read some actual comments here)  

I cant imagine the pain felt by the family's loved ones.

It's a tragedy too awful  to comprehend. The wider disability community is hurting too. This needs to be talked about. And I have tried to write this as respectfully as possible.      If this case does relate to the stress disability has on a family, then...  

The level of sympathy towards parents who kill their disabled children is much different to the level of sympathy towards other parents who have killed non disabled children. (Briannon Lee also writes about the level of focus on the parents in these stories, as opposed to the children. Read her excellent piece from an autism/parent perspective here.)  

When Robert Farquarson drove his car into a Victorian lake on Fathers Day 2005, killing his three children, media described the murder as "incomprehensible" and a "cowardly act".     But when a parent allegedly murders their disabled child, the public (and judges, jurors) sympathises, emphathises even. Because it's difficult raising a child with a disability. This is ableism. It is as though a disabled life is worth less than a non disabled one. 

Countless disabled people are impacted by violence and murder, and the whole disability community is affected by how these cases are judged and the way the media reports on them. These incidents aren't infrequent. (You can read about some of the disabled people who have been killed in Australia at the White Flower Memorial page. The White Flower Memorial serves to remember those with disabilities who have died in institutional care, in detention and in domestic care situations.)  

I've not been a parent (nor a parent of a disabled child). I haven't experienced the strain and the worries. I don't have autism. But I've been a disabled child. I've seen my parents struggle. Ive experienced discrimination, exclusion, financial hardship, pain and ableism. I've also been told that I shouldn't have been born, and that I'm a burden. Many of my disabled friends have heard similar things about them too.    

Tragedies like Monday's shake the disability community. It's incredibly sad - I'm saddened that the family is dead and I'm sad a lack of support may have driven a parent to this. But I'm sadder at the commenters justifying that killing disabled people is understandable because the children are disabled. This does nothing for disabled people's self worth. Imagine what it's like to hear news reports about murders of people like you, or to read comments that are (often unintentionally) ableist, saying they understand why a parent may have murdered their disabled child? Many disabled people are struggling with the news right now, especially with the commentary excusing it.  

When a parent kills their disabled child, it's believed to be a mercy killing. Hell, an anonymous mother has already penned a piece for Mamamia saying she and her husband have discussed killing their disabled children.   

In 2014, after Geoff Hunt murdered his wife and children and then killed himself near Holbook, media reports painted him as a victim. It was a burdensome task looking after his wife who acquired a brain injury a few years prior. It seemed understandable, why he murdered his wife and kids.  

At the time, Stella Young wrote:     
"When we hear of a crime like this, we quite rightly recoil in horror. And yet, when we hear that a murdered wife is also a woman with a disability, we can find ourselves a little bit less horrified. As though her status as a disabled woman gives us a little more empathy towards the perpetrator of violence. It's victim blaming at its very worst."  

Again, if this case does relate to the stress of disability on a family, then...

More respite and emotional support needs to be provided to parents and carers so it never comes to this. Stigma around disability needs to be erased. Perhaps a white flag system needs to be in place - when someone is struggling, they can safely take their children to care. I don't know the answers, and I can't bear to think why this happened, nor read the comments.  

We all need to play a part in ensuring people with disabilities and their families are included and supported in the community, and can ask for and receive adequate help. But murder is never justified because a child or adult is disabled and it becomes too much for someone to cope with.   

My thoughts are with the family and everyone who loved them.

30 September 2016


Hello from London! Adam and I are on our honeymoon until late October. We're seeing three big cities and a few places in between.  I'll be blogging intermittently until we return. 
  Follow my holiday pics on Instagram and Facebook.

19 September 2016

Ichthyosis in developing countries: the stigma experienced in Africa.


In July I was alerted to some children in Wajir, Kenya who are suffering terribly from Ichthyosis. I rarely use the term 'suffering' but these children really are. My heart breaks for them.

The children haven't received adequate medical treatment and are hidden from their community. I've been told that children with disabilities are killed or left to suffer. Their families and communities believe it's witchcraft that caused Ichthyosis, and bear great shame in having a child that looks different.

I was told differing information about the children – I don’t know how many children are affected by Ichthyosis, and when trying to get in touch with one boy’s immediate family (Baby Abashir, below), two men initially claimed to be his uncle, and later told me they are just part of the campaign to save these children.

An aid worker contacted me on Twitter and then by email. She said the children have a dermatologist and creams. But she couldn’t give me exact information about how I could help – where to send creams to, how to get information about care plans and emotional support to them.

And the Foundation for Skin and Related Types (FIRST) tweeted at this aid worker offering only a teleconference between the Kenyan dermatologist and FIRST, but the infrastructure in the town of Wajir doesn’t allow this.

There has been a social media campaign (#savewajirkids) which has raised a lot of awareness that these kids exist and need help. But sadly, a lot of it is clicktivism - sharing tweets and expressing sadness, without offering tangible help.

I worry about the speculation created in the #savewajirkids social media hashtag. A lot of misinformation has been spread - including how Ichthyosis might have been caused by nuclear waste. And there are tweets expressing horror about the image of these kids. I don't agree with these kids' photos being used for speculation if there are no facts to back them up. Yes, awareness needs to be raised, but the kids need their dignity, respect and tangible help. A tweet will raise awareness, but won't help these kids. A treatment plan and ongoing support will.

And I didn't see many people in the Ichthyosis community talk about these kids. (I wanted to help them like I helped Baby Julius - but I could not do it alone.)

The same week I was alerted to the Wajir children via the hashtag, I was contacted by an ABC journalist based in Kenya, who is committed to telling the kids' story sensitively - to educate the community and to reduce stigma. He wanted to cover this story, but I am not sure whether it’s been published yet. In a lengthy email, I told him about my treatment and the support I receive, and what might help these children. I only hope he has passed the information onto the children’s families and dermatologist, even if the article has not been written.

So with the futility of contacting the aid worker, the men claiming to be family, a brief response from FIRST, and the cessation of the journalist's emails, I don’t know how else to help these children, which is why I am writing this blog post.

I felt a terrible sense of privilege explaining my situation to the journalist, because I know just how little these children have - in terms of medical aid and understanding. And I’m reminded of the life-lottery – I believe my life would have been a lot different if I was born elsewhere. There would be a different healthcare access, and also different attitudes towards appearance diversity and disability.

In reading about the Wajir kids and answering the journalist’s questions, I've realised how lucky I have it. How lucky so many of us with Ichthyosis who are born or adopted into the first world are. While I have access to medical treatments such as ointments and antibiotics, sadly these children do not. Their skin has deteriorated so much. And I've never faced this type of stigma and discrimination faced in Africa. (I know others in Asia who have experienced similar stigma.)

I don't know whether my advice to the journalist was useful because there's still so much more to be done in terms of rigorous treatment to get the kids' skin to a manageable state before commencing routine ongoing treatment, and of course, encouraging acceptance and inclusion in these communities. Additionally, good health is helped along with good nutrition, and families might simply not have enough money and access to nutritious food to ensure their children with Ichthyosis are eating well. I know how painful the condition is and I can't imagine the pain these kids ensure when it's gone untreated for so long. I am very sad for them.

In 2014, Jennifer See wrote about Ichthyosis in Ghana on her blog Confetti Skin. Jennifer wrote:

"The youngest child is Amotalé. Michelle told me that while Amotalé is 10 years old, she is only the size of a healthy 4-year-old. Her name means, "Has it gotten to this?

She has scurvy from vitamin C deficiency and walks with a stick because her legs won’t straighten around the thick scales on her joints. She has severe malnutrition and her belly is distended. Her poor head is so thick with scale that it is like a cap. Michelle told me that two days ago, when she gave Amotalé a bath and removed some of the scale from her head, she saw the skin underneath was leaking pus and was infected. A separate Facebook post from the same day even says there were maggots underneath her scalp. Michelle said that Amotalé hated the bath, but once she was done with lotions, the little girl started dancing."

There are others living with Ichthyosis in similar conditions across the world (Nepal and India). The stigma and lack of knowledge about the condition and access to treatment is very similar to what the children in Africa experience.

I have an online friend with Ichthyosis who lives in Kenya. Esther, in her 30s, wrote to me outlining some of the experiences she has had, as well as some advice. She has just got married! I wanted to get a sense of what it’s like to live with such a rare, stigmatising condition there, and she has given me so much insight. Esther has met with Baby Abashir and his family to provide them with advice and support. (I have edited her words a little for punctuation and grammar.)


"I have lived with the EHK Ichthyosis all my life. It was very difficult for doctors here to understand it know what was wrong with my skin so it was such a hard time for my parents. In those young years nobody gave them the right diagnosis so I was grouped with all others who have the common skin diseases. I saw my dermatologists with no success.

I am happy with my skin, it had improved so much I no longer itch or get blisters which were so bad in my years. I am now on creams that a doctor who is good on alternative medicines. I also exfoliate my skin which makes it smooth. I am also on whole grain diets which has helped my skin.

What baby Abashir us going through with his family is what we went [through too]. I have faced isolation, stigma and discrimination in different aspects of my life since not many know or understand what Ichthyosis is. And doctors too, I have faced difficulties with them too when I try to explain to them.

I do work am self employed in informal sector - I sell handbags which I love. That's how I manage. I can say that am fortunate my family loves and accepts me, so I am confident.

But I am sad to say kids with Ichthyosis are hidden, not educated and even are abandoned by their families. The culture here contributes to this because they believe it's witchcraft.

So children and adults in the most remote parts of Kenya continue to suffer in silence.

My dream and hope is to reach them and offer them hope and support so a fundraiser us great so that the money we get [can] help baby Abshir and other in Wajir. This part of Kenya is most affected with my children suffering. It’s a very hot place so heat intolerance is so great.

I don't know what we can do any suggestion in this is great so basically we would need help with creams, eyedrops, and even monetary so we can be able to achieve the goal of reaching out to this other kids. Mostly I need to travel there to create awareness in this community and connect and give them moral support."

The journalist told me that when the Wajir children’s parents were told Ichthyosis is a genetic condition, they blamed themselves, believing they caused it.

Oh my heart.

Parents, please don't blame yourself. Many parents don't know they carry the gene until their child is born with Ichthyosis, though it can be screened for during pregnancy. (My parents didn't know, and they've since been genetically tested and both carry the gene. It was passed to me recessively.)

The children have been hidden away from their communities – because disabilities carry a lot of stigma and shame in third world countries. Again, tears.

These kids need to be shown love and compassion and that they're a valuable part of the community. It starts at home and with medical staff. Communities need to be made aware of disabilities - that they aren't caused by witchcraft and that people with disabilities aren't to be hidden away and ashamed about.

The stigma is as painful as the skin condition.

In a paper titled Reducing Stigma and Discrimination to Improve Child Health and Survival in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Promising Approaches and Implications for Future Research (Nayar et al, Journal of Health Communication, September 2014), academics discuss the impacts of stigma on the development of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

"The manifestations of stigma can lead to a number of stigma outcomes, such as delayed treatment seeking or poor medication adherence, that ultimately lead to longer term stigma impacts, including poorer quality of life and increased morbidity and mortality. For children under 5 years of age, stigma and discrimination experienced by parents—for example, as a result of having a stigmatized disease such as HIV or belonging to a stigmatized group such as the scheduled caste in India—can impede access to or uptake of available health care services, leading to poor health outcomes for children."

The paper suggests stigma and discrimination reduction methods should be implemented into infant and child health programs:

"Increased investment in stigma and discrimination reduction interventions and program evaluations is also needed to overcome the evidence gap regarding stigma and discrimination reduction interventions. Program implementers should prioritize regular inclusion of measures that assess stigma and discrimination in evaluations of all interventions targeting neonatal and child health and healthy early childhood development, including interventions addressing integrated care of mother and child. The field would also benefit from improved, more detailed reporting about the content of community engagement, communication and counseling…"

I am concerned that the stigma around these children has prevented them from receiving adequate education opportunities, thus preventing them from entering the workplace, and perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Esther’s story is proof that the stigma can be broken.

Another academic paper I read (The Stigmatization of Disabilities in Africa and the Developmental Effects - Digital Collection, 2013) states:

"It is widely believed in areas like Africa where stigmatization creates negative connotations that the employment of persons with disabilities would cause a less productive workplace, due to special needs and slower production rates." The paper provides examples of terrible human rights abuses, but also provides suggestions of the benefits of inclusive education, as well as inclusive advocacy efforts to help shift attitudes of governments, policy makers and financial institutions. "One example of how this can be accomplished is in the case of AbleChildAfrica http://www.ablechildafrica.org/, where children have a say in everything they do. The Board meets with the communities two to three times per year and consults with their local partners regularly. These partners work with children everyday so they see what works and what does not in terms of program implementation. The partner organizations also work with the families of the disabled children in order to move away from the idea of just leaving the child to be taken care of by someone else and not included."

Ethan, who is 10, wrote some advice for these children. He wants these children to see they're not alone. I love his wisdom.

"Having different skin is nothing to be ashamed about. I have Ichthyosis just like you😀. Even though you have different skin you should know that you are the same as anyone else on the inside. I know it must be hard to stay cool in the hot weather in Kenya. We're all the same, if I had went with my mom she would have treated me as well as she could in that environment for even a week or two. It can be hard even here in North Carolina where it's cool some of the time. Even now my skin has been through a lot more than most people. Even with lotion and a cooling vest I still can get really hot and uncomfortable here. I can only imagine how much more challenging it could be with so few resources.

My mother told me that you are having a lot of trouble getting the supplies you need. I was glad to see you were more comfortable with the lotions that you got in Nairobi."

Here's a photo of Ethan and his Mum Erin. Erin is incredibly proud of her son.

So here’s what I’d like the parents of the Wajir kids, and the wider community, to know about Ichthyosis. It seems so simplistic, with the complexities of the treatment and perception of disabilities in the third world, but it's all I can do.

  • Ichthyosis is a genetic condition.
  • It's genetic and not contagious.
  • There are many types of Ichthyosis with varying symptoms, appearances and treatments.
  • Regular showers and baths in clean warm water, and applying ointments such as Vaseline can help.
  • Adequate nutrition helps - fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, plenty of water.
  • Once the children's skin is managed, they should be encouraged to get an education, form relationships and get jobs.
  • You are not alone.

Here are some other resources from medical experts about treatment:

From the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne,

From Dermnet, New Zealand.

I can only hope that now these children in Wajir have been "found" and received some media attention, an education program can be provided to their parents, medical staff and the wider community. As well as reducing stigma, they could get the medical treatment they need, as well as being included and valued members of their community. I also hope their doctors can look to adults and young people with ichthyosis to see how we’ve managed, and also to show these children and their families that a good life is possible. While it has been hard for me to connect with this community, I hope that this blog reaches them somehow, and they can see they aren’t alone.

If you live in Africa and want to tell your story of life with Ichthyosis, you are most welcome to leave a comment below.

This is the second post in my series "Ichthyosis in developing countries". You can read the post about Ichthyosis in India here.


16 September 2016

Australian Centre for Leadership for Women Diversity Awards

On Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women Diversity Awards in Sydney.

From the website:

"ACLW’s Awards Program commenced in 2006, culminating so far in three national awards for women’s advancement, with more than 60 national recipients being recognised and awarded, including women, men and organisations. This year is ACLW's 10th Anniversary of its Awards Program for women's empowerment. The 2016 Diversity Award refines the spirit of ACLW's Award Program as it seeks to platform in a mainstream forum, recognition for community and organisational initiatives in Australia that value and empower women in Australia who come from diverse backgrounds, and particularly from groups that are marginalised."

Dr Diann Healey Rodgers runs the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women voluntarily and entirely on her own.

We were treated to performances by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir and a troupe of Greek dancers. The presenters included Prue Goward, Christine Forster and the speaker of NSW Parliament House Shelley Hancock who was hilarious.

I was a second place winner in the Disability category. I won because of my work organising the Australian Ichthyosis Meet. The category winner was Women with Disabilities Victoria (who I am doing some work for next week) and the third place winner was South East Centre Against Sexual Assault. Here are the two other category winners - Keran and Dagmar.

Every first place winner made a speech and they wowed the room. From domestic violence support and refugee welcoming to providing child care for women in medical research and climate change research and prevention, the work these women do is so important.

I am so honoured to be recognised in a room full of amazing, accomplished and diverse women truly making a difference In Australia.

A big congratulations to Kyri Fuss for being a co-recipient - one of the 75 beneficiaries of the Australian Ichthyosis Meet. And thanks to the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women for the award, Professor Ingrid Winship for the reference and ongoing support, the Ichthyosis community especially the attendees, the supporters of the Ichthyosis meet who made it happen, my wonderful Adam and parents, Layne Beachley and the Aim for the Stars Foundation, the Awesome Foundation, FIRST and UK Ichthyosis Support Group and my wonderful blog readers and social media followers for helping me along the way. ❤️

In my entry, which Kyri (above) provided a supporting statement for, we both said the meet was something we could have done with when we were young.

Oh and if you think my life is all pretty dresses, fancy meals and glamourous award ceremonies - you'll be pleased to know that I am grounded (literally).

After the awards ceremony at Parliament House, Kyri and I got back to the hotel, I bought some cheese and crackers, and then got changed for bed. As I came out of the bathroom, the heavy door closed on me, making me slip on the carpet and pushing me over. I hit my head, knee, shoulder and bottom. Ouch but laughing. A bit bruised now!

We stayed up til 11 pm raging to This American Life podcast (I fell asleep halfway through the first act).


You can read about all the winners here.



12 September 2016

Ichthyosis in developing countries - India


Last week, an article was published about two young siblings in India living with Lamellar Ichthyosis. The article describes the children as having snake skin.

Sayali (13) and Siddhant (11) Kapase live in Pune, India. The children, along with the parents, Sarika and Santosh Kapase, spoke to journalist Charnamrit Schadeva about the struggles of living with Ichthyosis.

The journalist's Twitter account shows she specialises in writing about children with facial disfigurements and rare medical conditions. The article about the Kapase children sits above previews of these types of articles. Like many other articles about Ichthyosis, the language is disempowering, and while it does raise awareness of the condition, it also heightens stigma. (One article about the children in a different publication came with a graphic image warning.)

The article covered the treatment the children undergo, and comments from a dermatologist (he assures readers the parents are not related, and speaks of the parents both having a "mutated gene", so Ichthyosis "was unavoidable for the children". But it's the attitudes towards the condition that concern me.

My heart hurts for these children, who do endure prejudice and exclusion from "frightened locals" because of the way they look. They were denied entry into several schools, and the children at their current school are too scared to play with them. They have little confidence in themselves, and really, can anyone blame them?

From the article:

"Sayali, 13 said: "I'm disgusted when I see myself in the mirror. I wonder why God made my brother and me this way. People call us names like ghost and witch. I aspire to be an accountant but I wonder if anyone would offer me a job with this condition."

The article continues:

"Sarika now worries for Sayali's marriage prospects in the future and wonders if any man would accept her as a bride."

"I cannot dream like other mothers do for my daughters wedding", she said. Every mother has aspirations to see her daughter growing up and getting married. I do not feel the same. No mother would like to see her children in this condition."

It's terribly sad that even their parents have given up hope. I hope that they can see that there are many of us with Ichthyosis who have been educated, found love and have good lives. If their parents do not have hope, how can the children feel good about themselves?

What I hope this family can know:

  • Your children are beautiful, smart, articulate and kind.
  • You are not alone.
  • There is support out there. There are Facebook groups to connect with other parents and children, blogs (mine, DeDe's, Courtney's, Mui's and more.) The Ichthyosis Support Group and FIRST have good resources too.
  • Never be ashamed of your children.
  • Many people with ichthyosis lead active and fulfilling lives - with education and careers, relationships, friendships and travel.
  • Medical support is important but emotional support is just as important.
  • Focus on managing the condition day to day instead of worrying about the future.
  • Pride and esteem in your children starts with you. Be proud of your children - and express this pride to people you meet.
  • Self love is important. If these kids can love themselves, then love will come to them.
  • Please be careful what you say to the media. Media covering Ichthyosis can be exploitative and voyeuristic. This can have a huge impact on your children's esteem as well as the wider ichthyosis community.
  • It gets better.

A friend sent me this article in the Guardian the same day I read the article about the children in India. The article addressed the way girls and women with disabilities are treated in countries like India, where women are expected to marry - except women with disabilities are not.

Nidhi Goyal writes:

"Kasturi, an Indian girl with polio, wants to marry but her mother believes no one will have her because she will probably be unable to take care of the house.

Women with disabilities make up roughly 5% of the world’s female population, yet many are not considered "woman enough". Their capability is questioned – can she cook? can she raise children? – along with their sexuality and entitlement to equity or rights. If they fail to meet idealised expectations about how a woman’s body should look, they are deemed incapable of providing care.

Sadly, this view of women with disabilities being "broken" or of less value has been adopted by the women’s rights movement, which has been slow to make space for them – if not actively resistant."

Reading Nidhi Goyal's words made me think of the (low) expectations Sarika Kapase has for her daughter Sayani's future. But I was very aware of me not being the right person to make an informed comment on the family's despair. I can't fully address this without coming across as a first world privileged white (red) saviour.

While I have lived with Ichthyosis my whole life, I don't know what it's like to live in developing countries.

I experience staring and comments, and the pain of course, but in Australia, the stigma around the condition is almost incomparable. I acknowledge my western privilege and also the complexities of visible difference and disability in other cultures.

While I wrote "it gets better" in my advice list, I don't think the attitudes and access to treatment in developing countries ensure that it does get better.

So I asked my friend Tina to write about her experience with ichthyosis in India. Tina has written her story here before, and some readers donated through this blog so she could get a cooling vest. Tina has the same type of Ichthyosis as the Kapase children.

Here's Tina's story of what it's like to live with Ichthyosis in India - from the physical aspects to the reactions and ignorance of other people.

"I was born as a colloidal baby with severe or chronic type of Lamellar type 3. I have severe challenges handling both cold and hot temperature. I work as a Training consultant.

The reaction of people is quite visible, The facial expressions , some stare and some just don’t like the sight of me, it seems they are horrified by my sight, I am emotionally, mentally and physically down in every aspect. Every time I think today will be a nice day, but the snide comments and stares all mar my day.

I started taking Acetretin since 3 years. From my bath , scrubbing, washing and creaming it takes 3 hours to get ready. I am totally exhausted and drained even before my day begins. Simple chores seem a herculean task. I wear clothes that cover me from head to toe, be in Summer, Winter or Autumn. I spend ¾ of my salary on the medicines, Vaseline, creams, Glycerine. Icthyane, Glyco A cream, Band aids, Cotton bandages and swabs, Eye drops to prevent eyes from drying. I have bathe 2-3 times a day and wash face and hands many times at work as skin gets dry, scaly and poky all over.

I do not have any medical treatment available in India. The dermatologists are still clueless about my condition. The medicines and creams and lotions that I use is from the ideas and suggestions shared by FIRST group that I met on Facebook 4 years ago. Indian government should include Icthyosis under sever disability category. I cannot take leave from work as they say if you want to work here you have to be healthy. The people in the corporate world also should understand us. At work place, I told my colleague that I have to travel to see a visiting dermatologist, he was coming from London and I wanted to go, The colleague says you can go next time, They are that ignorant in India.

It’s not only the superficial layer of skin that is affected, Due to Ichthyosis, I have very low levels of Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Potassium and Magnesium, all these minerals are deficient or absent. My head and scalp are so bad that it scales, sheds and itches very badly. I scratch so violently that the scarce or just a handful hair falls, making it even scantier. Even if I squat or sit on the ground the skin stretches in several places and immediately snaps and fine cuts appear all over. I do not remember a day being free from physical pain. I feel it’s a part of me now. Pain and I are synonymous with each other.

I am highly Myopic and the being visually also makes my life difficult. I am blind in right eye due to Glaucoma. The left eye is highly short sighted.

The reactions to my skin changed over the years, but just a little. Very few understand and empathize. There are some who blatantly tell that I ask for self-pity, I get upset when I do the same amount of work that others do but for me I go through a lot of pain physical and emotional and still they do not acknowledge and this makes me more bitter.

Parents and Family are the greatest support system. I am proud that my Mom was my biggest support system. People treated her badly saying that she was a sinner that’s the reason I was born in this condition. My own cousin called me names as I have leprosy, she is married and 40 years.

There is a Man Called Sai Charan from Nalgonda. He has Lamellar Ichthyosis . He never used Vaseline or Glycerine as his dermatologist never suggested anything. He uses only coconut oil. He is looked after by his old grandmother who earns a meager income. He is worried about his future and always is depressed. He says that life is laborious for him. He does not know that we all go through the same stage. There is Nagesh from a remote village in Telangana. He has two sons who are affected by Lamellar Ichthyosis. He too is seeking financial assistance from the government, but no avail.

There is a lady, Gloria, who has Vulgaris Ichthyosis, I buy her soaps a, Vaseline and Glycerine for her. She works in a school. Her hands and feet are cracked and bleed as she is constantly in water. The Principal of the school does not allow her to work inside the school and she is outside in the hot sun the entire day. The School Principal says that she cannot allow Gloria to work indoors as the school children will get frightened and scared by her appearance.

Even in the church she sits behind in a corner as people don’t sit next to her because of the odour that emits.

I get angry and upset when I see such articles. How can educated people use such statements? I feel they don’t have values.

[To those without ichthyosis and disabilities]: Please understand that what we have and go through is not easy for us. We are already Physically, Emotionally and Mentally distraught. We too long to lead a normal life . There are many things we cannot do, as the pain in the bones is almost crippling. And the cracks and fissures are painful and bleed under duress. Please understand us and have patience with us."

I wish Siddhant and Sayali all the very best with their treatment, and I hope they reach a level of positive self acceptance once day. I hope this post is passed on to their parents and their community.

If you live in India and want to tell your story of life with Ichthyosis, you are most welcome to leave a comment below.

This is the first post in my series "Ichthyosis in developing countries". The next post will be published soon.



09 September 2016

Robyn Lambird and Madeline Stuart - Aussie models with disabilities rocking the fashion world.

Robyn Lambird and Madeline Stuart - Australian models with disabilities rocking the fashion world.


It's an exciting week for disability-inclusive fashion - from chainstore to runway. Two young Australian women featuring in the Target catalogue and in New York Fashion Week.

This week, Target features a young woman with a disability in its catalogue. Robyn Lambird, who uses a wheelchair, models activewear. Above her smiling face, she's quoted: "As a para athlete, I practically live in activewear. That's why I love Target's range - it's got me covered for the who,e day. With plenty of options for working out, and fashionable pieces, that are perfect for busy days in between training sessions."

I chatted with Robyn, who has cerebral palsy, about how modelling for Target makes her feel.

"Oh man, it’s awesome! I’ve been talking about the importance of having more adequate media representation for a while now, so to play apart in that is really cool. For me it’s all about normalising disability, I want to get to a point where it’s commonplace to see people using mobility devices, or with missing limbs, and a whole range of other conditions in our advertising."

Robyn hopes her appearance in the Target catalogue leads to standard inclusion of disabled models.

"We need to get to a point where including disabled models in advertising is standard", she says. She believes companies that pride them on diversity need to reflect that, through representing all types of people - including people with disabilities. Robyn believes representation in advertising will help increase disability's cool factor.

"As a society we also need to change the way we look at disability - a lot of people write the disabled community off straight away as not being trendy or cool. I know models for instance who can’t get casting agents and have been told by them that 'disability isn’t their look'", Robyn laments.

Catia Malaquias , mother to seven year old Julius who has Down syndrome, campaigns for inclusive advertising through Starting with Julius. She agrees with Robyn's take on inclusion changing perceptions of disability.

"Advertising in particular can be extremely powerful as a medium. Ads are pervasive and far reaching – we see ads on our social media, favourite blog, a web page, before a movie or during our favourite TV show – and they are designed to impact our perception of the world around us. For the most part they represent a world without disability and with minimal human diversity and that both reflects and reinforces social exclusion and devaluation of "difference". Inclusive advertising seeks to disrupt that."

Julius and Catia from Starting with Julius

Target has regularly featured children with disabilities, but Robyn (and I) would like to see more adults with disabilities included in Target's catalogues.

"It’s kind of crazy to think that 1 in 5 people will experience disability in their lifetime, yet as far as I’m aware I am the first adult with a visible disability to feature in a nationwide advertising campaign of major retail company in Australia. If people don’t see individuals with a range of disabilities in our media, it’s easy for stereotypes to form and for misconceptions to thrive", Robyn says.

Therese Waters from Target's Corporate Affairs team assured me it's not the first time a disabled model has featured in Target's catalogues. "In the 1990’s we featured a model in a wheelchair", she says.

Therese said it's important for Target to reflect Australia's diverse society. "One in five people in Australia have a disability so that needs to be portrayed in our marketing materials", she says.

She told me she hopes that through Target's diverse advertising campaigns, perceptions about people with disabilities are shifted.

The inclusion of disabled in advertising campaigns makes both models and the wider disability community feel valued and represented. "It’s important that our customers know we’re all about making people feel confident about themselves. Our uniqueness should be embraced", Therese says.

While inclusion in fashion advertising is a great start, Robyn also believes the fashion industry needs to make clothes more accessible for people with disabilities.

"There are a few brands out there that design for disabled people and wheelchair users, that I really admire but I’d love to see a little more diversity. I’d really like to see more options for disabled teens and young adults as a lot of accessible clothing is aimed either at children or older people . I love bright colours and wacky prints so if I ever got into designing I’d be sure to incorporate that.

"For me as a wheelchair user it all comes down to how things look when I’m seated, things don’t always fit as nice in the chair. I also find buttons and things like that a little tricky because the dexterity in my hands isn't so great, so that’s always something to consider", she says.

She hopes to model for Zara and G-Star Raw - and I'm sure she will be noticed by those brands and more. She continues to make opportunities happen by telling her story, not through fashion but words - using her blog and Youtube channel () to change people's perceptions of disability.

Robyn isn't the only Australian to rock the fashion world this week.

On Saturday, Madeline Stuart will be modelling in New York Fashion Week. Nineteen year old Madeline has Down syndrome and has been modeling since 2014. She told her Mum Rosanne that she wanted to become a model after attending a fashion show, and after posting professional photos on a public Facebook page, her career took off quickly.

This is her third time at the New York event - perhaps the most high profile of the fashion calendar.

Madeline Stuart at New York Fashion Week 2014

This fashion week, Madeline will model androgynous label Speechless Vulgarity - their clothes are designed to promote self confidence. The label's motto is "Be dope be love be you", which symbolises Madeline's self confidence.

With the help of her mother, Madeline told me what she enjoys about being a model. She loves meeting fantastic people and travelling the world. But it's hard work too, she says. The hours are long and she's on the road all the time. She has some frank advice for other people with disabilities who want to get into the modeling industry.

"If you want to be in the modelling industry you need to be really fit as it is very hard work and very long days. Plus you need to have really good self-esteem as it can be very critical."

The long hours and time away from home is worth it though, for the rush of New York Fashion Week. "I love it, it is my favourite activity, to be there with all the excitement is nothing short of amazing", she told me.

Catia Malaquias believes Madeline's success as a model is valuable for people with Down syndrome and their families, as well as wider society.

"Every time that a person with Down syndrome has the opportunity to participate in public life, they are challenging in a very visible way the cultural exclusion of people with Down syndrome", Catia says.

She believes that the most effective and inclusive representation of people with disabilities in fashion and advertising is featuring us with non-disabled people.

"In many ways, the most effective advertising simply represents people with disability incidentally alongside non-disabled people, as part of our society’s diversity."

However, like me, Catia believes disabled people should be consulted about the way we are represented.

"Fundamentally, people with disability should be represented authentically and the best way to ensure this is for there to be dialogue with people with disability about how they would like to be represented."

Madeline Stuart realises the importance of her work, too.

"I think it is important that everyone is represented in the public eye so when I walk I hope I am showing the world we are all equal. I am so happy to be walking at New York Fashion Week for the third event in a row. I feel that I am now a regular and have made a great change in our industry", Madeline says.

In the week that her own modeling career takes off, Robyn Lambird, also 19, is grateful to see Madeline Stuart walk the runway on the other side of the world. She told me Madeline's inclusion at New York Fashion Week shows other young people with Down syndrome that it's possible to pursue their dreams.

Robyn Lambird in a wheelchair
"I think it’s such a big deal because the of the lack of representation within our society mean role models for young people living with disabilities are scarce", Robyn says.

"As a person living with a disability myself, I know how validating it can be to see someone who has experienced similar struggles or who has shared a common identity."

Image descriptions:

Top picture: an infographic featuring diagonally placed images of Robyn Lambird and Madeline Stuart. Robyn wears pink cap, dark overalls over a print tee shirt, she's smiling and pointing to a Target catalogue. Maddie's photo is black and white, with pink highlight. She has long dark hair, with a black top hat, is smiling, and wearing a black and pink tutu. Black cursive text reads "Aussie models with disabilities rocking the fashion world."

Second picture: Target catalogue featuring two photos of Robyn Lambird. One is of her face and chest, she's smiling and wears a black tee shirt. The other features her in a purple singlet, black pants and she's in a green wheelchair. There's also an image of a non-disabled woman. Heading reads "New season active wear", outfit details and prices, and words from Robyn, quoted above.

Third picture: Julius and his mother Catia. He has brown hair and is making a duck face. She has long brown hair and is smiling widely, cuddling him.

Fourth picture: Madeline Stuart at 2014 New York Fashion Week. She's wearing a cream and metallic strapless gown with lots of peplum layers around the waist, frills on the bottom, and she wears silver face paint.

Fifth picture: Madeline Stuart wearing a black long sleeved top. She has long red hair and she's smiling. Text reads Speechless Vulgarity, and outlines NYFW details.

Sixth picture: Robyn Lambird sits in a wheelchair. She wears a black leather jacket, green top and black jeans. Her short hair is grey, pink and purple. She also has black glasses.

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06 September 2016

Launching my Patreon account!

I set up a Patreon account!

Through my blog and social media, I share personal lived experiences of what it's like to have ichthyosis and a facial difference. I write opinion pieces on appearance diversity and disability. And I provide advice through social media. I'm always so glad to know my blog and advice has been useful for people. I love doing it but it's time and emotion intensive.

I have been writing my blog and providing advice and resources for free for almost seven years now! In May I began to ask that if people value my work, they consider buying me a drink via PayPal.
And they have! I'm so grateful. (Your thank you cards are in the mail!)

I have now set up a Patreon account so people can pledge their support on a regular basis.
If you value my work, if it's been useful to you in any way, if it's made you laugh more cry or if you've used it as a resource in the workplace an education setting, please consider making a pledge on Patreon.

Pledge what you can afford, and if you can't, feel free to share the link and tell people about my blog.
There are rewards for those who pledge - social media shoutouts, handwritten thankyou cards, Skype chats and more.

Last week a reader wrote to me to say
"I would also like to use this space to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the food for thought you provide me every day. You have made me a better teacher, with sharper and more effective tools to tackle disability discrimination and teach my students how to respect others and think about their actions. Your posts are priceless."
A comment like that keeps me going - I was so moved by it.

Thanks for your support ❤️

29 August 2016

Overwhelm – the perils of living what I am writing about.

Carly Findlay looking into the distance. Wearing a hat, blue dress and floral top.

There's a funny irony in writing this. I started writing this in mid July. I called for quotes, did some research and expected to knock this out in an evening – writing from personal experience is always quick. Then I got so overwhelmed that I couldn't finish it.

I could feel the overwhelm creep up a few weeks before I became sick enough to go to hospital. My skin was constantly sore, and my head and face pounded with tooth pain. I’ve been overwhelmed because I'm an online writer, and also by seeing the abuse that’s happened to other online writers lately. I became agitated at what I perceived as snippy comments, and at people who invalidated my experiences of microaggressions (more on that in a future blog post). A few months earlier, a former friend had a public dig at me, saying I was too privileged to be severely impacted by my disability, and so I've carried the weight of that guilt around like a falsified diagnosis.

I felt like I was drowning in issues - some that people expected me to fix. Every time I logged onto social media, there would be another disability issue to address, to grieve over. Of course, I don't have to take those issues on, but there’s a certain responsibility as a disabled activist with a media platform to do so. I couldn't breathe.

And then, I did get sicker - a lot to do with the traumatic extraction of my wisdom teeth, and a little to do with the overwhelm I was feeling.

I voiced that I was feeling overwhelmed on social media. It was met with an outpouring of support (thank you). And then a loyal commenter reminded me to be grateful I have a platform to express my opinion (I am so grateful). She went on to remind me that being a change-maker is "not like we are in the trenches, or nurses in an emerg[ency] ward or nursing home, or in court fighting. Let's not take ourselves too seriously people."

Thud. I think it hit harder because I was already feeling overwhelmed.

I have so much perspective. I acknowledge my privilege and recognise that I earn a modest side-gig wage, and am working from a safe place. I'm hardly the light-hearted diary-style blogger I was five or six years ago. Of course, some of my posts are frivolous - I love fashion and I'm such a fangirl. And I must break up the serious with the light-hearted, so I try not to overwhelm readers with only disability and appearance diversity related issues.

But I take my work very seriously. I share my experiences so others don't feel so alone, and for my own benefit of course - so I don't feel so alone either. I want to ensure my opinions are informed, so I research a lot before writing. I aim to share a wide range of perspectives about disability and appearance diversity on social media - so readers aren't just hearing my voice. (Hence the amount of quotes in this post.) I also feel I have a duty of care to those I'm writing and speaking to - because some people are so desperate for medical and emotional advice, and hope.

I also live what I'm writing about. I have Ichthyosis. I have a disability. I live the discrimination and the ableism and the pain. I'm in touch with hundreds with ichthyosis and reading their stories can take its toll too.

It's not like I'm looking at or covering these issues from the outside.

I find it a little worrying that change makers can't put their hands up to say they're feeling overwhelmed. Self care is so important

When I see videos saying Mui and Hunter have a terrifying condition, when I see Jack and Evan's photos misused on Facebook, when I see hate speech below a video about little Evan, and an airline discriminating against a little girl with Ichthyosis, it hurts. When I see pictures of kids in pain in Facebook groups (well intentioned, of course), or their photos being stolen, I get so angry. I cry. I fire off emails to social media heads. I gently educate parents about the impacts of oversharing about their kids' disabilities (which is often met with anger, but sometimes understanding). I despise the way most media companies represent Ichthyosis, and so I rant. I check in with people to see how they're doing after they've faced discrimination. I recommend they see dermatologists and counsellors. I meet with families and individuals (this is a lovely thing!). I worry, keeping strangers' secrets about depression, guilt and grief, being too scared to face the world, even suicidal thoughts. And sometimes I even wish for a cure for this goddamn condition that's so misunderstood. And there's no doubt this impacts on my own health. These are my people. It hurts.

As well as stumbling across stories and photos in my social media feed, I receive calls for help by email and private message. Recently, I’ve been asked to provide advice about constipation that may be related to Ichthyosis, been asked to diagnose based on pictures of sore skin, and asked for suggestions about navigating love when your partner's family sees Ichthyosis as a curse.

I’ve received several requests to tell my story to tabloid media. And I was approached by several aid workers plus a journalist from our national broadcaster and an aid worker in Kenya, trying to reduce the stigma around Ichthyosis.

I endured some was some stalkerish, aggressive behaviour which was very scary.

I’ve also written a few articles on difficult topics - and was torn to shreds by a few people for doing so. While I don't expect agreement on everything I write about, the tone of how people disagree can sting, you know?

I'm not listing these things for you to say "what a hard life". But I want you to know the reality of what I encounter, on top of living with my condition - which has been incredibly challenging. I am living the things I write about.

Prior to my recent hospital stay, I took myself to the hospital outpatients to get some stronger antibiotics and painkillers. One of the senior dermatologists told the resident about my blog, and how it's such a big resource for dermatologists, patients and families. I told the dermatologists about some of the reader questions I've been answering lately, and they reminded me what a big thing it is, and that these questions make me reflect on my own experiences. She was so right. Perhaps what I'm experiencing is vicarious trauma.

Tara Moss wrote about vicarious trauma in her book Speaking Out. She outlined her experience of other people telling their stories once she had told hers in her part biography The Fictional Woman.

"It was a beautiful experience, if emotionally draining... I had not been fully prepared for the outpouring of support, emotion and personal stories from ordinary people."

She went on:

"I could not have imagined that from that moment on, there would be men and women telling me about the child abuse they had endured...there would be readers telling me about the relationships they had fled; and there would be women and girls telling me about the abuse they were currently experiencing in their own homes, sometimes in book signing line-ups, or on the street."

Tara wrote that she "couldn't switch off when I heard these stories as a psychologist or other professional learns to do. I did not have 'office hours' as it were. My exposure to this trauma was random and unexpected.

She also mentioned the vicarious trauma experienced as UNICEF ambassador in Syria - seeing children suffering (even being killed) in refugee camps.

"It's the little details that make you crack. In this instance, it was the reality that over a dozen small children had been electrocuted to death while walking or playing in a particular area of a camp with bad wiring."

Carly Findlay and Tara Moss

I acknowledge Tara's experiences of volunteering in Syria and my experience writing, speaking and living Ichthyosis are different. I'm not in a war zone. I haven't experienced sexual assault. But I live what I’m writing about. And people tell me their stories because I tell mine. That's such a privilege. But it comes with a cost.

The support for vicarious trauma in a professional setting is much better than that for a blogger.

I know others who are affected by being on, by living what they write about - they're from all types of diverse backgrounds. I know women who talk about domestic violence and receive rape threats. A friend survived a terrorist attack and is regularly vilified for speaking out. Another friend talks about racism, which is met with racism. The amazing young Greens member Jason Ball, who champions LGBTIQ rights was recently called a homophobic slur via the defacement of a poster during his election campaign, and responded so diplomatically. These people are I n the thick of it, too.

I asked my friend Dr Susan Carland, Muslim academic and writer, what it feels like to be in the thick of the issues she writes and speaks about. Dr Carland is on the receiving end of Islamaphobic abuse regularly – she decided to donate $1 to UNCEF for every hateful tweet she receives.

"It's hard", Dr Carland says.

"There are certainly times when I feel despondent, and things feel futile, or overwhelming, I think especially at the moment when it's not just anonymous trolls, but elected leaders and well-known media people contributing to the vitriol. I keep speaking about it because I think it needs to be discussed and also because I feel that often people who aren't Muslim are unaware of what is happening. And if people don't know what is happening, it's hard to convince them of the seriousness of the situation."

She told me what she does for self care.

"Having a break from social media, and the media in general helps when everything feels grim. Getting lots of sleep and exercise is another useful self-care tip, and spending time with the good, uplifting people in my life all helps and provides important perspective."

Carly Findlay and Dr Susan Carland

Another friend, Tarang Chawla, Ambassador for Our Watch, White Ribbon and safe steps Family Violence Response Centre, has been prominent in the media since asking a question on Q&A in July. I wondered how he’s coping, because he’s living with a sombre reminder of what he’s speaking out about every day.

Tarang’s sister Niki was murdered by her partner in her sleep on 9 January 2015. She was 23. Since her murder, Tarang has been doing advocacy and campaign work around the prevention of family violence. He tells me it’s "mostly it's an expectation of myself, than from others. I think that because it's so close to home, I find ways to do work that I think is important."

Tarang told me it can be difficult to be vocal, but his strength comes from the memory of his sister.

"Sometimes it can be really hard, but I think about my sister in life, her positive energy and that gives me strength. Behind every statistic about men's violence against women is a human story. Through my advocacy work, I've met so many brave women and children and they're inspiring people. It's the human element that always drives me. I have a platform and a voice and so I use it as much as I can to support bringing about the changes that will prevent violence."

He said he’s not so great at following advice about self care – he thinks he’s better at giving advice to others.

"Having someone to talk to is probably the most important. And becoming OK to talk about it, whatever that may be."

There's that modern-day adage of "you put yourself out there online, you should expect abuse back". I don't buy that. And the overwhelm I am writing about is not abuse. It's the expectation to be ‘on’, and the responsibility to serve the community well. I've also got a mind that doesn't switch off, with about 15 pieces of writing in draft, all quite serious topics.

Michelle Roger who blogs at Living with Bob also knows the overwhelm associated with living what we write about. She told me:

"We live it, plus we hold all the needs of those who write to us behind the scenes, those who write saying they're going to take their life and are at their wits end, That is so taxing and you can't just clock off. Plus the whole if you dare to have an opinion you get torn to shreds."

Michelle Roger and Carly Findlay

Michelle empathised with me when I voiced my overhwlem on social media.

"You never have to apologise for saying you're overwhelmed, Carly. You're a human being and entitled to express yourself including when it gets on top of you. You don't have to burn yourself out by being on all the time. Self-care is important and it's what makes it possible to keep going. Advocacy and activism is a 24/7 job and you are often holding not only your own personal issues but also the needs of the multitude who contact you behind the scenes, many in quite dire straits. You can't just clock off at 5pm. Not to mention the people who tear you apart because the latest article you wrote isn't what they wanted to hear. You do it because you love it and can't imagine not doing it, but it takes it's toll. Take care of yourself."

She also blogged about being ‘on’ - living it - last year:

"When I became ill back in 2006 the lack of awareness about any form of Dysautonomia was a huge impediment to finding a specialist and finding a diagnosis. When I tried to explain to others what was wrong, even those who I worked with in health, I was met with a lot of blank stares. With education having been a large part of my then job description, education, awareness raising and advocacy was a logical move as I became a full time patient. I have now spent years doing just that. Not only for Dysautonomia, but invisible and chronic illness and disability in general. I enjoy it and it is a passion.

But what I did not realise was that in becoming ill I was also assigned a secondary job complete with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and people would happily and at times aggressively, point out when I didn't meet those KPIs. It was clear I was expected to be ON at all times. And that my workload, as decreed by others, was increasing exponentially.

The problem with being ON 24/7, and I'll admit I did internalise that philosophy and often beat myself up for not meeting expectations, is that I am also a human being. A chronically ill human being."

Michelle, Tarang, Susan and Tara are all advocates of self care. It's something I need to take more seriously, and I have been since becoming so unwell. It's also been good to reflect on the work myself and others do - truly living it - and to acknowledge that it's important and has an impact on others.

When I was at university, I did an assignment on journalism and trauma. I learnt about the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma – it’s "dedicated to improving media coverage of trauma, conflict and tragedy." The website has some great information on self care, which could be useful for self advocates and activists of all types.

While I’m not reporting from war zones or writing about assault or murder, telling my own story and writing about wider disability issues carries its own trauma. As long as I'm living what I write about, I will take what I do seriously. And so I must take self care as seriously as I take speaking out about the discrimination, ableism and pain of living with a disability.

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This is what it feels like to be prayed for because of my disability. And it's not ok.

On a recent Friday evening, I finished work with the excitement of a weekend full of reading and cooking. I headed down to my local bookstore on the tram before going home. While I was on the tram, a woman offered me a seat. I smiled and thanked her but shook my head. I was only going a couple of stops.

That same woman followed me out of the tram, into a small shopping mall and down an escalator. As I browsed books, she tapped me on the back and whispered "I followed you here. Jesus loves you, beautiful. Jesus loves you."

This, no matter how well meaning, is not ok. Unwanted prayers are misplaced good intentions.

I thanked her and looked busy.

I could have spoken up and said its not ok. I could have refused. I could have told her strangers praying for me offends me, but this would have made a scene. I could have said I don't believe.

But I remained polite because I was shocked to be followed, and a polite response following "kind" acts like prayers is what's expected of me.

It can be hard to know what to say. I think, even if we do believe in God (or whoever), or demonstrate good values and politeness most of the time, it can also be hard to answer assertively. "No thanks" is what I can muster up but in hindsight I really want to tell them what I feel - that it makes me feel othered, lesser and pitiful. I wish I could drop my guard of politeness to say "fuck off". They've got no idea what my life is like just by seeing me in the street.

Unwanted prayers from strangers are not helpful. They imply I'm less than others, that Jesus loves me even if no one else does, and are self serving - making the pray-er feel good about themselves. They say I've committed a sin and need forgiveness. They put me (and others) on the spot because there's an expectation I'll be nice in response to their kindness.

I wonder, do people pray for disabled and chronically ill people because it makes them feel better about themselves? Because they see us as objects to be pitied? Because they can't interact with us as human beings? A friend said it's because they want to spread the word of God. I guess I can see that - I occasionally recommend a product I like to a stranger in the supermarket. But it's not the same.

After writing about this on Facebook, an acquaintance thought this encounter with a stranger was fine, saying I must have more faith, and that this isn't creepy.

I told him, until someone makes him feel lesser, like he needs praying to be healed, I would appreciate him not determining whether this behaviour is creepy or not.

He went on to say when I was young, I never turned prayers down. He said prayers helped me.

I've never wanted prayers. Not ever.

And prayers haven't helped. Medicine has helped. A great outlook has helped. Increased visibility of disability helped. A supportive network has helped.

I encouraged him to ask my parents (who he knows) how they were treated by so called religious people when I was born. How a church leader came to dinner and told my parents they didn't believe, and that's why I still had Ichthyosis. How I felt so othered at Sunday school and youth group because they used my lack of faith and my parents' colours to justify my congenital condition. How strangers in the street do pray for me and it's made me wonder why I need fixing. How, from a very early age I've never asked for prayers or pity, and have avoided religion - rather ensuring I have strong values and ethics, and a supportive community around me.

My friends with Ichthyosis tell me similar has happened to them, and it's been upsetting.

P said:

"I was recently "prayed for" for the first time. I said yes because I didn't know what else to say. It made me feel ashamed, ugly, like I needed fixing, sad, hurt, awkward, used. I will say no thank you next time. This woman implied that I was less than she was. I didn't tell anyone it happened."

C, a mum whose boys have Ichthyosis, said:

"I once had a doctors wife tell me "our family had been cursed" and thats why my boys had x-linked Ichthyosis she then gave me holy water that had belonged to a dead priest."

L told me:

"I get that too. Apparently 'I am paying for the sins of my ancestors'. Whatever."

And Tonia, who has Cerebral Palsy, has written a great series about the impact of prayers and religion throughout her life. It was a great read - and identified a lot with her experiences. Read that here.

In one post, Tonia wrote about how when she attended a religious conference, a staff member asked her to remove her wheelchair, saying "there's no place for that here", implying her chair is in the way. "The only space for wheelchairs is under the bleachers. Tonia wrote about how that rejection made her feel:

"There are no words in the English language that adequately convey what her words did to me. How they felt. How deeply they wounded. Nearly a dozen years later, the shock is still palpable. The anger that masks the hurt underneath is still quick to rise. To be so obviously dismissed, so clearly objectified and dehumanized at an event I had traveled eight hours and paid to attend made me feel like dirt on the bottom of her shoe. I felt unworthy to go inside. I felt like my disability meant I had to be hidden away, so I did not distract all the able-bodied people who traveled, who paid, who came to experience God here. I felt humiliated and ashamed."

Friends without disabilities have told me they've been the victim of unwanted, inappropriate prayers, too. The prayers have been judgments on their appearance and sexuality. How can this be kindness?

One female friend told me:

"I was 'prayed over' and told that my sins would be forgiven once in a grocery store. My 'crime'? my tattoo. so invasive."

A male friend shared:

"I once had one of those 'do-gooders' tell me that Jesus hates sick homos like me & I should be ashamed!" Sadly my knee-jerk response at the time rhymed with truck off! I would be far more measured in my response these days."

And a mother I know was taken aback when this happened:

"I was followed by one once when I was pushing my son in a pram. She wanted to make sure I was wearing a wedding ring and that I hadn't had children out of wedlock!!"

Kirstin, who also has Ichthyosis (I featured her here) has a different take on prayers. She wrote this recently, and I asked her if I could quote her. She said I could.

"Working at the movie theatre here in Tuscaloosa is for the most part very much like working at the one in Salt Lake. But, there's one key difference. I regularly have people (after reading my nametag) say things like, "Kirstin, Jesus loves you" and "I'll pray for you, Kirstin" or even my favorite "I'm going to pray that God heals you." I have even had one lady ask if she could pray with me, holding my hands through the tiny window at the box office, as she just...thanked God for how beautiful I am. For the most part, I don't mind these incidents, because it's nice to have those reminders of my Heavenly Father's love.


It makes me sad that some of these people can't see that my skin isn't something that needs healed. My skin is different, sure, but it's perfect in its own way. It protects me from cuts, helps me stay safe in crowds, and always makes me look as though I spent hours on my makeup. My skin is beautiful. And Heavenly Father gave it to me for a reason. So, maybe the next time someone says they're going to pray that God heals me I'll tell them...

He already has."

While I'm not religious, I really appreciated her way of looking at prayers and how she believes God gave her Ichthyosis for a reason. And Kirstin's is an example of religion working for her.

I mentioned that I was sore on Facebook last month - before the wisdom teeth and hospital drama. Someone kindly said they're praying for me. I "liked" it, to be polite really. A reader wrote to me asking me what I think of that pray-er. I told her I'm uncomfortable with prayers, but liked it out of politeness. She made me think when she said "but by Carly liking it, others see it's ok to offer prayers". Yes, that's so true. It's only a small thing, but I clicked unlike. I don't want to be prayed for.

Please remember that we often have a lot going on with our disabilities. It can take years to build confidence within ourselves. Some of us might not even be comfortable admitting to having a disability, let alone discussing it with strangers. And so to have people approach us, even through kindness, can shake our self worth. We are just trying to get on with our day.

What can people who want to offer prayers to disabled strangers do?

  • Say hello. Always say hello before launching in to what could be perceived as an awkward conversation.
  • Don't assume that the person with a disability or visible difference is suffering.
  • Get to know the person first, before asking about a condition or offering prayers.
  • Help in tangible ways. Ask politely about our disability (after saying hello). Ask how you can help us - make a donation to charity, take the time to learn about our condition, tell others not to make a judgment about the quality of our lives.
  • Never assume someone wants to be fixed or healed, or can be cured.
  • Never assume people have the same beliefs as you. Don't force religion upon us.
  • Don't take offence if prayers are rejected.
  • If you must pray for us, do it in private, and don't mention it.

What do you do if someone prays for you? Are you comfortable with it?

Did you like this post? Did it help you or make you think? Please consider buying me a drink!

19 August 2016

Language really does matter when reporting about people living with Ichthyosis. Harper's real story.


This article from Stock News USA came up in my google alerts yesterday morning. You can read the full text here.


"Suffering from horrible harlequin Ichthyosis."

"When she was born, she looked like an alien. It was very traumatic"

"Her bizarre condition."

Those three excerpts is all I took from the article, and I am someone with Ichthyosis.

The language used in this article about a beautiful baby with Harlequin Ichthyosis is so othering, pitying, sensationalised and disempowering it's no wonder some people with the condition question their self worth, and people without the condition are shocked by it.

I was so saddened at this language to describe one of my people that I didn't take away that she is loved, that she is oh-so-cute and that she will most likely have a good life with the right medical care and emotional support.

What are readers who *aren't* affected by Ichthyosis getting from the story?

This language gives readers permission to be shocked by Ichthyosis. It perpetuates the idea that we are objects to be gazed at, that the condition is shocking and

Awareness raising through tabloid media. Stripping dignity from people with Ichthyosis every day.

I asked Harper's mum Angie and grandmother Charlotte what they thought of the news story, and what they'd like the world to know about Harper, given the reporter missed so many details about Harper's personality and beauty.

Harper who has harlequin Ichthyosis and her grandmother

Charlotte said:

"I thought the article, except for a few mistakes, was pretty true on. I wish they had elaborated more on what is Ichthyosis, what causes it and that there is NOT a cure. I want people to understand that this condition is not "contagious", that these children (and adults) can have full lives. They are not a "freak" show, they are humans with real feelings; real challenges; real needs, just like everyone else! I realize that Harper will look "different" but that "different" makes her UNIQUE. She is a beautiful, loving child who will grow up surrounded by love. She will go to school and learn just like every other child. I think that but getting the correct information out, people LEARN about the condition and the challenges. I know, for my own self, I have been forever changed because of Harper. This change is a GOOD thing! People are curious when someone looks different and that is why educating people is so darn important!"

Charlotte continued:

"I think Harper is simply adorable and when she smiles at you, it warms your heart! I walked in the house the other day to pick up the two older children to take them to the movies, and Harper was sitting in her highchair munching out on banana. She saw me, smiled and then growled at me. I growled back and she got this smile on her face and giggled. It was so cute! She just melts me!"

Harper and her mother Angie

Angie, pictured with Harper above, told me:

"Harper loves eating, her new favorite are bananas that she feeds to herself. She loves when you sing & dance with her. She is the biggest Mama's girl ever. She will be dead asleep and hear my voice and wake up and start kicking & squealing like crazy. I ❤️ it!! If she had it her way, I would just carry her all day. She's trying to talk and ends up growling. Lol. She loves playing with her sister, Sam who is 17 & brother Jaxon who is 6. She loves cuddling with her Daddy at nighttime. Harper also just learned to shake her head no, it's so cute. She brings so much joy to our family and we are so blessed by her beautiful soul."

There's a gofundme to raise money to buy Harper a Microsilk tub. Click here to donate or share.

I was disappointed to read yet another sensationalist article about a child with Ichthyosis. But I'm very glad to get to know more about little Harper through those who love her. I really do wish the media would focus on showing people with rare medical conditions in a more positive, holistic and less pitying light. We are not here for clickbait, exploitation and sensation.

Courtney Westlake wrote a brilliant piece about the gawkers that Brenna encounters this week, and I think her response to "Look at her" applies to this article about Harper too.

Just look at how beautiful she is and what a wonderful life she has ahead of her. And look at how those who love her have written about her. There's optimism and appreciation and a real sense that she's a whole person, not "horrible Harlequin Ichthyosis". Her mum and grandmother's words will make a stranger more 'comfortable' about this rare, often confronting condition than the tabloid article I've pictured above ever will.

Language really does matter when reporting about people living with Ichthyosis.

Here are some things to consider if the media asks for your story about living with Ichthyosis.

Here is People with Disability Australia's guide to reporting on disability.










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