Get-hooked September 6, 2021
Crip Time: How Stripping a Malaysian Athlete of His Gold Medal in the Paralympics Reveals the Ableist Nature of Time.
Time is an illusion, said Albert Einstein.
When the International Paralympics Committee stripped a Malaysian athlete of his gold medal, there was much to be said on what actually happened. Shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli won gold in the F20 class was said to be three minutes late to the event. An announcement was made that Zolkefli says he didn’t hear or was in a language he didn’t understand. He was allowed to compete as he had a “logical reason” but later after winning the gold a referee dismissed it. There are two blatant errors in this incident.
- On being late the event organisers and the referees allowed Zolkefli to compete without scrutinising the reason, then turned their decision after he won the gold.
- An event as big as the Paralympics did not seem to keep in mind the needs of the athletes coming to compete- be it language or something as common as time.
It is not in our power to know and comment on who is at fault, but what we can look at is that even institutions built to empower people with disabilities end up conforming to ableist procedures of Time. The famous moving train example has shown us how we see the world depends a lot on a person’s frame of reference. While the entire world moves to the rhythm of the clock, the onomatopoeia doesn’t ring the same for everyone. We are talking about Crip Time.
Crip Time according to Allison Kafer, author of Feminist, Queer, Crip says “rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.”
It is empowering when something as omnipresent as Time can be controlled by how one experiences it. Shrutilata Singh, Specialist- Network Support, Sense International India said,
“It has always bothered me how “slow” I am in comparison to “normal” people because of my disability. Recently I was discussing with a colleague about the Malaysian athlete who was stripped of his gold medal and I could focus on nothing but the reason of ‘Time’ they used to disqualify. Many people don’t realise, but time does not flow the same for us or rather our minds and bodies don’t let it.”
Shrutilata’s Experience With Crip Time
Living with progressive deafblindness I have realised Time does not apply to everyone in same way. The more I read about Crip Time, the more sure I become that I am experiencing it. In my own experience, I can describe Crip Time as my need of more time in completing tasks compared to person without disabilities. It had always been like that. I being a person with progressive vision and hearing loss lag behind or at time miss “deadlines.”
I remember well how during school days when my teacher would ask me to read aloud a text, I used to read really slow. I thought I had poor reading skills, but now I realize it was because of my disability.
When the pandemic hit and a nationwide lockdown was announced, we all shifted to work from home. I had no one who could interpret in sign language for me. It was difficult to fully understand whatever was being said in meetings and webinars. Some colleagues would type for me but this was not always possible. I tried becoming more independent by using Google Live transcribe app. I used to keep full volume in my laptop and would switch on live transcribe app on my phone. It used to transcribe enough for me to understand but again I needed more time to go through full transcription. I was never able to keep pace with others.
It was like if I looked away even for a few seconds, I would miss lot of words and was always 10 to 15 minutes behind the scene. It is very stressful. I was not able to give 100%.
But there are ways we can overcome the ableist structures that rule our lives. We need to simply ask people what they are doing to make the world more inclusive and accessible. At times even guide them on our needs and increase our efficiency. Last year in December, I got an amazing opportunity to make a 3 minute intervention at one of the Roundtable at United Nations 13th Session of Conference of State Parties that was happening virtually due to the pandemic. I was really worried about not being able to keep pace with the event and thought I may not be able to make a “meaningful contribution.” Through the support of my manager, I informed the organizers of the event about my deafblindness and shared how I need advanced information to be able to participate well. They responded well and provided me with all information about the event and also shared PPT presentations and talking points they received. It helped me a lot. I went through it all at my own pace and read it as many times as I needed to. It also gave me time to think about it and be ready for my intervention.
While the world was watching, I was able to do my part well without any worries though I needed support from my colleagues to understand the atmosphere during the event. Even though all the participants were person with disabilities and all had to strictly manage within a time frame, I was provided the support to ensure that I could participate.
We must also understand that not all people with disabilities are the same and everyone has their own needs. Time is precious but so is flexibility within it. If IPC would understand how time works for the athletes that come to their revered event, then maybe the fate of many athletes like Zolkefli can be avoided. In the end, we need to ensure no one is left behind.
Written by Shrutilata Singh, Specialist- Network Support and Sonia Gervasis, Officer- Communications at Sense International India.
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