Mathew Townsend is an advocate, keynote speaker & environmentalist. He graduated with a Master of Environmental Management degree at UQ in 2016, before founding Nature Freedom in 2017. He is a regular presenter at Autism in Education conferences since 2014 and is passionate about creating a place for everybody to experience social inclusion and accessibility.

“When a critique of language that makes reference to disability is not welcome, it is nearly inevitable that, as a disabled person, I am not welcome either.”

– Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

At a recent advocacy community meeting, I thought about what human desire means in consumerism, social acceptance, privileges and status. Society has a lot of misconceptions towards people with disabilities and mental health issues, about what they ‘want’ to improve their lifestyles.

The problem is that we see a social outing as them wanting friends, instead focusing on their well-being and passions. Lots of people think it selfish and attention seeking. In my early 20s, I was mocked and bullied from college students about how lonely I was. They perceived I ‘wanted’ friends. That aided my anxiety and depression, nobody understanding me at the time.

We are having an identity and personality crisis. The selfishness and greed taking spotlight away from people’s needs. Lots of young people with disabilities are struggling to find and maintain friendships, relationships, employment, education and access services because they are perceived as wanting them. This approach is not seen as ‘needing it’, like everyone else.

The problem in contrasting ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ is foreshadowed by social privileges. Society’s attitudes, towards personality and culture, are creating adverse impacts towards people needs. Mental health, social isolation, underemployment, poverty, hunger, abuse and homelessness. These are the victims of a highly privileged mainstream society.

This month, I needed to take chances. I needed to learn learn from my journey as a social entrepreneur, working on my personal and professional development for 2020. It is seen as ‘wanting’, but I’m ‘needing’ experience, inclusion and opportunities.

I got rejected (two years in a row) by a fellows program and other small projects. These are a lifeline for my experiences. I needed to have the opportunities. Questioning my (dis)abilities, questioning where I am up to in my journey, is actually perceived as wanting.

Us – people who are vulnerable, who are looking for support – cannot compete against socially privileged people with high social status. Imagine this as a situation about the gap of rich and poor wealth. We talk about poverty and lack of taxes for high income earners, but we never talk about the social privileges. Of course there is a division between social wealth; how humans are accepted, understood and provided support (or opportunities).

For those with disabilities, it’s important to invest in their futures, otherwise they will fall into cracks of isolation. The reality of social class gap is true. We need to treat people with disabilities just like everybody else. They want the same things as able bodied people, but the difference is they need it. You have no idea where they are coming from.

In my experience, I had a lack of opportunities to access the same services and support as many other young people because those opportunities weren’t inclusive nor accessible. That why I needed the opportunities, more than wanting it.

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