2017 was a year of immense personal challenge, growth, and a few big mistakes that I’ll reflect on for the rest of my life.
Starting the year; I found myself unemployed and very much ‘on the outer’ of the disability sector. After over three-years of giving everything I had as a public speaker, communications guru, and general advocate for the rights of people with disabilities; things had suddenly gone really wrong very quickly.
It wasn’t a great space to be in. Being bitter about it was an understatement, I was bloody pissed off! It felt like I had been on this really good run, where a lot of people respected me, but the minute I went ‘against the grain’ and tried to have tough conversations, nobody in the sector wanted to listen.
Not only did it feel like nobody wanted to listen and engage in certain areas, I was made to feel like I was nothing more than a shit stirrer; someone who wanted attention by being deliberately hostile and controversial. That made me frustrated, and very resentful to more than a handful of people. I learnt quickly who my friends were, and who weren’t, but it got to a point where I lost confidence in myself as an advocate. I started believing that I actually was just a shit stirrer, and that led to a point of self-loathing that in turn led to some very stupid decisions in my personal life.
It’s ironic too, because the reason I had even been noticed in the first place was because I was a disabled person doing different roles in media and radio, whilst studying full-time. A few organisations heard of my story, and they wanted to connect with me. The big turnaround in fortune, from popular to hated very quickly, at the end of 2016 left a bitter taste in my mouth as I said.
For weeks, I reflected on the countless conversations I had with literally hundreds of people. Some of those people worked in organisations, and others were families and children that live life with a disability. Guess what I realised? There was, and still is now, a major disconnect between those two groups. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that this disconnect is as worse as its been for a very long time. Families are losing faith in the system, as well they should. There are only a handful of advocates who aren’t governed by an organisation, and I’m one of them.
2017 Year In Review: On The Outer
When I realised all that, I simply had no choice about where to go next. It all becomes quite simple really; realise that peoples’ opinion of me is out of my control. No matter what you do, people will take their own narrative from the things you say and write, especially online. Half of those people wouldn’t dare say some of the things that they were directly to my face either. Rather, they’d take comfort in saying it online by commenting on my posts and talking amongst their own group of friends, all of which shared similar opinions. It’s easy to do that when nobody challenges your narrative.
That’s part of the problem with the disability sector, too. Right from the top at Government, down to the community organisations, and even in some of the charities. There isn’t enough challenging of the cliche narrative that has existed for decades. There is no forward-thinking, and that leads to missed opportunity, because everything is so reactive. People in positions of leadership like to control and censor the messages about disability that go out to the wider community, but for so many of these people, they’ve been in the position for far too long that they’ve become short-sighted and too reliant on the same old systems.
You’ve got to own your opinions on things; don’t just say it because its popular at the time. The same goes for advocacy, and trust me, I’ve seen some so-called “advocates” in this sector shy away when the going gets tough and the knives are out. You can only be popular but so much. My gut instinct has always shaped my opinions and motivation to speak out of things, especially as a disability advocate. That’s why it makes it so easy for my critics, because they can easily question my actual knowledge on certain issues. But they also don’t see the countless hours of research, thoughts, and discussions I have about those same issues as well. That’s not convenient for their argument against me.
Where To From Here For Michael Pulman?
There are certain groups of people that will never work with me again, and it’s those same groups that I’ve got little respect for. In terms of “where to” for me in 2018… I am excited about what we at the Content Creators Network are doing. The TEAMPULMAN brand fits under that, and the beauty about it is that we are all just having conversations with one another. Unfiltered conversations.
Since launching late in 2017; it’s been a good run. Producing a live talk-show four nights a week is a fun challenge to have, and above all else, I love the interaction and the ideas that have spurned from that show.
The disability sector needs to become an industry. One that is progressive and proactive, utilising all modern forms of technology to work alongside the wider community. More detailed analysis about the hearts and minds of people needs to be had, and a National Register of disabled people actively seeking paid work needs to be undertaken. We need to be brave enough to broach subjects that go beyond just care, access, employment, and education. Those are biggies, I know, but these aspects don’t actually make up the structure of a person. Using the lack of advances in these areas and claiming that disabled people are at a disadvantage as an excuse is counter-productive and convenient.
There is little to celebrate about the state of our sector at all… really. A lot of it is nonsense actually.
I want to see a change in the narrative. I want to see people with disabilities in control of their lives in the present and the future. It’s them that should be making the policy decisions, them who should be leading organisations representing disability issues, and them who ultimately have nothing to lose and everything to gain by a big change in structure.