Are you sure you want to know what it feels like to be blackballed?

This story, my story, will deal with themes that you may have heard a lot about, and most probably, you can identify with some of the thoughts I will express. My story is not special and it’s not meant to inspire you. What I hope my story will provide is a pillar for change, because our community needs to change, or many people are going to go through what I went through, and it, in the end, it will kill them.

We talk so much, but we only do a small portion of that talk, and by no means is it our fault. The fault lies in many different compartmentalized ideals, those ideals exist at every level of community, and we all know exactly how to fix them. My story is not about the faults, nor is it a self-help guide for the next generation of voices for the disability community. This story, it’s about what happened to me, and the fault lies squarely on my shoulders from start to finish.

That fault is how much I cared, plus how much I wanted to do two things: make a difference and be popular at the same time.

Ideal One: Ignorance Isn’t Bliss, But An Opportunity

When you are in the process of discovering yourself, you often trick yourself into thinking that you’ve got it all together and figured out. The truth is, you haven’t, and you’re just as ignorant as you’ve ever been.

Sitting in media studies, fresh off getting some exciting opportunities that my peers hadn’t had the initiative to go and get for themselves, I think I’ve got the path carved ahead of me. But I haven’t. In the middle of a media conference, talking to Sonny Bill Williams about his upcoming boxing fight, I find myself completely out of my depth and I fake it through the entire process. Here stands a modern day superstar of sport, a man that I’ve watched on the TV for years, a guy that I’ve both idolized and critiqued, and he is standing directly in front of me taking my question. It’s at this moment where I think that I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.

During that press conference, I get a text message from my Dad and it reads “how’s it going superstar reporter?”.

I cruised through that first year of media studies, achieving straight A’s for all of my classes. I wasn’t proud, I was relieved, and every so gradually, my confidence and self-belief were growing. Another thing I noticed was that if you cannot control that confidence, you will quickly feel as if you are a bigger deal than you actually are as if you have a gift and were chosen for these opportunities. It gives you a sense of fulfillment and purpose, but at that time I was completely ignorant of the fact that I was lucky or in a position of privilege.

And then it happened… I get a call from CCS Disability Action. They want to share my story in their upcoming newsletter.

Ideal Two: The Opportunity To Give Back Is Alluring

When I grew up, I experienced the actual realities of what it was like to live in the disability system. The system is actually full of amazing people, almost all of whom have a resolve to help in some way.

I’d like to think that one of the reasons I said yes to being the feature story for that CCS Disability Action newsletter, and the reason I said yes to all the opportunities that followed, is because I wanted to give back. You tend to develop a close connection with the organizations that you intertwine with throughout the years, or at least that was the case for me. I both loved and respected CCS Disability Action.

The story is printed in early 2015 and is called “How Many Chiefs Are Too Many”. To me, every time I read it, this is a story that paints the picture of a disabled person achieving great things in the community. It makes me sick on reflection, because the disability, or the challenges it presented to me, actually had nothing to do with anything other than marketing the story toward a certain audience, that audience being other disabled people and families.

Myself and Sonny Bill Williams (January 2015)
Myself and Liam Messam (January 2015)

From there, it doesn’t take long until the phone starts ringing and suddenly I find myself starting a completely new career. It’s at this moment that I start to discover that ignorance isn’t bliss it’s an opportunity.

Public speaking is the best thing I’ve ever had the privilege of doing, the impact it has had on me has shaped the ideas that I have towards advocating for disabled people and it motivates me to stay true to what I’ve come to learn since. Feedback is a gift, but before that feedback happens, we often think we know the formula to succeed. Second, we live in a world where a quick Google search can usually lead us to the answers we seek.

Having the belief that we know what we are talking about is total bullshit and it is a stepping stone to failure. Feedback is the formula we should be taking notice of, not the end result of where we are trying to get to.

Immediately I felt a sense of belonging, purpose, and an immense sense of importance about what I was doing. So, what does a public speaker actually do? Well, speak to people, something that I had never been terribly comfortable doing, but something I quickly began to enjoy, at least within the confines of doing it publicly.

Speaking on stage, particularly to more than a handful of people, gave me a sense of energy like nothing had before, but it dawned on me that this was an art that I had already been practicing through various forms of online media. But there is a big difference between sharing with people in an online context versus a more personal medium such as being directly in front of the audience you are communicating with. The latter has a much greater impact on people, and for whatever reason, they find themselves present at the event you are speaking at, these people will often look at you as if you are ‘worth the salt’ of whatever it is that you share with them.  

In reality, I had no right to suddenly be sitting in front of these people speaking as if my story was something worth listening to, or something to be inspired by. But yet, this was exactly how some organizations in the disability community were positioning me. Why?

Part #2 Coming Soon

Michael Pulman is a Hamilton-based writer, content creator, and public speaker. Michael has a strong interest in disability rights in New Zealand and in 2016 was a recipient of the Youth with Disability Award. You can get in touch with Michael via email at mikepulman91@gmail.com

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