Speaker by Various Artists


You, Me and the DHB: Your Tax Dollars at Work

by Emma Hart 3

Recently we got an official letter from the Canterbury District Health Board, telling us that under no circumstances was my son to become a train driver.

Now, apart from the fact that my son hasn't shown the slightest interest in trains since he outgrew Thomas the Tank Engine, this is patently ridiculous. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with our family knows that the one who shouldn't be allowed to drive any kind of large vehicle is my daughter. If there's a person who could shrug off a level crossing accident and go straight back to yelling 'shovel on more kittens!', it's my girl. (Trains are of course not powered by burning kittens. Not at all. Ever. But it should be pointed out that technically kittens are a biofuel.) I suspect she has a useful career in front of her, crashing UNIMOGs in world trouble-spots.

On closer examination, the ban on train driving (and piloting airplanes) is due to someone finally noticing that four years ago my son was diagnosed with a mild form of colour-blindness. Not classic red-green colour-blindness (which I can see could cause problems for any train drivers also not able to distinguish 'top light' from 'bottom light'), but a problem distinguishing tints and shades at the blue end of the spectrum. So far as I can tell, this means he should under no circumstances become an interior designer.

Still, it's nice to know the DHB is so interested in protecting the safety of the public from the spiralling threat of colour-blind public transport operators. Except it's not colour-blindness, but 'reduced appreciation of differences in colour'. Put like that, it sounds pretty damn good. I think he also might have 'reduced appreciation of parental input into clean dry clothing and hot food supply'.

From a personal point of view, fortunately our son has no interest in any of the non-colour-blind professions. No, he wants to be a writer, so really our only problem will be feeding and clothing an unemployed forty year old. Though if my high school was anything to go by, he could have a profitable career failing to read numbers in front of science classes.

Colour-blindness is not the only under-appreciated disability. Lately I've been made acutely aware of my own. I'm part of a sizeable minority who go through life, our handicap largely invisible, struggling with a world constructed to our disadvantage by a majority so secure in their dominance they can't even see it. I'm left-handed.

Apart from school turning my hand blue, it's never really bothered me. But recently, my partner got sick of watching me struggle and ordered me a left-handed can opener.

I think he was a bit surprised to come home and have it narrowly miss his head, wrapped in brightly-coloured invective. Once the swearing consolidated, he grasped the source of my fury. I have to admit, it might have been somewhat illogical.

"Why didn't someone tell me it's supposed to be this easy? I've been opening tins for twenty years! All that wasted time! I could have finished It's Cold Eh, Let's Socialise the Health System: the Correlation Between Climate and Politics. You bastard!"

Now I see this discrimination everywhere I go. Why should a useable pair of scissors cost me $180? My butcher father losing the tip of his thumb in a bone-saw was probably because of the dextriarchal arrangement of most tools, and not due to his alcoholism at all.

In the midst of all these oppressive lift buttons, pens, folders, scissors and fracking can openers, it's not all misery. Turns out being a lefty may make you more likely to be richer, more intelligent, better-educated, more creative, and gayer - the so-called Freddy Mercury Effect. At least, that's according to 'some studies'. And the other day I was looking at a photo of Barack Obama signing books and it leapt out at me. The Senator from Illinois is a south-paw. This is something he shares with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John McCain and George Bush snr. As privileged as their lives might seem, all of those men know what it's like to be oppressed by a simple can of beans. Who knows how many times those men wept silent tears over their inability to find a left-handed cigar clipper or data projector?

At least my mother never received a letter from her DHB telling her I should be advised away from the manual-dexterity professions. And the next time I'm struggling with a tyrannically right-handed box of fireworks, at least I know my son will still be trying to work out which is the blue touch-paper.

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