Policing Disability

There are some things which people need to be aware of, both about policing identity, and about our community specifically.

Policing Identity:

Policing identity is not acceptable. People who self-identify as disabled may come to this from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, and it is not appropriate for an outsider to determine when someone is or is not disabled. The definition of disability is indeed contested, but people who experience hardships/require medical interventions/need accommodation or support/must make lifestyle changes to cope with something can legitimately identify as people with disabilities.

Disability is a complex mix encompassing issues of self-identity, identification by others, stigma, privilege and lack of privilege, the ways in which our contexts disable us, and the impairments themselves. Often, people with disabilities/disabled persons in UK usage have comorbidities, which means that a chronic condition which other people might not think of as a disability actually does contribute to someone’s disability, and could be considered disabling. It’s also important to be aware that things like chronic conditions come in many degrees of severity, and that identifying as disabled is very much tied in with self perception. Other axes of oppression intersect with disability, as well, complicating matters even further. Everyone experiences life differently, and something which one person views as disabling may not be viewed or experienced as disabling by someone else. That’s ok. We’re not trying to fit people into boxes.

For example, someone with well controlled diabetes might not identify as disabled. Someone else with well controlled diabetes might identify as disabled. In other words, two people with a chronic condition at the same level can feel differently about themselves. We believe in a person-centered model of disability at FWD/Forward, which means that we reject the confines of the medical model: If someone identifies as disabled, that person is disabled. End of story.

Policing identity is a huge problem for marginalized groups. Trans people are punished because they don’t match social standards of gender, for example. People with disabilities/disabled persons are informed that they are fakers if they receive government benefits,┬á but can still work. People who request accommodations are told that they “aren’t really” disabled because they can (walk/speak/hear/insert criteria here), so they therefore do not deserve accommodation.

Denial of status and identity policing have very real world consequences. People die because of this.

On to Our Community:

Our contributors and many of our commenters identify as disabled. People should respect that. Again, person-centered model.

People should also be aware that many of our contributors and commenters are not comfortable with revealing the laundry list of reasons behind their disability status. Some specific disabilities and conditions may be mentioned on this site and on offsite personal websites, but it doesn’t mean that these are the only things which affect that particular contributor’s or commenter’s disability status. These are personal matters, and people may keep them concealed to maintain anonymity, for personal safety, because they do not feel like discussing all of the nuances of their disability status, and for many other reasons.

Demanding that contributors or fellow commenters reveal why they consider themselves disabled and provide a list of all their personal medical information to support their identity is not acceptable. A huge part of the reason why people have so much difficulty owning their disability status, asking for accommodations, and accepting that they may face limitations due to their disabilities is the policing of status, the idea that one can be “not disabled enough” or simply “not disabled” in the eyes of other people. It is never appropriate to demand credentials from someone for “proof” of identity.

Over the coming weeks and months, you will probably learn more about some specific issues which contributors and commenters here face, and in some cases, how these individuals came to identify as disabled. But don’t assume that these are the only issues faced by our contributors and commenters, and don’t assume, ever, that you have the right to police someone’s identity.

10 thoughts on “Policing Disability

  1. Wow, I feel like this was maybe in response to a bunch of people here doing these things and that makes me sad and angry. Thanks for saying all of this so upfront, and for clearly moderating comments so well across the board!
    .-= Rosemary┬┤s last blog ..Blahblah =-.

  2. I love this, and I hope you haven’t had to read too much ableist garbage. (I apologize for my use of an ableist word in the recent Chatterday thread – it was done without thinking, as I’ve called all 3 of my dogs and everyone in my life (including me) that for a long time. I hope I didn’t offend anyone. I remember after posting, going oh did I say X? I hope not. I know what I should have said, and I am working on it – I just found this blog, this issue.)

    The RL versions of these rock my socks! I had a 504 in middle and high school, and after immediate issues were taken care of, I still needed the 504. Basically, I could flaunt the rules when I felt like it. Of course, I never did and felt horrible about when I had to. I’m in college now, and the only one who *need* to know why I have a file at Student Disability Services is the man I meet with. (Forgot his title, keep forgetting his name, whoops.)

    So I took (and will take) a piece of paper saying I had a file with SDS and needed accommodations, if problems arise. Very vague – just a contingency plan in case things go haywire. My professors did not need to know why I ran out of class to answer my phone, or missed classes (though I usually gave a simple description of the symptoms without the cause – I overshare A LOT and worry about you know, someone saying “You’re not sick” and penalizing me for whatever. I worry a lot.)
    .-= Kaitlyn┬┤s last blog .."Responding to your message" =-.

  3. I’m concerned to hear about the disablism that must be behind this. I hope that the commentators involved are OK – and that’s a great response. I hope the people at fault are set straight by that.

    Identity is never simple or straightforward, especially in such a socially constructed category as disability. But I believe that *anyone* who identifies as disabled must be accepted as such, in our community. If a person has faced the oppression that constitutes disability, they are a disabled person. Disability is not about the impairment or ‘condition’ so much as it is about our shared experience of oppression. We stand united in that experience.
    .-= Naomi (lilwatchergirl)┬┤s last blog ..Instant Access: Missing the Tangible =-.

  4. Very well said. Like Kaitlyn I tend to overshare (want to hear about my mental condition? I@ll tell you) but it’s not for everyone.

    In my day to day life I’m a trade union activist and representative, and you should hear some of my stries about deealing with people who do feel they have the right to police someone’s access to accomodations. They freeze the blood.

  5. Just so we’re clear, this post was not written in response to any particular thing or person, it’s a site policy issue which we wanted to make clear in case this happened in the future. Since policing of disability status is unfortunately extremely common and because members of non-marginalized groups often attack safe spaces established by marginalized groups, we wanted to make sure that we were on the record on this, for the protection of ourselves and our community.

  6. Thank you very much; this makes this space infinitely safer for me to be in.

    I say I have autism – Asperger’s specifically. However, that’s not diagnosed. (Currently trying to get it diagnosed and have been for about a year, figured it out around four years before that.) The first two sentences get me attacked like nothing else in so many places online. I can’t even describe what it’s done to my psyche over the last five years; I think at this point I will never be rid of the reflexive massively defensive reaction. I honestly *expect* to be mocked and belittled in incredibly hurtful ways any time I bring it up.

    It’s immensely frustrating because… for one, it’s so strange, I have all these symptoms. That seem to match up exactly with the symptoms you could expect from AS! In fact, viewed through the lens of autism they suddenly all become a cohesive sense-making whole instead of a lot of random stuff that’s wrong with me for no explicable reason (and yes, I am using that language intentionally, because that is what I thought before I figured out the AS thing). And, even more oddly, these symptoms make me *quite* disabled by my society. But somehow I’m not supposed to talk about this, or only talk about them in isolation. Alternatively, if I do use the word AS, I’m obligated to explain all of these, everything that makes me think AS fits (sometimes quite private, painful things) to any random stranger who asks and let them be the final arbiter of whether or not this should be allowed.

    (Exception? The autistic blogosphere. How odd that that’s the one place I’ve never been asked about my diagnosis, don’t you think?)

    For another, the whole focus on diagnosis is -ist in *so many* ways I cannot even begin to describe it. (I have this sneaking suspicion that it’s -ist in almost /every/ way – the “standard picture” of the autistic person is of the cis white not-otherwise-disabled (I need to see if I can dig up the study I found about children who stutter having lower rates of diagnosis for AS, ADHD, and similar disabilities because it all gets blamed on the stutter) etc. etc. boy or young man. The further you deviate from that, the less likely you were to be diagnosed in childhood and the harder it will be for you to /get diagnosed/. And I don’t think this is unique to autism.) I’ve seen the reaction “well why don’t you just go to a doctor and get checked out?” and it just beggars belief. Both because of the sheer ignorance of thinking that’s a “just”, and also because they don’t seem to understand that there can be valid and powerful reasons why you might not want to get one, or that “so that I can say I have AS online” shouldn’t be a good reason *to* get one.

    Er, to reiterate. Thank you so much for doing this.
    .-= Kaz┬┤s last blog ..fuck you ubuntu so very much =-.

  7. Thank you. I ran into this about a week ago on someone else’s blog and it just astounded me. The blogger’s point was made without giving her (I think it was her, please forgive me if I’m wrong) entire medical history, and quite possibly made BETTER without that, as nobody could say, “Oh, only people with x deal with this, it’s no big deal.”

    And yet someone had the sheer AUDACITY to ask the blogger to tell them what was “wrong” with her! Fortunately someone far more articulate than I am told that commenter the essentials of what you posted: that it was none of their business, that she shared what she wanted to, and that she’s not public property or in any other way obligated to answer a question that is so personal.

    Thank you for laying this out BEFORE it became a problem.

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