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