I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks advocating with various people about issues regarding students with disabilities. (You may have noticed an upswing in posts from me about exactly this – now you know why.) Part of that has involved asking pointed questions about students with disabilities, and some of it has been writing letters to the editors, and some has just been sitting right in front of people so they – who I have talked to before about this – are reminded that students with disabilities exist and generally pay the same fees that their non-disabled counterparts do, so perhaps they should also be acknowledged as existing.
What I don’t think people who I am doing this for realise is that I am doing them a favour. And one it would be nice for them to acknowledge and thank me for.
Teaching people about disability-related issues is something I’m expected to do as a disability rights advocate. To others, of course I should spend an hour sitting with someone and explaining ways that I find the Student Union Building on campus to be inaccessible and offer them suggestions on how to fix it. To them, it’s a favour they’re doing me if I lead them on a two-hour tour of my campus explaining just the various accessibility-related issues that I am aware of, and referring them to other people I think would be helpful for them to consult. If I spend, say, an afternoon drafting up book lists or an evening chatting with them about accessibility in their space, they perceive that as something they are doing for me.
But people with disabilities are people who may, for example, come to your university, and bring tuition dollars with them. They may come to your event and buy tickets. They may present poetry of amazing beauty and cutting cruelty at your poetry slam.
When I, or other disability rights activists, or other people with disabilities who do not perceive themselves as activists, dedicate their time to explaining something about accessibility to you, they are doing work. They are taking time they could be spending doing anything else, and giving it to you, so that your project/event/blog/university/home can be welcoming to more people.
It’s not that I think people who are not disabled should never ask people with disabilities or disability rights activists to discuss issues related to accessibility and disability with them. But I really wish that people would, quite frankly, treat that as work we are doing.