Tag Archives: exclusion

Disabled? Don’t Plan On Driving to the 2012 London Olympics

This post has been edited with updated information.

Here’s a completely bizarre policy move for you: Planners of the 2012 London Olympics announced today that a request to allow disabled ticket holders to use the games lanes set aside for athletes and dignitaries will be turned down. 100 miles (161 kilometers, if you must) of roads are being set up with a prioritised scheme to move official Olympics traffic along1, and disabled drivers don’t get to use any of those, although they might have benefited from the accommodation, avoiding the stress of traffic or inaccessible public transit.

The reason?

…it would not be possible to distinguish between bona fide ticket holders and disabled drivers using the lanes illegally.

That’s right. Because there’s a possibility that a person with a blue badge might use one of the games lanes without necessarily holding a ticket to the games, the organisers have decided to just go ahead and bar all blue badge holders from the lanes. This reminds me of a lot of the ‘fraud prevention’ policies when it comes to disability benefits; everyone’s got a passel of stories about ‘benefits cheats’ or people who use placards without ‘really’ being disabled, and thinks governments ought to move the earth to prevent even one person from falsely claiming benefits, even if the expenses of programmes aimed at addressing fraud far outweigh the payouts in terms of catching people.

We talk about placard panic here a lot, and there’s a reason for it. The media likes to devote utterly absurd amounts of attention to the idea that there are scores of people out there using disabled placards to get away with sneaky sneaky things, like parking closer to the grocery store. There seems to be a very common assumption that a car with placards should be viewed with suspicion because the driver is faking or someone is using placards for a family member of any number of other things, and the level of parking and driving policing that goes on in the media while ignoring other stories of far more importance and relevance is pretty breathtaking. This, of course, reinforces social attitudes and encourages media consumers to also get involved with placard policing.

It’s things like that that lead to decisions like this, where out of fear that a handful of people might abuse their disabled placards to take advantage of the dedicated lanes, people decide to just bar all disabled drivers from those lines after a reasonable request for accommodation. Including, I’m assuming people attending and competing in the Paralympic games, if the policy about the games lanes is taken to its logical conclusion. Which is, uh. Yeah. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Caroline Pidgeon, quoted in this article, puts it well:

When less than one in four Tube stations is wheelchair accessible it is appalling that the ODA have ruled out such a modest proposal.

So, basically, what organisers here are really saying is that they think disabled people shouldn’t bother attending the Olympics. For some people interested in attending, I’m sure that getting to various events was a concern, and being able to use the games lanes would have made it easier and more possible. Have an interest in sports? Too bad. Your kind are not wanted here. Which is interesting, since the organisers have indicated they are interested in accessibility issues; for example, there’s a discussion about making volunteering accessible, and their website has an accessibility statement. I guess accommodations only go so far, eh?

Methinks either the right hand knoweth not what the left hand is doing or someone has some seriously confused priorities.

  1. I would note that Londoners are already not very stoked with this idea; congestion is a serious problem in the city and many people are concerned that the Olympics will make it functionally impossible for people who actually live and work in London to go about their business. This has been a problem for other Olympic hosts, as has the very high cost of costing compared to limited returns, but that’s a different kettle of fish.

Recommended Reading for 30 August 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Venus Speaks: Despair

Now, I don’t have a good history with the social security office. The two times I visited one, I was brushed off. I don’t know if they took one look at a mostly able-bodied young girl and said, hey, she must be trying to trick us, but it sure as hell felt like it – they told me that I needed to apply online, entirely online, and that they were so far booked into the future that there was just no point in scheduling. As in they refused to schedule me.

And lo, as I am filling out the disability report tonight, not only do I lose the internet and all my progress, but I just happen to notice before it goes down that you can’t apply for SSI online, you can only fill out the adult disability report, print off a few forms, and schedule an interview. You know, that interview that my local office couldn’t afford to give me.

Those Emergency Blues: The Title is About the Power

Titles, in short, are about establishing status and power. Why else worry about them? They are utterly irrelevant to actual patient care and one’s ability to do the job. Insisting on their use can create an atmosphere of professional intimidation that suppresses the free exchange of information. Health care professionals expressing power over patients is definitely not a good way to create therapeutic relationships. Implicitly saying (or believing) the title makes you a better person or supplies you with definitive or superior knowledge about patient care is dangerous as well as destructive to collaborative relationships with other health care professionals. In the end, it results in bad care of our patients, and of each other.

Pipecleaner Dreams: A Modicum of Sense

Well, at least the Academy of Arts and Sciences haven’t completely lost their minds. I was appalled when I first heard that the TV show, Family Guy, got an Emmy nod for their song, ‘Down Syndrome Girl.’

Haven’t heard it? Well, here is a sampling of the lyrics:

And though her pretty face may seem a special person’s wettest dream. […]

You must impress that ultra-boomin’, all consumin’, poorly-groomin’, Down Syndrome girl. […]

ABC News: Too Special for the Special Olympics (via Patricia E. Bauer, thanks to Nightengale for the link!)

The problem arose when Jenny’s school district entered an agreement with the Special Olympics, promising to abide by the organization’s rules. That meant no court time for Jenny, though the organization won’t say whether it’s because of the oxyen, or Simba, or both. [sic]

Ablegamers: Bungie Punishes You For Quitting Early

The fear is that disabled gamers who need to quit in the middle will be labeled as rage quitters. Certain people’s disabilities can hit at a moments notice, forcing them to quit out of a game. While according to the statement Bungie is only punishing those who habitually quit, it doesn’t discuss how they gauge that. Is that a certain percentage of total games? Frequency? What?

What has gone so wrong that it has come to this? Has Bungie exhausted all other options before walking down this path? Not really.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Signal Boost! The Fight For Reproductive Justice

Some of you may know that most of us here are FWD/Forward lurk around at other places doing other things when we are not toiling on the backend here at the humble blog. I happen to spend a bit of my time writing under my actual name over at Change.org’s Women’s Rights blog as the Military Beat Girl.

Two issues involving reproductive justice have passed over my RADAR here and there, and I hope you all will humor me in bringing the issue here to you all, in the hopes that you will give them the appropriate attention, and also in hopes that you might boost them where you have the opportunity.

First: As you may have heard, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently decided to pull a Stupak and have collectively taken the decision regarding abortion out of the hands of people who may need to seek coverage in the so-called High Risk Insurance Pools.

[Action Item at the link.]

Basically, it means that, aside from a glaring disregard for women’s health, and no nod whatsoever to the fact that a woman is capable of making decisions about her health care, women who are already medically vulnerable. This rule cuts them off from receiving any abortion coverage whatsoever even if they attempt to pay for it out of their own already strapped pockets.

In short, they do not trust women.

High-risk pools are meant to provide coverage to people who have been denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and a slew of other chronic illnesses, conditions, disabilities, or diseases. These conditions could make pregnancy potentially harmful, exacerbate the condition, or just plain more stressful to an already stressed body, or even mentally hurtful (though, Obama has made it clear that mental health does not count, eh?).

s.e. smith wrote an excellent post about high-risk pools that I recommend, if like me you don’t fully understand high-risk pools.

Second is a fight that has been dear to my heart for quite some time. It is the ban on abortions in military medical facilities.

[Action Item at the link!]

Illinois Senator Roland Burris introduced an amendment that would repeal the current ban barring women in uniform and military dependent women from procuring abortion services in military facilities, even if they pay for it with their own money except in the case of incest, rape or imminent threat to the woman’s life. The committee approved this amendment and plans to introduce it as part of the Defense Authorization Act.

Currently U.S. military women in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, and the Republic of Korea (to name a few) are barred from getting abortions by the nature of where they were ordered to go. They are not available in military facilities except in extreme cases, and the the countries where they live have laws against them in most instances. The law discriminates against those women by first ordering them to a country where a service that is safe and legal in the U.S. is inaccessible and then denying them the care they could seek out if stationed there.

Further reading on the military abortion ban.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled reading.

Recommended Reading for 26 August 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Westborough News: Marines shoot calendar for male breast cancer research

They are the few. The proud part has been a bit more of a struggle.

“Most guys don’t want to reach out, don’t want to tell anyone they’ve got a woman’s disease,” Pete Devereaux said yesterday as he talked with fellow male Marines who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.

INCITE! Blog: Reflections from Detroit: Reflections On An Opening: Disability Justice and Creating Collective Access in Detroit

We would not just think about disability as separate from class, age, race, queerness, family, children, gender, citizenship, violence, but we would understand it as intimately connected.  We would think, not just about “conference and workshop time,” but we would also think about social time and what social spaces were accessible and how we would make sure no one was isolated or left out.  Because in our movements much of the relationship building, socializing and bonding is done in very inaccessible ways in very inaccessible places—we know this all too well.

New York Times: When Battlefield Humor Backfires (Extra Trigger Warning)

And so the doctor’s determination not to lose a contest of wills undermines the opportunity to have successful discussions about treatment. The patient instantly senses that the doctor distrusts and dislikes him, and this, coupled with the patient’s lack of respect toward authority figures, leads to a rapidly deteriorating situation, often ending in a discharge against medical advice — much to the team’s relief.

NPR: Administration To Appeal Ruling in Stem-Cell Case

The Justice Department said an appeal is expected this week of the federal judge’s preliminary injunction that disrupted an entire field of science.

Judge Royce Lamberth on Monday threw the research community into disarray when he said a federal law invalidated Obama administration guidelines on human-stem-cell research. He concluded that two researchers challenging the Obama stem-cell policy stood a good chance of success as the case moved ahead in the courts.

The judge said any scientific projects using human embryos required their destruction, which flouts a longstanding federal law.

Something More Than Sides: Dear Doctor: Actually, I *Am* Sick

Let’s completely ignore the actual health concerns in exchange for shaming a young girl. Classy. And let’s not forget the fact that, were I suffering from an eating disorder, this is not the way to broach the subject. I left that appointment feeling shamed and humiliated, and with no answers.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

…And At This Point, I Don’t See It Stopping Anytime Soon

Courtesy of amandaw I bring you this stellar article that once again rubs in my face how brilliantly miserable the VA is scratching the surface of realizing what is wrong with they way they even see women veterans. If you read along carefully you can even see the lightly sugar-coated condescension artfully woven in TIME writer Laura Fitzpatrick’s story. It really is a piece of work, from the dismissive way she re-counts the testimony of the “presumed” treatment of a victim survivor of sexual assault at the hands of a medical professional (because they NEVER do THAT) down to the detailed description of the very girlie attire of the staff at the impressively mostly women-run facility in Palo Alto. I crave to read the way a man’s shoes click-clack on a hospital hall’s floors in such a manner. But it is a very cliche description etched in the halls of descriptive-writing history, INORITE, so who am I to argue with the laws of good writing. I am, after all, only an amateur.

The news isn’t that the VA is failing women veterans. I’ve known that for quite some time. Really, I have. I have encountered some of the treatment described to some degrees first-hand:

I remember having to hunt around for a toilet in an ill-fitting paper gown at my own exit screening, past several other open, occupied exam rooms. I was the only woman there. They had no sanitary napkin to offer me and it was an embarrassing scene trying to find a place where I could insert a tampon. I was fighting back tears when I finally found a (presumably) unisex bathroom.

So My Dear Friend Ms. Fitzpatrick’s dismissal of Anuradha Bhagwati’s story, the one she gave as testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is ill-received. It isn’t too far-fetched for me to imagine the way she recounts “the ham-handed manner in which a male gynecologist, upon being told by a patient that she had been sexually assaulted, left the exam room and — presumably to beckon a female staff member — yelled down the hall, ‘We’ve got another one!'”. I can easily see the inept professionals at the inadequate facilities just stumbling over how to even grasp a way to provide basic courtesy to a patient who isn’t like them. And failing. Miserably.

The news here is that they seem to have no idea how to fix it, and no set, immediate time line in mind for seeing progress. Sure, Secretary of the VA, Eric K. Shinseki recently, at a forum at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, has said that he hopes to have the VA ready to serve 100% of veterans in 25 years, but what is going to happen to this generation of women veterans who are already being ignored? To the women veterans of the wars past who have been fighting for help all along already?

Because their concerns are already being swept aside. You can already see as things like their urinary-tract issues being categorized as simple “gender differences”, because women react to the desert differently. Sure, possibly. I’ve seen this intimated a few times. People looking to explain away womanly behavior in high stress situations. Oh! They didn’t want to stop the convoy! Well, why is that? Maybe because we know that women are far more likely to be killed by their fellow servicemembers than by combat in combat zones that they learned defense mechanisms, as confessed to by Col. Janis Karpinski. Women tended to drink less water, as little as they thought they could get away with, to avoid using latrines or having to stop roadside alone with men out of fear of sexual assault. And it killed some of them. If you remember, though, Karpinski was even dismissed as a woman scorned because of the Abu Ghraib scandal, anyhow, so we can’t win for losing. She was just ratting out her old boss because she got in trouble.

Some of it is true, though. Most of the VA’s 144 hospitals do not have the proper facilities to even offer privacy to non-men patients, let alone provide gynecological care, or as I mentioned above, pads. The TIME article notes a hospital in Salt Lake City which announced that it delivered its first baby this past October (the article mentions that its average patient is 78 and male), but the day after the little girl’s arrival they didn’t know how much she weighed (I cringe to think how much more they couldn’t provide) because they didn’t even have an infant scale.

Women veterans are spiking in numbers. They, funnily enough, are not the same as men. That means they are not the same as the average patient, such as that the Salt Lake City hospital are used to dealing with, and their health care with be different. Even if you line up the matching parts, the treatment for heart disease and blood pressure, to my lay knowledge, is not the same. The numbers have been growing since The Great War, and surged after we had the need to call the next one World War II. It took until 1988 for the VA to start providing even limited care to women veterans.

Today, women veterans in need of help from the VA are of an average age far younger than the average male veteran (for obvious reasons) and have different needs. They are at least twice as likely than civilian women to be homeless (with only 8 facilities in all the U.S. available to help homeless women veterans with children). They are likely to be mothers when they are. Many of them returning from combat zones — yes, combat zones, why do you ask? — are coming home to families and are more likely than their male counterparts to get divorced following combat connected tours. They are really damned likely to get asked if that is their husband’s or boyfriend’s shirt they are wearing, or asked for their husband’s social by a thoughtless agent on the phone. They are the forgotten in war. Doubly so if they served in a branch of the military that isn’t on the forefront of the public’s mind as “really the military” (as slave2tehtink has said, Aircraft carriers tend to not be zipped around by civilians, yo). Extra-specially so if you had a thinkin’ job, like “nuke” or “spook”, and your Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Military Sexual Trauma (MST) didn’t happen “In Country” (Iraq or Afghanistan), the only sanctioned places where these things can occur, you know.

It’s frustrating as hell. And while I don’t believe that the VA is intentionally forgetting about us, I don’t believe that they are doing everything that they can to make sure that it gets better faster.

And honestly, I don’t think writers like Ms. Fitzpatrick are helping. But maybe I am jaded and have been at this for too long. But the VA needs an overhaul, stat. Pretty words from the Secretary of the VA and promises that it will be better in a couple of decades just aren’t good enough.

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

A wheelchair user competing in a marathon, caught in the act of leaning forward for more power.

Photo by Flickr user widdowquinn, Creative Commons License.

Cathy Heffernan at The Guardian: Comment is Free: Stop stonewalling deaf jurors

When I received a jury summons a few years ago, I opened it up excitedly, conjuring up scenarios casting myself as a female version of Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, heroically leading my jury through society’s murky prejudices to deliver a landmark decision and liberating an innocent in the process. (I had a rather romantic notion of jury service back then.)

But something stopped me in my tracks. I saw that deaf people were included among “incapable persons” under the list of ineligible people. I was stunned. I’d just graduated from university and yet here I was, considered by the Irish court system as “unfit to serve on a jury”. What’s more, I was expected to meekly sign this summons and return it – in other words, agree to their exemption.

Dr. Rob at Musings of a Distractible Mind: A Letter to Patients With Chronic Disease

Then there is the fact that you also possess something that is usually our domain: knowledge. You know more about your disease than many of us do – most of us do. Your MS, rheumatoid arthritis, end-stage kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, bipolar disorder, chronic pain disorder, brittle diabetes, or disabling psychiatric disorder – your defining pain – is something most of us don’t regularly encounter. It’s something most of us try to avoid. So you possess deep understanding of something that many doctors don’t possess. Even doctors who specialize in your disorder don’t share the kind of knowledge you can only get through living with a disease. It’s like a parent’s knowledge of their child versus that of a pediatrician. They may have breadth of knowledge, but you have depth of knowledge that no doctor can possess.

Oregon Health and Science University: Racism Shapes African-American Women’s Views on Depression Care (via Racialicious)

“These women were extremely wary of most depression treatments and providers they associated with ‘White’ systems of care. Although they acknowledged that violence, depression and substance abuse adversely affected their health, discussions about health care revolved around their perceptions of racism,” said Christina Nicolaidis, M.D., M.P.H., principal investigator and an associate professor of medicine (general internal medicine and geriatrics), and public health and preventive medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Based on our findings, we recommend health and mental health providers endeavor to better understand and acknowledge how racism informs the experiences and perceptions of their patients.”

The expectation of being a “strong Black woman” also was a significant barrier to recognizing depression and seeking care. Co-investigator S. Renee Mitchell has used this finding to launch a campaign asking: “Strong Black woman – what are you burying, your feelings or the myth?” The research team also has organized several community depression and violence awareness events titled “Redefining the Blues.” An additional event is planned for the fall.

Kai Wright at Colorlines: HIV in Poor U.S. Neighborhoods as Intense as Developing World

The first is straightforward: Poverty and HIV are tied in the U.S. To establish this fact, researchers looked at HIV prevalence, or the share of a given population that is infected. They found HIV prevalence in high-poverty neighborhoods to be more than double that of the nation overall. Moreover, within high-poverty neighborhoods, prevalence among people living below the poverty line was double that of those living above it. If silence equals death, so does poverty.

The study’s focus on heterosexual adults is significant and generates the second important finding: that epidemics in poor U.S. neighborhoods are of similar intensity as those in poor nations globally.

Ames Alexander at Charlotte Observer: Advocate for mentally ill to meet Obama

“The president wants to mingle and meet and talk to people with disabilities where the law has made a difference in their lives,” said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a leading group for those with psychiatric ailments.

Cian O’Luanaigh at The Guardian: Comic superhero Echo fights stereotypes of deaf people

Echo uses both American Sign Language (ASL) and a Native American system developed for communication between tribes speaking different languages. The sign systems appear throughout the comic, both when Echo is signing and as background art.

Damn Y’all White Wolf

My [biggest] fandom is White Wolf’s Exalted. I’ve complained about it before and I’ll complain about it again.

I build characters because it’s fun and I often spend a lot of time working at it trying to make a person rather than a collection of attributes. Right now I’m working on a character who I actually have an expectation of playing and as ever I’m borrowing much from my life and some from various other places. This person is a rabbit (specifically this rabbit) shapeshifter with a very big hammer. Ou has told me ou doesn’t speak and I try to listen to my characters when they tell me things.

Also disabled folk can damn well be heroes. They don’t have to ‘overcome’ their conditions neither. I will try to not fuck this up too badly. Transient dysphasia and aphasia are conditions I have personal experience with but not full-time.

Thing is: Because I’m making a new character I’m taking an enormous hit on experience and power — the character I’ve been playing has more than twice as many experience points as the GM is giving me for my rabbit person. Ouch. (But I’m getting to tell a new story.) So I may do something I’m not entirely comfortable with: Use the Flaw system built into the game.

See, you can get points to buy Cool Shit by taking Flaws. Some of them are okay, like being wanted by authorities or being widely known as a demon or whatever. Some of them are more problematic, like missing body parts, mental illnesses, communication and sensory impairments.

Here’s the one for not speaking:

Mute
Cost: 1 pt. or 4 pts.
Your character is unable to speak normally. For one bonus point, the character is simply unable to speak above a whisper, while complete dumbness1 grants four bonus points. A character with the one-point version automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks that require public speaking but faces no penalty on social attacks as long as his target can hear him, which requires the target’s player to succeed on a (Perception + Awareness) roll at difficulty 2.

A character with the four-point version of the Flaw automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks based on verbal communication and suffers a -5 penalty on all social attack rolls made for her unless the attack expressly has no verbal component. While there is no universal sign language in the Age of Sorrows, the character and her allies can communicate through an informal sign language if each of them commits one Linguistics slot to it.

Just kind of as an aside they tell us there are no widely-known gestural or tactile languages. None. There aren’t regional languages even. Anyone wanting to use one has to make up their own and teach it to whomever they want to communicate with. Deaf people wanting to build a community are going to have a tricky time of it in canon Exalted.

Sometimes I hate my game. I could use those four bonus points but that’s some horrible shit. But not using this mechanic isn’t going to make it disappear from the game either (there’s another player whose character made use of it — as a hot blind assassin chick). The casual disablism is not exactly unusual for gaming (and this isn’t even the worst example of disablism ((or casual bigotry)) I could pull from Exalted) where currently non-disabled developers assume a currently non-disabled audience and write accordingly. Because heroes are CND or super-crip amirite?

So yeah. I’ll probably do it. I’ll just feel icky about it. :(

Cross-posted: Aperiodically Legible.

  1. Hi there, dumb means does not speak! I have not missed you.

Go educate yourself (please!)

Image description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.

[Image via Tlönista in this comment thread at Flip Flopping Joy. Description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: “Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.”]

One unfortunately common response to marginalized people saying that there’s a problem is the “Educate me NOW” demand from “well-intentioned allies” who totally mean well, but they just lack education on these issues and so just can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

I am using the following example not to appropriate from the awesome anti-racist work that Jessica Yee and the fabulous Racialicious crew (and countless bloggers around the web!) do on a daily basis, but rather for two specific reasons: 1.) I have already talked about my personal relationship with this oft-used derailing tactic rather extensively, and could probably talk about it ’til I’m blue in the face; 2.) anti-racist activism and disability activism are not completely separate, independent social justice strains — many of us who are involved in these activist projects are, in fact, fighting similar (though NOT completely analogous) battles. For me, claiming an identity as a feminist disability activist has entailed doing my best to fight racism and white privilege alongside fighting for disability rights. This is because disability and race intersect in many, many ways — sort of like how disability and gender, and race and gender, intersect. In other words, this is not just a disability issue, or a feminist issue,  or a trans* issue, or an anti-racist issue; it affects many of us in the social justice blogosphere, if in differing ways.

The “educate me now because I want to learn, marginalized person!” response played out, yet again, fairly recently in the comments to a post on Bitch authored by Indigenous activist and writer Jessica Yee. [Full disclosure: Some of us here at FWD guest blogged for Bitch as the Transcontinental Disability Choir.] Jessica had written a post on white hipster/hippie appropriation of native dress and why it’s not only ridiculous, but racist. Makes sense, right? (If it doesn’t, you might be at the wrong blog. Or go read this. I don’t know.) Overall, this piece seems like it would fit right in on a website for a magazine that is dedicated to showcasing “feminist response[s] to pop culture.”

And then the comments started rolling in, and so did the “but you have a responsibility to educate people who mean well!” trope:

I’m sure this is in fact extremely annoying. However, you might consider that when people bring that up, they’re not saying, “Hey I’m just like you and I totally understand what you deal with,” they’re trying to make a connection and learn something. Ignorant people are a pain in the neck, but they’re mostly not trying to be ignorant on purpose.

I‘m merely suggesting that if this is a cause you deem worthy of championing, then you should have a prepared source of information for them—be it this blog, book titles, or documentaries. Encourage them to learn more about THEIR history and perhaps you’ll draw a new soldier to your army.

It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.

Thea Lim at Racialicious pretty much nailed it in her recent post on what went down, entitled “Some Basic Racist Ideas and some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist” (which I highly recommend that you read in full, by the way). An excerpt:

This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour.   In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks.  Like everything else in the world.

Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.

I completely agree with Thea here — and I believe something similar applies to disability activism. That is: Those of us with disabilities are not here to make abled people feel comfortable, to hold their hands as they have a Very Special Learning Experience (most often, it seems, at our expense), or to make them feel good about themselves. I, personally, don’t care how “good” your intentions are, or that you reallllllly wanna learn, or if you think I’m being mean by not dropping everything to educate you when you demand it.  While I definitely don’t want to speak for Jessica, Thea, or any of the Racialicious contributors — or for people of color who do anti-racist work — I suspect that they may feel similarly about white people who come into PoC, WoC or other anti-racist spaces and demand that whoever is doing the activist work must halt whatever discussion is going on and educate them, now, because they are good “liberal” white people and have such good intentions, and you PoC want white people like me as allies, right? And if you don’t drop everything and rush over to educate me, well, you’re just a big meanie who must not want my support after all (such “support” is often conditional, and based upon whether the marginalized person can make the non-marginalized feel comfortable at all times), or you just want an excuse to be racist toward white people! Or some other ridiculous thing.

For me personally, the willingness that I “should” have to help well-meaning folks learn is also an energy issue. I am a person with disabilities, several of which I have written about at length on this website — and one of which is a pain condition subject to flare-ups. Thus, I have to manage my time and energy extremely carefully. Having to explain basic concepts over and over again to strangers on the internet because they’ve deigned to tell me that they “want” to learn — and some of whom may think, by extension, that they are somehow entitled to my time and energy — takes work. Writing takes work; additionally, a lot of bloggers do the blogging and responding to comments thing for free, on their own time.

And sometimes, those of us with conditions that intersect with our ability to do this work end up burnt out, frustrated, or we lose our patience. Though these end results are often nothing personal, they might read like it, and we end up paying the price energy-wise only to have that person who realllllly wanted to learn petultantly respond with something like, “You must not want to educate me, then, if you’re not up to answering all of my questions!” and leaving in a huff. But they reallllly want to learn. . . that is, if someone else does the brunt of the work for them and/or gives them good-ally cookies for just wanting to be educated about all this social justice stuff. Merely wanting is not enough; you have to actually follow through for your good intentions to matter.

There is, thankfully, a solution to this problem: those people who say, or comment, that they realllly want to learn must take responsibility for their own learning. There are several ways that this can be accomplished, among them lurking on blogs for a while before one starts commenting, reading a site’s archives (and most sites have them!), picking up a book (or two), reading some articles online or off. Certainly, there are a lot of things that are privileged about this assertion; of course, not everyone has the time to read about social justice, lurk on blogs, or take similar steps. But what is also privileged is the putting the responsibility for your own 101-type education onto someone else — someone who might not have all of the energy, time and patience that you might.

[A slightly different version of this post has been cross-posted at ham blog.]

Recognition

Y’all may know I’m mentally ill. I have mentioned a time or eighteen. It’s a thing I do, talking about my experiences with mental illness and mental health care, trying to provide an anecdote to do with the data.

What I talk about somewhat less is having cognitive variations and learning disabilities. Which I do. Most of my life I thought I didn’t. I was never evaluated for learning disabilities; I got good marks in school (some of the time). I was not evaluated for autism spectrum disorders. When I was a child ASD wasn’t a diagnosis at all. There was just autism and the perception of it was really scary: autism meant kids who didn’t talk at all and had to be put in helmets so they didn’t hurt themselves too much from banging their heads against the wall and lived in institutions. Autism definitely didn’t mean anyone like me. (Even though I did have repetitive motion behaviours — my relatives talk about it a lot as a cute baby story.) When autism spectrum disorders did become diagnoses in the U.S. I was an adult and adults are rarely evaluated for autism. Or cognitive variations. Or learning disabilities. They’re childhood things aren’t they? (Don’t those kids grow into adults?)1

It is real damn frustrating. It’s hard to start anything and harder to finish what I do start. I would love to be organised but I can’t; when I have to put something in my hands down I have to put it down now and that means wherever I’m at and not wherever that thing lives. Sometimes digits transpose when I am reading or keying or writing them and sometimes the words I read are not the words on the page but I learned a long time ago to compensate well enough no one knew. I compensated well enough I forgot I had this thing that might be dyslexia until I started paying attention to what my perceptions and thoughts were doing. I have a lot of trouble communicating in person using my voice — I don’t process speech well and I don’t speak well.

And sometimes I am just not good at thinking. (Lately this has been a lot of the time.) It’s hard to even complain about having trouble thinking to my wife. She perceives it as Moira Is Being All Negative About Herself Again and she interrupts me with “You’re not stupid. You’re one of the smartest people I know” and I’m all faaaaaaack what’s the point? and I just shut up again. I’ve had this conversation and it doesn’t go anywhere nice.

Thing is I’m not saying “I feel stupid and I don’t like myself for it.” Okay there’s some of that I wouldn’t be me without some of that but it’s more frustration at not being able to do shit what is needful. I am trying to say I feel stupid and I need help doing shit. Please. Being smart does not help me. Being able to rattle on about how cool quantum mechanics was when I finally managed to lose the distortions dualism imposes on quantum-scale stuffs and wrap my head around monist models of quantum-scale mechanics is not a useful skill in daily living. In fact being perceived as highly intelligent whilst actually having cognitive impairments has been an enormous pain in the ass. People assume because I can understand quantum mechanics and high-order differential equations (and possibly most important because I have a talent for writing) I am globally smart and can apply that intelligence to any problem needing solving. Which I can’t. But I have trouble getting help because I’m smart.

It’s more than just “Gosh Moira you should be able to do these things.” It’s also “Gosh Moira you are so smart you can’t possibly have cognitive impairments.” And people feel taken advantage of when they do help. They’ll see me do something fucking ludicrous nerdy like building a reference document for my tabletop role-playing-game using endnotes and a bibliography in compliance with The Chicago Manual of Style. I can’t blame anyone for wondering why — if I can do that — I can’t do something that. Y’know. Pays? There’s a Voice in my head saying the same thing all day every day. (Most of the time it looks like I’m working on the nerd project I actually spend not working on it. It’s just since no one’s paying me to do the nerd project no one cares if I’m reading manga instead of working.)

Only rarely do I get any farther than “I feel stupid” before I get cut off. It’s exhausting, trying to get the rest of this said and heard, so that’s usually where it stops. In text — in a blog post — I can say it all at once. Nobody has to read it all, but I can say it. There’s maybe a better chance for communication this way.

  1. On my Big-Ass List of Shit What Needs Doing is finding someone who can do that evaluation and see about official diagnosis; if nothing else it would help to have to throw at the Social Security Administration for disability stuff. But some people who have known me a long time and are not unfamiliar with autism traits have said that autism is not inconsistent with my history and my behaviour. Even if they don’t feel qualified to make a full-out diagnosis. They include my wife — who is admittedly not all that objective but it is kind of her field (one of her Master’s degrees is in psychology) — and my general practitioner (who reads up on things her patients ask about when she doesn’t know) and the therapist I’ve seen, off and on, since before I met my wife. What with there being rather a lot of spite for people who are ‘self-diagnosed’ I usually write about the traits directly and avoid the diagnostic label. But I’m reasonably confident I am actually autistic. The Bad Self-Diagnosed Autistic Person who full-out claims an autistic identity with all the negative parts that go along with and is doing it to be an enormous jerk seems to be a unicorn. But I have seen hatboxen in fora like F•rk write hatboxish shit and follow it up with “i cant help it i got teh assburgers hur hur” which is yeah appalling behaviour.

Anger as a Constructive Force

Note: This is kind of an old post, but I think it’s still useful.

I’m sure that many of you have heard variations on the following:

“You’re just too angry. Your anger alienates people/potential allies and might make them afraid to associate with you! They won’t want to be on your side because of your anger.”

This statement, or a variation thereof, is often wielded at feminists, people of color (particularly women of color), radical progressives, non-mainstream members of the LGBTIQA community, disabled and chronically ill folks, atheists, fat acceptance activists, and others in order to get them to capitulate to some weird, unseen social standard that requires that they not offend anyone even as they fight to be heard and taken seriously, as well as for social and political justice.

There is a difference between being angry for its own sake, and turning one’s anger into action. For whatever reason, mainstream Western culture has decided that people who have historically been put down, devalued and mistreated by those in the majority should fight for their rights, but they should “be nice” while they do so. The messages that historically devalued groups have to get across, even if said messages are quite radical, should apparently be palatable even to the people who have the most social currency in mainstream society. What’s radical about that?

Anger makes people fundamentally uncomfortable, and I think that this discomfort often discourages constructive work. When those who need to express their anger, somehow, are not allowed to do so, the anger can become toxic. Instead of a catalyst for change, it becomes a symptom of a missed opportunity.

My own anger is something that I’ve just begun to embrace after years of stuffing it down and having it reappear at other times, often to my own detriment. Certainly, I may be too angry. I may indeed alienate people with some of my words. However, do I really want those who cannot “handle” what I have to say as allies, if I have to add, for example, rainbows and unicorns and puppies to my outlook on the world in order to make my outlook more palatable? No.

Anger, if used in a constructive manner, can be a great creative force. Most of the cartoons that I draw and have drawn start or started as brief doodles about things that make me or have made me angry. When I can create something that has been inspired by my own strong feelings, I feel much better and more able to cope with things such as my illness, and the physical pain and fatigue that come with it. When I take the opposite tack–that is, when I hold my anger in and don’t do anything with it–I feel worse.

[Originally posted at HAM.BLOG on August 7, 2008.]