disability liberation

To those of you marching today, I thank you. To those of you who wanted to march today but couldn’t due to funds, job and family requirements, health, or just plain exhaustion with this new America, I thank you and tell you that you are enough. To those of you who are neutral or happy with this new America, I give you the space to be at peace and also ask that you take the time to consider why many are scared.

Shout extra loudly for me, and walk (or roll) with the boldness of two people, knowing that I am with you in spirit.

Respect existence or expect resistance.

When fear of wheelchairs is really fear of institutionalization

Journalists sometimes inappropriately describe wheelchair users as “wheelchair-bound”. This is offensive, because it’s misleadingly negative. Wheelchairs aren’t a restriction, they’re a liberation. They make it possible to go places and do things, and to move through the world without needing someone else’s permission. Wheelchairs are absolutely amazing and should be viewed as positive.

Except — in institutions, wheelchairs are routinely used as restraints. (And sometimes instruments of humiliation and torture). And I think that is probably a factor in why many people find wheelchairs frightening.

Walk through the hall of any nursing home, and you’ll see people parked in clunky manual wheelchairs that they aren’t able to self-propel. (And which don’t fit properly, don’t have good positioning support, and can be very painful to sit in for extended periods). Those people aren’t being liberated. Those people are very literally wheelchair bound. Often over their obvious protests.

People in institutions who try to get out of wheelchairs tend to be strapped in with seat belts they can’t undo. People who persist in resisting that tend to be medicated until they can’t. People who live in institutions also tend to have some times in their lives where things look pretty good, where it looks like they’re being well cared for and that they’re happy and enjoying themselves. Those good times aren’t representative of what it’s like to live in a institution. On some level, everyone knows this.

I think sometimes, when people are afraid of wheelchairs, what they’re really afraid of is institutions. They’re afraid that needing a wheelchair means that those kinds of things will happen to you. They see people in wheelchairs having a good time and out and about in apparent freedom, and they viscerally feel like it’s an illusion, like it’s no more representative of reality than the times you see institutionalized people having fun and looking free.

I think that in order to teach people that they’re wrong about wheelchairs, we have to teach them that they’re wrong about institutions. Losing mobility doesn’t have to mean living locked up in a nursing home. Neither does losing speech or words or cognitive functioning. People with severe physical and cognitive disabilities live in their homes in the community.

There is no disability that means someone needs to be institutionalized and treated the way people are treated in nursing homes. No one should be stuck in an institution. Institutions aren’t inevitable; they are always a social failure. Institutions are bad; wheelchairs are good, and wheelchair users can live in their homes as free people and have good lives. 

Tl;dr Wheelchairs are good, but a lot of people are viscerally horrified by them. I think this is in part because people associate wheelchairs with institutionalization. They see horrible things happening to wheelchair users in institutions, and think that’s what it means to be a wheelchair user. If we want people to understand that wheelchairs are good, we need to teach them that no one needs to live in an institution.

Ableism. Ableism. Ableism.

[image description: graphic has a black background with diagonal blue stripes on the left side with the word “ableism” repeated over and over in small text. The stripes take up a good ¾ of the background. On top is an illustration of a very artsy colorful looking person. To the right of their head is a yellow artsy speech bubble with black text that reads “What the hell is ableism?” Below the bubble is a yellow/orange arrow pointing downward to the second artsy speech bubble that reads “they said having never heard the word.” “The Word” is in all caps. At the very bottom in the lower right hand corner, in small white text is the URL of the site: whatisableism.tumblr.com ]

Did you just read the word ableism and think to yourself “What the hell is ableism?” Well, you’re in the right place.

Hello and welcome to What Is Ableism: an outreach project dedicated to addressing the disconnect between the disability community and the liberal, progressive and left activist scene. That being said, really anyone who is interested in learning is welcome here.

DISABLED PEOPLE ARE IN THE STRUGGLE TOO. (but a lot of people don’t know that.)

Feel free to navigate this site via the menu on top, but if you aren’t sure where to begin, here are some frequently asked questions to help you decide. (Click on the link to find the answer.)

[image description: The graphic is a blue rectangle with a thick black border around it. Inside the blue area is an artsy yellow variation of the speech bubble shape from the main graphic, with a thick border around the perimeter. Inside the yellow shape, is black text, typewriter style that reads “frequently asked questions”. Shooting out from both sides is a long red rectangle that has two black circles at each end. On the left is a crown-esq shape on top of the circle and on the right circle, the same crown shape is on the bottom. Lastly, in the lower right hand corner of the outer thick black border, is (in white small text), the URL of the site: whatisableism.tumblr.com]

Q: What is Ableism and why is this important to know in these times?

Q: What is “The Disconnect?”

Q: What are some ways I can un-learn ableist behavior & language?

Q: How are disabled people at risk during a Trump Presidency?

Q: I want to make a list of places to donate to. What are some disability orgs/projects that I can add to my list?

Q: Where can I check out other disability related content?

Q: Why is outreach important and do you have any tips?

Q: Do you have any inclusive / intersectional graphics that I can use for my site and/or to print out for events?

Q: How can I contact you?

Protest in Berlin

Two years ago, at the Brandenburg Gate and all around the neighborhood, Berlin was celebrating. Festival foods, Glühwein, music, videos of the city’s history, people whistling “Wind of Change,” and – the highlight of it all – a wall of lights. It was the 25th anniversary of the Mauerfall.

Once upon a time, this country’s citizens, suffering deeply, decided to point the finger of blame at people on welfare, people suffering from addiction or disabilities, liberals, gay men, academics, promiscuous women, racial minorities, and non-Christians – all accused of “ruining” their country. That kind of bigotry literally tore their country in two. Hence, a wall, blocking them off from each other. A self-begotten purgatory, the legacy of their choices.

For catharsis, I went to the Brandenburg Gate tonight, seeking at least some semblance of the celebrations of 2014. Festivities in honor of unity. Healing. Brotherhood. The ultimate victory of love.

There was none of that though. Instead, for reasons no one seemed to know, the bank adjoining the U.S. Embassy was lit up in red – not its typical color, but fitting. Meanwhile, the accoutrements of peaceful protest sat in front of the embassy. Candles, posters, flowers. One deeply disheartened American even discarded his old passport on the ground here earlier today; it was gone by the time I arrived. Americans, Germans, a Canadian, and a Brit stood around, expressing confusion and shock. Just a few paces away, a street violinist (unaffiliated) played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” only heightening the sense of the surreal.

Nobody was confrontational. No sense of danger, no one in riot gear, just respect and good faith in everyone’s mutual civility, despite the political disenchantment. The beauty of a truly democratic society.

Tonight’s peaceful protest on the streets of Berlin was significant for another reason too. Decades ago, on this very night, all across Germany, there was violent mass rioting, motivated by xenophobia (Kristallnacht). Then, decades later, on the same date, the Berlin Wall started coming down. Germany wrecked itself with hate, suffered its own poisons… but then it healed. It took decades, but it healed.

I’m not sure what the road ahead looks like for America. But I have faith that America will heal too.

I wish the respective “liberal loon/y/ies” and “political correctness gawn mad” memes would die a slow, painful death (same for the “autistic screeching” meme, but that’s another story). Mocking people for advocationg common human decency is fucking ridiculous and so is making fun of liberals as well as people with mental illnesses or mental disabilities (or any disabilities for that matter). Liberals advocate equal rights for everyone, regardless of gender, religion, race, disabiliy, sexual preferences, age, etc.

As for political correctness, there’s a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Never confuse free speech with hate speech because hate speech kills.