Reblogged from Snatched XO with thanks!
Becky is a Sisters of Frida’s Steering Group member
18 Years In A Wheelchair
After 18 years in a wheelchair, I know what to expect when Iâm leaving the house.
I was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain in childbirth. It left me with an inability to walk and a low tolerance for stupidity. This is put to the test as soon as I leave my house. People stare at me like a hanging head in a butcherâs window (and then smile. Like Iâm some sort of âcuteâ hanging head.) People ask me if my arms hurt. But the best of them all is when people offer help and then say âIâve done a good deed todayâ.
I know what youâre thinking.
âMaybe they think youâre deafâ. That would surely be the only explanation for such stupid behaviour.
Youâre wrong. They donât. This is a common occurrence. And itâs only the tip of the fully accessible disability iceberg.
Imagine if someone came and picked you up and carried you away. Naturally, youâd be incredibly alarmed. So why do I have to smile and nod and politely decline a potential kidnapping every day? Iâm ârudeâ if I refuse the offer of being treated like cargo by a complete stranger, but Iâd much rather be rude than dead. And then thereâs those people who donât help at all. I could be sliding backwards down a ramp into a pit of hell and they would focus all of their attention on a passing cloud to avoid âÂ God forbidÂ – eye contact, let alone actually trying to help me. Maybe disability is catching. The awkwardness is palatable when I finally make it onto the bus and have to sit facing all of the people that somehow could not see me when I was wedged between the side of the bus and the edge of the pavement. I canât decide whether theyâre as bad as the people who ask me âWhat is yourâŚerâŚproblem?â and then pat their legs for emphasis as if I think theyâre talking about my glasses.
The bus is truly a disabled personâs paradise. Itâs like some sort of government regulated punishment for being disabled, in which you have to battle with a person with a small child for transport. Have you ever seen a showdown between a person with a pram and a person in a wheelchair at a bus stop? Neither have I, because the person with the pram always gets on without a second thought. THAT IS AGAINST THE RULES OF TFL. I donât say anything, and neither does anyone else. At least I have an excuse. What if they wanted to fight over it? I canât exactly make a quick escape. As for all the other people, please refer to the âdonât help at allâ section above.
I was going out (to the gym, can you imagine) and I got on the bus. The woman who had a pram in the wheelchair space moved it out of the way to make space and I went in and continued minding my business, my default state when wanting to avoid pity talk. Pity talk, for those who donât know, is what happens when the person sitting facing you in the wheelchair area feels so uncomfortable seeing you alone that they talk to you out of sheer sorrow. Sometimes, they even invite you to their church for a healing seminar. As I get off the bus, the woman moves her pram again to let me out. The man behind her must have assumed she was getting off, and the woman said âIâm not getting off, just moving to let the wheelchair offâ. I wasnât aware that I had gone out dressed as an empty chair, but you never know.
People interpret me as either being constantly lost, or as having a learning disability. I hear the words âAre you okay? Are you lost? Do you need help?â at least thrice a day if I leave my house. The answer is always no, as these people seem to only appear when Iâm perfectly fine, and disappear as soon as Iâm about to push myself uphill. It gets tiresome after nearly 2 decades. A woman came up to me and screamed âI SAW YOU LOOKING AT THE MENU EARLIER, DID YOU GET SOMETHING TO EAT?â Turns out she had been watching me in the restaurant and didnât say anything, kind of like an inept guardian angel. I still donât know why she shouted. Iâm physically impaired, not hearing impaired. But Iâve learned that most people seem to be tact impaired.
Despite the comical tone of this article, being patronised, pitied, dehumanised and made fun of every day is horrible. Particularly for a young person struggling to find their own identity and be acknowledged as an equal by their peers. This is the reality of life for many disabled people, and it shouldnât be this way. Next time you come into contact with a disabled person, treat them with respect and consideration. Donât hound them with your questions comments and concerns, and try not to stare so openly.
Disability: the Cinderella of feminism?
Many thanks to Jane Osmond for this repost from Women’s Views in News. We have also reposted Philippa here before.
Today, I wrote an article about the appalling situationÂ Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson found herself in recently when she had to throw her wheelchair onto a rail station platform and crawl after it.
I contacted Philippa of the feminist blog site the F-Word for her comments on this situation from her point of view as a disabled person: see WVoNÂ post here.
During the conversation, we touched on disability as a feminist issue, something I had already come across in a blog post written by s.e.smith. Smith talks about âintersectionality –Â the idea that overlapping and interconnecting systems of oppression are involved pretty much anywhere you feel like lookingâ:
âThe short version of the reason that disability is a feminist issue is that some people with disabilities are women. I know, shocking! But Iâm here to tell you that itâs true.â
This is something Philippa concurs with:
âI think it is basically the fact that if it affects women it is a feminist issue.Â Fundamentally, just like I think racism is a feminist issue because it affects women, feminism should be always advocating for people who are disadvantaged in one way or another.Â It is about social justice really.â
Well, maybe not.
As Philippa says, although there are pockets of feminist spaces that try hard to be inclusive, there are also those that are not.Â And this usually takes the form of a womanâs disability being seen as secondary:
âSomething that I have come across when I have tried to talk about disability in a feminist context is that disability can be seen as a âdiversionâ from proper feminist issues.
âFor example, if a disabled woman is attacked, talking about the disability aspect of the attack should not be seen as a diversion â it is a key part of what is happening.â
And, it seems, the biggest problem is also obvious â access. As someone with a minor knee disability I am hyper-sensitive to non-accessible places â lots of steps, long walks from public transport to venues and, as I get older, heavy doors that are difficult to open.
This also resonated with Philippa who said:
âThe other aspect is that in practical terms lots of feminist groups meet in upstairs rooms and pubs and, while I fully appreciated that they use those spaces because they may be free, and accessible spaces often cost, I also think this is increasingly unacceptable.
âI think a feminist group that does not take accessibility into account is not only NOT representing lots of women, it is physically not letting lots of women in.â
This is a theme that is echoed in the blogosphere. Â With this quote a Corkfeminista blogger with a disabled son, hits the nail firmly on the head:
âIâd love to join everyone for an evening of story-sharing at the Metropole Hotel [to celebrate International Women’s Day] but I canât, and why I canât is part of my storyâŚthe story of disability as the Cinderella of feminism.â
Thinking that electronic communications could help address this for those who find it difficult to leave the house, I asked Philippa if, in her experience, e-comms were an adequate substitute for attending events in person:
âDisabled people are doing some amazing campaign work online. What has been going on with Twitter in the disability community has been amazing: for example, it is really including people who might not be able to sit up in bed but can tweet.
âThe creativity I have seen in the online activism is brilliant. Also, a lot of the feminist conferences will have a hash tag, live tweeting and video-links which is good.â
However, Philippa does not feel that e-comms can replace the actual attendance at an event:
âI donât think âyou canât come but you can watchâ is an acceptable compromise.â
And, for the Corkfeminista blogger, the pressures of disability caring means that there is âprecious little time for online presence.â:
â80% of unpaid disability carers in Ireland who are women frequently remain isolated and unheard and the 20% who are men suffer the same fate for engaging in what State and society alike still consider to be low-status womenâs work.â
So what can feminist groups do to address this?
Philippa suggests the following would be a place to start:
- When planning an event, build in the questions surrounding access right from the beginning
- Donât assume you know what the issues are, ask disabled people themselves
- Include information about access in the press release for the event
- Â If you are planning a march, perhaps offer a shorter version or a different meeting place.
An example of a well-planned conference is Intersect in Bristol on 19th May.
Beginning with an open debate entitled âHow do we create a more inclusive feminism?â, the conference has been set up in response to feedback from groups who feel excluded from mainstream feminism.
And, in keeping with the theme of the conference, there is a dedicated accessibility page which outlines the following about the venue:
âHamilton House is fully wheelchair-accessible, with a ramp to the front door and internal lift. We are aiming to provide British Sign Language interpreters throughout the conference.
âThe conference will be live-streamed so that people who canât attend may still watch and anyone watching online (or anyone at the conference who does not wish to speak publicly) may tweet questions to the speakers during the Q&A sessions.â
âINTERSECT will be a safe space. This means it will be an event where everyone can feel welcome and respected.
âNo form of discrimination will be tolerated and may result in your removal from the conference.
âDo not use aggressive, disrespectful, oppressive or exclusionary language.
âIf you disagree with someoneâs ideas, do not attack them personally.
âBe mindful of peopleâs personal and emotional boundaries.
âBe aware of the privileges you possess and listen to people with other perspectives.â
Today I have written about only two issues in relation to disability and feminism, but there are many more.
As Philippa points out â how much more difficult it must be to escape domestic violence if the abuser is also a carer and could withhold meds, and communicating with an outside agency is difficult due to deafness, for example.
Then there are refuges not being accessible, the impossibility of fighting back against rape if you are unable to move without pain, difficulties attending healthcare appointments, the list goes on and on.
But in essence â how much more difficult just to be HEARD when you have a disability that makes accessing mainstream events and communications difficult.
Surely, as feminists, we owe it to our disabled sisters to make sure that not only are their voices heard, but that their physical presence is encouraged? Â Only then can we call ourselves a truly intersectional movement.