Saturday, November 14th, 2015 03:41 pm
So I think it's great when people pay attention to disability. But I don't like the way a lot of people (generally ablebodied/neurotypical) frame it. Namely, they divide actions neatly into acessible/"good for disabled people" and inaccessible/"bad for disabled people" then are smug about how
(a) This is good for "disabled people" in general
(b) This is easy and any decent person could do it. Sometimes with an added condemnation of the bad people who don't do these "simple things" and clearly don't care about disabled people.
(c) They are a good Ally to disabled people doing everything that can be done.

Except it's very rarely that simple.

(a) Disabled people's needs vary, and what's good for people with one disability may be unhelpful for people with another.
(b) People's situations vary. Specifically, finding "simple" actions difficult is often a hallmark of, gasp, disability.
(c) Quite frequently these people are acting in ways that are actively harmful to people with disabilities. Because they have a simplistic, self serving approach which is more about looking and feeling good than actually listening to disabled people. And of course like anyone who defines themself as an "Ally" they often get self righteous and defensive when called on their missteps. Or they are disabled but only care about people with similar needs to themselves.

Some examples:

The idea: there is a single, straightforward list of "triggers". If you care about people with PTSD/anxiety etc you will not only warn for these triggers but preferably avoid creating anything that contains them. In this way you are guaranteed to 100% prevent triggering anyone. It is entirely acceptable to attack and shame anyone who creates such content or doesn't warn "sufficiently". (though they may be forgiven if they describe the precise psychological problems that mean they need to create this content as therapy)

Why it's bad: while there are common triggers it makes sense to warn for, the list of possible triggers is literally everything.Including having to add warnings, publicly discussing one's trauma, or being yelled at. In fact these triggers are common enough that I personally think it's ableist to not take them into account.
But we have to accept that it is impossible to not trigger some people some of the time. The best we can do is be compassionate and try to make things easier for as many people as possible.

The idea: there is a single, straightforward list of "ableist language", and that each word can simply be replaced with a "non ableist" synonym with no further thought. Anyone who doesn't do this is ableist.

Why it's bad: The words given generally are ableist in at least some contexts, and people would generally benefit from thinking about their use. But the general/worst/historical meaning of a word is much less important than the meaning in context. And if the underlying meaning of the sentence is ableist then replacing one word won't fix that. See this post which is also inaccessible and ableist in other ways and this example of ableism being treated as the only "ism" where all you need to worry about is language.

The idea: There is a simple, straightforward list of "food intolerances". Cater to these and your food is now edible by everyone!

Why it's wrong: Every food is a problem for someone. It's good to offer options and information, and in some contexts avoid the more common food triggers. But if you wholesale replace food X with food Y you are going to make life harder for the people who can eat X and not Y. If you think of food as being "high allergen" and "low allergen" you are going to harm people who happen to have issues with something in the "low allergen" food. Signed, someone who can eat wheat but not most gluten free food, and found this article about a restaurant removing 'allergens' without telling anyone a little horrifying.

The idea: Any time a disabled people person's disability becomes relevant to a conflict they are automatically 100% in the right and must be catered to with no caveats. The one possible exception is if they are Abusive with a capital A or otherwise clearly in the wrong, in which case their disability can be ignored entirely.

Why it's bad: Disabled people can be jerks! And wrong! And sometimes we get into conflicts with other disabled people. But even when we're in the wrong, entirely or just to some extent, our disability is still relevant and still needs to be taken into account. Navigating this is incredibly complex.

The Idea: There is a single Best Social Justice Action Everyone Should Take, and anyone who claims not to be able to do it due to disability is lying/privileged etc. Similarly, there is a single Proper Social Justice Emotional Reaction and anyone who reacts differently is lying/privileged etc.

Why it's bad: Disability doesn't work that way. For a mixture of this and the above, see this post arguing that panic attacks are a good and helpful reaction to injustice.

The Idea: there is a simple, universally applicable set of Thing You Should Do To Cater To People With X Disability. Everyone should do this for everyone with X disability.

Why this is wrong: Not everyone with X disability will want the same thing. And regardless, not everyone who knows them will be able to give them everything they need. A lot of the posts about "how to help your friends with depression" have been very upsetting to me as someone with depression who also has friends and family with depression. I don't want all those things, and can't always do them for the people I care about whether they want them or not.

The Idea: there is a simple, universally applicable set of Thing You Should Do To Cater To People With Any Disability. Everyone should do this, and once it's done
then you've reached complete accessibility.

Why this is wrong: There are SO MANY disabilities, often with competing needs. It is literally impossible to accomodate them all. The best we can do is the more achievable, widely useful accomodations like ramps, image descriptions etc (nb opinions vary on which of these to prioritise), and pay attention to the specific needs of the specific people we're dealing with.

Ok that's all that comes to mind for now, though I'm sure there was something else I was thinking of.


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