Being “seen” is not easier. It’s different.

i wish that when people talked about the experience of having disabilities which many other folks don’t perceive right away or at all (often called “invisible disabilities”), that they would remember that living some kind of more-easily-identifiable-stereotyped-disability-experience (“visible disabilities”) is not, like, a cake walk or something.

There’s is so. much. shit. that happens when you have disabilities which others can’t generally and/or immediately perceive or can’t seem to “label” based in their limited grasp or experience of disability (a situation created and maintained by ableism and other intersecting systems of oppression, not by disabled folks who get perceived as such). i’ve lived with physical disabilities which others couldn’t immediately perceive, and the criticism, speculation and disbelief from both within and without disability community were painful. There are ways that being “seen” is equated to being “real”, and that has consequences on all disabled people. Being in disabled community spaces when your disabilities are not immediately apparent can mean being ostracized, not being believed, being treated as an intruder, being -ironically enough- invalid. It’s a painful experience which can make finding community and gaining access to resources, being believed and heard and understood really hard. It has a negative impact on individuals and entire groups of disabled folks, and it builds on ableism.

i get it, i do. i’ve experienced it and still do regarding some of / parts of my disabilities; for but one example, the mental health stuff i deal with. But i’d never suggest that because i can generally “pass” as a non-“serious” / “dangerous” / etc-mental-health-issue-having person, that life would be easier if people could see what was up for me, if people could see that i have certain kinds of mental health stuff going on. Because that would be an inaccurate oversimplification. Ask anyone who’s routinely harassed and assaulted by cops because of ableist(+) responses to their visibility as people with schizophrenia and/or who are autistic and/or have Tourettes, and/or who deal with audist responses to being Deaf or having other barriers to audio (for example at a public demonstration where cops are yelling commands and assume you’re just resisting arrest when you don’t actually hear what they’re saying, etc), or any number of other experiences. Not easier in the slightest. Different.

Talking about how everything is “so much easier!” when people just automatically know you’re physically disabled, how you don’t get a hassle on the bus when people see you’re “obviously” disabled (pro tip: i still get hassled), or how it’s so much easier to not have to explain why you can’t go to this or that event when people can see your disability (i still need to explain, if i get invited at all), or the assumed benefit of getting more sympathy when folks can see your disability, or OMG the “ease” of not having to worry about finding work (yeah…not actually beneficial or easy), or the presumed automatic access to disability communities (nope), and so on.

i find these conversations about all the “benefits” of visibility (most often without any acknowledgement at all of the bullshit that more often than not totally overrides any small benefit there may be in really specific contexts), i find those conversations painful and really difficult to engage in. There’s a reason for that, and it ain’t among the many presumed benefits of being “visible”. These kinds of comments actually mean something to someone like me who has and does live with some disabilities most people didn’t/don’t perceive and who also lives an experience of being identified as and treated as disabled every single place i go.

And let me tell you, with much respect and gimpy camaraderie, from someone who does live with visible disabilities:

It is not easier.

Sympathy is not a privilege.

Pity is not a community.

And visibility as a disabled person more often than not means

violence,

exclusion,

pity,

de/hyper-sexualization,

disgust,

spit,

babytalk,

sneers,

paternalism,

severe isolation,

fear,

no consent,

incarceration / institutionalization,

and more violence.

This. is. so. not. easier. It is different.

i’m not going to do ableisms’ dirty work for it and try to pry out where you have it “better” than me or vice versa, or compare or allow others to compare our experiences as though we are two sides of the same coin. We’re not. What we deal with is different, sometimes unbelievably different; and it’s also similar, sometimes strikingly so; and sometimes it’s overlapping. That’s ok. We don’t have to have the same experience of disability in order to be in solidarity with one another. But please stop telling me this visibility is easier.

i’m going to honour my experience and yours, talk about the differences, hold other disabled folks’ experience as their own thing, see what we can learn from each other, learn how we can support each other, even when it’s painful. We’re not the same, our experiences are not the same; mine as a visible gimp is not more important or more valid, and it sure as shit isn’t easier. It’s different, and i would love if more folks could just work with that, and could see how hard it is to hold my tongue every time these conversations come up, these often fleeting comments or quests for solidarity unintentionally at my expense; but that i do it because i know how fucking hard it is to live in an ableist world and to be struggling and just wanting SOMEone to get it, to acknowledge us. So please, acknowledge this? Acknowledge that we are not the same. Acknowledge that being seen as disabled means being treated as disabled and that when you live in an ableist society there are fucked up things that happen because of that; things maybe even other disabled folks can’t imagine. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean we can’t be in this together. Just the opposite. <3
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Maritime Labour Centre Audit Info

This accessibilities audit of the Maritime Labour Centre was performed on August 6th 2011 by the Radical Access Mapping Project, for Metro Vancouver Kink.

You can learn more about the Radical Access Mapping Project, find other audited spaces, and request further information about the Maritime Labour Centre audit here
https://radicalaccessiblecommunities.wordpress.com/radical-access-mapping-project-vancouver/

and here
http://www.maritimelabourcentre.com/

If you would like a space audited, or have questions about accessibilities in general, please contact rampvancouver@gmail.com

Maritime Labour Centre Accessibilities Overview:

Google Doc https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zi9oawYfDuVNc7ILtZnDqaiciyh4YDEeXD7Yeh8YDrE/edit

PDF
MaritimeLabourCentreAccessibilitiesOverview

 
Maritime Labour Centre Full Accessibilities Audit:

Google Doc
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AkEveutSlMoVdGRhS0ROUzlZM2FLUTRtOS1RaXdkUXc

PDF
Maritime Labour Centre Audit_August 2011 – Sheet1 (1)

ableism and the distance it creates

Was chatting with a friend today in part about political, community burn-out and how to deal with it. We talked about periodically going into hibernation, and what that can mean. One of the things it can mean for me as a disabled person is that there ends up being just that much more distance between me and my communities, and that is scary when there’s already such a divide.

It can already be really difficult to access the kinds of spaces i want to be in, to be part of those spaces, because of ableism (not to mention how discussion of ableism often gets called out as “identity politics!!!!!” when it’s just sharing real shit), and it’s not simply about them being physically inaccessible to me. There’s a culture of ableism that gets built up over time, one which excludes so many of us, one that seeks (sometimes, occasionally) to fix itself but so often stops short of real, deep, change.

And when i burn out and/or need to take space, it means that much more time away, not building trust, connections, having fun as well as talking serious shit (no, i don’t always want to be talking about accessibility. That’s not all i’m about or have to offer). It means it feels like the only times i’m doing stuff, it revolves around access, and i’m so fricken tired of it. As an anarchist i find these constraints, this divide, this ongoing repetition of fucked up predictable patterns, unacceptable.

i’m happy to hibernate, it can be really important, but what i don’t like is the intense realities of the isolation i go through because of the burn out from constantly having to work so hard just to get in the door, and rarely seeing anything resembling the kinds of anarchist community i desire.

i’m curious to know what sorts of things you do to keep your heart going, not necessarily to be doing stuff all the time every minute, but to maintain connection, trust, community?