Welcome back to the train station! This month's focus is on Ableism, broadly defined as discrimination, prejudice and power differential based on physical or mental abilities. Imagine yourself on a basketball court and you are told, “You must dunk the ball before moving on to whatever’s next on your schedule.” Now, unless you are 6’4” (on average) that’s a pretty unreasonable request - it just doesn’t make any sense to you. That’s what it’s like. What would your response be? How would you feel? Let's learn together...
As with most "isms" the first step forward often involves increasing awareness. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 dramatically increased the public's awareness of ableism and certainly increased protections for many who were previously marginalized, expanding the boundaries of access and inclusion to a much broader population. So, how much have things improved? Sure, most cities now have ramped curbs at intersections and there's a lot more of these:
But let's look a bit deeper...
Ever experience this? Ever do this?
• A car is parked in a disabled space without a disabled placard.
• A person holds a door open or otherwise "helps" someone they judge less able (“Let me get that for you.”).
• People continue to speak softly in a group where at least one person has identified as hard of hearing. Feeling “apart” because you can’t hear the conversation .
• A person using a wheelchair gets asked about the nature of their disability. “What happened to you?".
• Attend a workshop/event where it requires a special effort for all to participate. (“It’s going to be a big deal just to get to that bathroom…”)
• Use or hear the words "crazy" "retarded" or "crippled."
• Annoyance at navigating around someone's wheelchair in a store, elevator or kitchen. Frustration at having to navigate your chair around clueless walkers.
• Staring at someone who moves, acts or looks different from you. Being stared at because of your difference.
• Enter an office, assuming the person using a wheelchair is not the person in charge. (“What, am I fucking invisible??”)
• An elevator is filled with people, most of which are perfectly capable of walking the one flight up. Having to wait for the next one.
• Avoiding someone who talks with an impairment or seems mentally different. Feeling ostracized.
• Assume someone using a wheelchair is "stuck" or "confined" to their chair. "People see my chair, they don’t see me."
• Pretending a disability isn't there. "I see us all the same." (Remember "I don't see color?”) Others deny and dishonor your experience in the world.
• Saying "I'm sorry" for someone's disability. Feeling “less than” and disrespected by other’s pity.
• Introducing someone or being introduced by the disability (“This is Bob, he’s partially blind.”)
Barriers - we all have physical or mental challenges, but for some, navigating public spaces can be daunting in a way most of us have little to no awareness of. Many of us are unaware of how our existing systems work for only a partial subset of people. Studies show lack of accessible resources impact the very health and well-bring of people with disabilities. Be aware of how you enter and use buildings, bathrooms, transportation, crosswalks, service counters, communication devices, parks and walkways. Taking notes in class or even reading a menu. How might this experience be different if you use a wheelchair? If you have hearing aids? If you're gluten-intolerant?
Unrequested help and boundaries - people with disabilities are a diverse group; many are quite capable, not helpless and, like each of us, know best what they need. As with anyone, ask for consent and respect, don't ignore, their wishes. Ask, don't assume. Don't touch, push, pull, guide or otherwise "assist" without checking in first - remember, this applies to everyone! Respect boundaries just as you want your boundaries respected.
Ableism privilege - When someone has asked the group to speak louder and others continue to speak in their normal volume and tone. When someone without a disability uses an accessible bathroom stall or parking space. When someone presumes to ask a stranger about their disability - as with anyone, broaching personal and sensitive topics requires awareness, relationship and an individual approach. Assuming a person using a wheelchair is less capable or not in charge. Assuming it's their problem rather than a problem with our society creating barriers - yep, that's Abled privilege showing.
Language - Language is one tool of an oppressive system. The words we use have impact and there's certainly a learning curve and it's not necessarily a direct, clear path. Ableist language, such as "retarded" "lame" "crippled" and "crazy" create and sustain "less-than" and "other-than" relationships. In fact, we are all in this world together, there is no "normal" and let's honor our differences and the challenges each one of us faces, now or in the future. There is no one "correct" way to communicate and words land differently on each of us. You are not bad because you've been using language that may be hurtful, insensitive or uninformed. But please take the opportunity to be aware, learn and choose your words differently, with respect and inclusivity in mind. See this short guide for Suggested Language. For a more extensive list and explanation, seeLʏᴅɪᴀ X. Z. Bʀᴏᴡɴ Aᴜᴛɪsᴛɪᴄ Hᴏʏᴀ blog.
Disability-blindness - Pretending that we are all the same is not helpful. We all have a different experience in the world and how we identify culturally is a big part of that. Intersectionality addresses the interconnected nature of social characterizations such as race, class, gender and yes, ability. For some, but not all, having a disability is an important part of their identity and proudly embraced. Be aware of this, be open and respect each individual.
EDITORS NOTE: This issue of the Train Station went through several major rewrites in the learning process around perspective and language. The biggest shift, for me, was in perspective from an "other than" view of "disabled persons" to an inclusive perspective of how society/people/ignorance actively DISABLE certain people. We are all in this world together - let's be aware of how our words, actions and constructs exclude, marginalize and disempower some of us. Special thanks to Mickey Kay for being a patient and powerful teacher!
Watch this enlightening TED Talk that may change your perspective on what's "normal" or "good." (Does the Taoist parable in the beginning seem familiar?? You may have heard it in the Archetype process in your PIT training!)
MKP's first No Barriers NWTA!
November 29 - December 2, 2018
Sleeping Dog Ranch
A diverse group of warrior brothers have been working to plan MKP's first NWTA inclusive and welcoming to men of all abilities. As you might imagine, many interesting questions, challenges and learnings have come into play around name, vision, support and logistics.
Relationships & MKP Workshop Saturday, September 15, 2018
Location TBD (likely Asheville area) Leaders: Christie Miller (Woman Within) & Jim Miller (MKP)
The month of June was chosen for LGBTQ Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. As a result, many Pride events are held during this month to recognize the impact LGBTQ people have had in the world. Consider: What do I do to support PRIDE? What do I do to support equality for LGBTQ people in my community, state, nation? Moreover, How am I "being" in the world in relation to people who are different than the majority?
These questions can lead you to step out of your comfort zone and into a new space of freedom for yourself or for others.
"I attended my first State Pride March for Equality in the mid-late 80's. I joined the 1993 National Pride March for Equality in DC. The marches are now often called a "PRIDE Parade" to celebrate pride. I personally believe it is important to reference this event as a March for Equality. We still have a long journey to equality."
The YWCAs of North Carolina are leveraging their collective and unified voice to advocate for racial justice. At the core of their mission – eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all – YWCA believes that no one should suffer from the negative impacts of institutional and structural racism.
The agenda was adopted after seeking input from over 500 community members and partners. We hope you will sign on as a supporter of their 2018 Advocacy Agenda. Please indicate your support by clicking this link.