Equitable Community Train Station

No. 17 • September 2019 • ManKind Project USA

Welcome back to the train station!  This month's focus is on Ableism, with a deeper dive since our June 2018 issue and a celebration of the first-ever Barrier Free New Warrior Training Adventure! Lots to look at - dive in!!

ABLEISM-deeper dive!
After several years in the making, MKP's first Barrier Free NWTA took place last month on Dee Spitler's ranch in Prescott, AZ. The staff participated in months of rigorous multicultural training to prepare and many aspects of the NWTA were enhanced to directly address the blessings and challenges of this gateway focus. As Leader Greg Gondron noted: This Barrier Free NWTA left it's mark while making space for at least 15 differently-abled staff with hearing and sight loss, cerebral palsy, and those using wheel chairs due to various life circumstances, MS, brain injury, ...etc., These staff men came to the center recognizing the true gifts of who they are, independent of the able-bodied staff, with power and grace. They created the bridge for initiation of 19 participants.  This brings deeper meaning for the phrase "Is there anything here, that a man shouldn't do?"  Congratulations to all who brought this vision to life!

Mike Merino: On my way to the Barrier Free NWTA...

“Are you OK?” says the man sitting next to me as I stood waiting for people to put their luggage in the overhead bin.  I was boarding a flight to Phoenix on my way to staff Mankind Project’s first ever “Barrier Free” NWTA weekend. I looked at the man to make sure he was speaking to me and yes, he was looking right at me with a slight expression of pity.  I feel good, I practice yoga, lift weights or do cardio 6 days a week to keep in shape after retiring from running marathons 2 years earlier. I usually have my service dog, Cody, with me, but he doesn’t do planes. I felt the “blind stick” in my hands.  I’m thinking, just because I carry a blind stick I’m not OK? I respond: “I’m great! Are you OK?” The man looked perplexed and just nodded his head. 
Click here to read the rest!

How ableism shows up and its impacts...

• 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.”). Like Mike's "Are you ok?"
• People continue to speak softly in a group in which at least one person has identified as hard of hearing. Feeling disconnected because you can’t hear or understand 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 whom 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 because of your difference.
• 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.”)

Joel Bennett:

"Let's bring the Barrier Free NWTA to the Greater Carolinas!"
A deeper understanding...

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 that the lack of accessible resources impacts 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. What about taking notes in a workshop or even reading a menu? How might this experience be different if you use a wheelchair? Or are hard of hearing? Or blind? Or some other different ability?

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 - is when someone has asked the group to speak louder and others continue to speak in their normal volume and projection. It is when someone without a disability uses an accessible bathroom stall or parking space. It is assuming a person using a wheelchair is less capable or not in charge. Or when someone presumes to ask a stranger about their disability. As with anyone, broaching personal and sensitive topics requires awareness, a relationship and an individual approach. 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 oppression. The words we use have impact. Ableist language, such as "retarded" "lame" "crippled" and "crazy" create and sustain "less-than" and "other-than" relationships. In fact, we all navigate the world; there is no "normal" and let's honor our differences and the challenges each one of us faces. 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, see Lʏᴅɪᴀ 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, curious and patient and respect each individual.

A personal note: I have been hard of hearing for over twenty years. I wear these aids. I still miss a lot of conversation, especially when there's background noise. I often ask people to speak clearly, project and look at me. Occasionally they do. For most of this time, I have self-judged that it was my fault that I wasn't understanding what people were saying. I often felt guilt and shame.

During the Barrier Free NWTA, I gave myself permission to own my different hearing ability and let go of the guilt and shame. "It's not my fault that I can't understand you!" As part of the container of differently-abled staff, I experienced an honoring of my experiences and my gifts. It was a blessing.
                                        - Alan
Board Book Alert!!

Did you know that there's almost no books for young children that address ableism? Well, Little Feminist book club is about to change that! Their board book series launches this Fall.
Stay tuned!!