I will probably update this from time to time as I think of more stuff.
1 – if someone is using a wheelchair and has someone with them, ALWAYS start from the assumption that the person using the chair is the person you’re dealing with. Speak to them normally. If appropriate, their carer will correct you. I can count on one hand the number of times strangers talked to me as an adult when I was using the chair (3.5 years full-time, on and off since).
2 – Wheelchairs are not tragedies. They are beautiful, miraculous things which allow people freedom. Using one when I need to allows me to conserve energy, means I can do much more than I would otherwise, reduces recovery time.
3 – Referring to yourself as disabled is not ‘giving up’ or ‘limiting yourself’. It gives you power to name, and therefore deal with, the ways society still sucks at being accessible. It gives you a baseline to start from in building a good life.
4 – Disability is a massive, massive umbrella. Static, mechanical impairments like paralysis and amputation are commonly thought of as ‘real’ disability, but that’s a fraction of the whole.
5 – Importantly, though, a common way of highlighting ways invisible disabilities affect people, that ‘you wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to just cheer up, in a wheelchair that they just need to think positively’ is, unfortunately, not true. People say that shit ALL THE TIME. Like, all the time. I have no idea how many times I have been told that I should just stop taking all my meds, or just try harder to walk, or think more positively, or have more faith in Jesus.
6 – Disability intersects with every other form of marginalisation. Disabled POC are much more likely to be over-policed, treated as threatening, have excessive force used on them. Disabled women are vastly more likely to be victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. Women with mental health conditions are more than four times as likely to be sexually assaulted, and disabled people rarely see justice because they are not treated as ‘credible witnesses’. Disabled children are vastly more likely to be bullied and to experience long-lasting trauma from their treatment. (updating sporadically because doing other stuff too)
7 – There is no disability hierarchy. People keep trying to impose one, but as soon as we draw those lines, the lines become shiftable. Saying addicts don’t count because they ‘chose’ it means you can say people hurt horse riding ‘chose’ it, or war veterans.
8 – Pain is not a morality issue. You are not a better person because you endure pain unnecessarily. We all make decisions about what we do about our pain, but it is not weakness to take medication. Pain is a major health risk.
9 – Medical treatment is not universally good or healthy. Many disabled people have trauma from bad experiences with medical professionals, and so support cannot be conditional on forced treatment.
10 – Disabled people are the targets of many, many charlatans. However, they are not ‘stupid’ for engaging with them when medicine has failed or hurt them. It’s important to fight the charlatans, not the people who are just surviving.
11 – Parents and caregivers of disabled people are important allies, but they should not be the spokespeople for disability. Interview them on issues of caregiving, but find disabled people to talk about disability.
12 – Disabled people are not a monolith. Disabled people can absolutely be brave, selfless, kind, but we can also be bitter, angry, devious, boring, honest, smart, positive, pessimistic, logical, conspiracy-theorising, gullible, shrewd, loyal, cheating, sexual, asexual.
Some of the first disability equality training I ever got included stock phrases used about disabled people. While most people rightly recognised that ‘disabled people are liars/fakers/whatever’ were false, they thought that ‘disabled people are brave and good people’ was true. No. Many of us are brave and good. Many of us are assholes. We’re just people.
13 – If you can, learn some basic signing. Hearing society excludes Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in so many ways, but the assumption that the full weight of responsibility is on them to communicate with us is ridiculous.
Don’t say ‘never mind’ if you realise someone is Deaf, ask how they want you to communicate, tap their arm lightly if you need to get their attention (don’t wave wildly in their face, don’t snap your fingers in front of their eyes, etc).
Recognise that Deaf Culture is a vibrant community, and that ‘curing’ Deafness is not a positive idea for many people. Do some research into how cochlear implants actually process sound, and how unpleasant they can be before sharing any inspiration porn videos about them. Understand that Deaf people are right to be suspicious of the medical model of disability, and that some people might want treatment while some don’t, and that it’s their choice to make. Again, see earlier point that treatment is not universally a good thing.
14 – See mobility aids as part of a person’s body. Treat them with respect. Do not move them without explicitly asking first. Never move a person’s wheelchair without asking them first. Never lean on it unless offered. Do not, as happened to me, hang your shopping off the handles if you are a total stranger and in a lift with a person using a chair.
A person may offer that if you are friends, in which case feel free to take them up on it, but let them offer.
15 – Fatness. Stay with me on this.
a) Many disabled people are fat. They might be fat for a huge variety of reasons, just like abled people. They might be more likely than the abled population to be fat because of specific conditions or medication. However, and this is important:
b) It doesn’t mean they’re the ‘good kind of fat’ while abled people are ‘the bad kind of fat’. People are fat for all kinds of reasons, and none of them are a moral issue, and very little about other people’s fatness is relevant to you.
c) Some people are fat because they are disabled, and some people are disabled because they are fat. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHICH CAME FIRST.
If a person is using a mobility scooter, it isn’t ok to mock them for using it if they are fat. It isn’t ok to mock them for using it at all. If a person is fat enough to be disabled by it, they are still disabled, just like every other disabled person, and are entitled to the same rights of access that everyone else is. Their health is between them and their doctor. It’s fuck all to do with you.
16 – Do not, with no prompting, ask someone ‘what’s wrong with you?’ You might be curious. You might be interested because you like them. Doesn’t matter. They’ll tell you if they want to. Don’t try to cover it up by saying it’s just cause you want to know how to help. People have a vast range of different needs even if they have the same diagnosis or impairment. Instead, say ‘Can I do anything to help?’ They’ll tell you if there is. Be honest about what you can do, don’t hurt yourself in order to help them, don’t help without asking. If they say no, LET IT GO. DO NOT INSIST ON HELPING. Say ‘Ok, let me know if anything comes up’, and move the fuck on.
17 – related: Do not, if they do decide to tell you what their disability is, immediately list everyone you know who has died of that condition.
This happens all the time. It’s never a good idea. For fucks’ sake.
18 – Accessibility is bigger than ramps and hearing loops. Those things are fundamental and useful, but they’re not enough. We have to change the way we, as a society, understand ‘worth’ and ‘value’, and then adjust our behaviours to match. For example: as a society, we believe that being able to live without the support of anyone else is the only ‘real’ way to be an adult. It’s bullshit. There are maybe a dozen people worldwide who do not rely on anyone else.
All of us rely on other people to some degree – we rely on them to grow our food, to transport it to nearby shops, to build shelters, to supply electricity. We don’t suddenly not need them just because we pay for their work. We all rely on other people to some degree, and some of us rely on each other more than others. It shouldn’t be necessary to live alone, without any financial, social or physical assistance from anyone, to be considered a functional human being.
Instead, we could all see that we’re part of a huge web of give and take that has many more forms than just monetary transactions. We have value beyond our ‘economic viability’. We could teach kids that and then newly disabled people wouldn’t have to spend years deprogramming.
19 – Not all forms of accessibility look how we want them to. Trigger warnings are accessibility issues as much as ramps are. It doesn’t matter that you don’t like them, it’s a disability issue.
20 – Sometimes, different accessibility needs contradict each other. Some people might need smooth pavements with no raises, while that can make navigation tough and/or dangerous if you are blind. Some people might need to type, while the sound can be overwhelming for others. It doesn’t mean that we don’t try to find ways to ensure that everyone has what they need. Sometimes that is as simple as different textures of pavement to denote different parts, but might also mean that you have different seating areas, or give lectures in multiple formats.
We are not absolved of our obligations to accessibility just because it can be complicated. If we approach it in good faith, by asking people what they need and trying to find new solutions, we will usually be able to do right by people. Disabled people, for the record, are often excellent problem solvers because of this. We have so much experience of finding ways around the world and its inaccessibility.
21 – related: Disabled people have value. We are a vast, mostly untapped resource of ingenuity, information, insight. Employ us or talk to us because the more diverse a group is, the more likely it is that you’ll get great ideas. New ideas.