Disabled People have better stories to tell

My proposed line-up of disability-themed movies:

  • A group of crip sisters sharing stories of their struggles through the years, and how their crip sisterhood helped them through it.
  • Maybe those crip sisters are on a spaceship, as part of a rebellion.
  • Two young disabled people from divided houses fall in love. In an act of rebellion against family pressure, they don’t kill themselves, but instead start a family of their own.
  • A disability activist searches for meaning in their own life while fighting for safeguards in assisted suicide laws.
  • A group of disabled/Mad friends go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. They wake up the next morning to discover one of their friends is missing, and encounter various shenanigans while looking for them.

Ok so maybe I should stick with writing blogs, but I still think these films would be better than what’s on the table.  See this review of Me Before You if you’re not sure what I’m referring to here.

We know why ableist films and messages continue to spread, as do sexism, racism, and homophobia.

We have a responsibility to call out these stories, so that their toxic messages do not spread.

I’ve been seeing posts and messages that “it’s just one story” or “they don’t mean you”, but I think those posts miss the point.

I grew up in an area without many other disabled people. I had no disabled role models until I left home. Despite the privileges of being a white, middle class kid, I grew up with a lot of discrimination, but I didn’t know that’s what it was. I thought it was me, that I was broken. I was surrounded by sometimes well-meaning able-bodied people who saw my disabledness as something to mourn, or to mould into something more acceptable. They didn’t have better stories either.

Ableist stories were all I had until my twenties. Yes, I’m still here, but they’re woven into my formation, that’s just how it is.

Growing up in that environment still impacts me, some days I still feel broken. Some days ableist attitudes from others convince me for a time that I don’t belong, that I am less of a person.

I am fortunate now, that I have a strong community of disabled folks around me, but not everyone does.

Ableist stories and messages might not impact all of us equally, but they do cause harm.

We need to tell our own stories. We need less suicide and more solidarity.

Preferably with rebel forces on space cruisers.

Why Canada needs more Disability Stories

I grew up in a small town of about 6000 people in rural Ontario. There were a few of us with disabilities in the area, but a small enough number that it was possible for those of us within that group to be at least vaguely familiar with each other. One I remember very clearly was a young man I’ll call Ted*.

Ted and I were not friends, in fact we had never met, but he was very much the nemesis of my childhood, by no fault of his own. At some point his parents had met my parents, where they heard all about his story and from that gleaned grand visions for my future. Ted used crutches, had plans for his future, and was a poster child for a disability organization. I was a rebellious, struggling stubborn kid in a power wheelchair. We were not close in age, and we had different disabilities. I was nothing like Ted, and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be.

My parents just wanted what was best for their child, and with very few stories to draw from I can see why Ted’s story gave them hope. Eventually I carved out my own pretty awesome story, but there’s still something to be learned from Ted’s impact on my parents.

When I did interact with other children with disabilities, it was usually at summer camp. There, for a brief but blissful period of time all labels seemed to disappear. Of course there was still discrimination between kids, but there was also comradery in those shared experiences that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Brothers and sisters who knew what it was like to constantly be seen through the eyes of able-bodied people, and the loneliness that creates.

I moved away from that small town, and into larger urban areas where I met disabled adults who taught me important things about disability history. These were people who started disability organizations, and had protested for disability rights in their younger years. I was fortunate to have them as role models.

Not everyone is so lucky. Recently I saw a post on Facebook, in the picture a mom was sitting next to her physically disabled son in a public transit station, and she was crying. The post explains that she and her son were treated badly by fellow commuters while trying to use a public washroom. They felt her son was in the way and taking up space. It reminded me very much op my parents. What were she and her son to take from this experience? How would she use it to arm him for the world ahead?

The stories we share as disabled people might not be passed down through families, but they are still an important part of disability culture. Sharing stories of our leaders, the people who made it possible to where we are today, is an important part of how disabled people see themselves, as it is for the society that looks back at us.

When all else fails, think of Thestrals

How do you talk to the people you love about privilege? It’s like trying to explain Thestrals to someone who’s never experienced death. It’s not in their reality, and therefore does not exist except as a sort of belief system by those of us who are actually oppressed.

Consider the following:

Quotes like “black and white people are not responsible for the mistakes of the past” (see “white privilege doesn’t mean what you think it means”. There’s also “let’s not take this Confederate flag business out on my favourite childhood show” (I’m paraphrasing here).

Or in a discussion about climate change, and that some of the world’s wealthier folks are taking out insurance against it while denying the existence of climate change publicly. This occurs while others are likely to perish do to events that were cause by the societies those same wealthier people reside in. The answer in this conversation? That “in history there is always been people who make it and people who don’t”.

These are the moments where a try not to vomit. I start a very angry blog post, delete it, take a deep breath, and think about the Thestrals.

How do I explain that my complaints about these comments, are not a claim to righteousness, but an understanding of history?

While we might not be directly responsible for that history, white people benefit from it.  One of the many benefits of privilege is that the people who experience that privilege never have to openly acknowledge it.

The history classes we’re given in school leave a lot out. They’re written by the oppressors, the folks that did the segregating, othering, abusing, and murdering of other people. Our whole society is built on those things, and it would take too much explaining for a public school classroom. Or at least this is what we’re lead to believe. It’s easier to turn the page then let it in.

Ok that was a little dark, and you’re probably about ready to close this page, but please don’t. Or at least if you must, read some history Consider why in 2015 it is still acceptable to overlook the wrongs of the past, and assume that people simply struggle because of choices they made.

Rights on paper are just paper. Rights are not simply granted, they are not earned or given. No legislated measure creates them. They are acknowledged by the people, and that is when rights have power. No justice can come without first acknowledging that or power and easier transition though life comes at the expense of those who are oppressed.

The fact that you’re encouraged not to see this is not a conspiracy, but a maintenance of the status quo, so someone can keep the upper hand.

If you feel powerless, don’t despair, we’re meant to feel powerless so we don’t create change.

Is this the kind of world you really want to leave behind?

A better world comes with a better understanding of ourselves and our history.

People with Disabilities March and Roll on the Streets of Toronto

On October 13th, 2012 the disability community once again made their voices heard on the streets of Toronto. They marched with a goal to bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities as we fight against ableism and other forms of oppression, but they also marched to celebrate and take pride in themselves as part of a community of people with disabilities.

The Toronto Disability Pride March began in the fall of 2011, inspired by the events of Occupy Toronto, and the marches against cuts to disability services that were happening in the UK. The March was also intended to raise awareness to cuts and events that were impacting the disability community locally, such as cuts to social housing and incidents with the Toronto Police. In that first year one hundred people gathered at Nathan Phillips Square and marched down to St. James Park.

The UN has noted that people with disabilities are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society. Many people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed against their will. Though people with disabilities are seen as less or not exploitable by the owners of the means of production, they are further oppressed by being left out of it. To put it in terms of the occupy movement, they are often the lowest 1% of the 99%.

This year we are noticing this oppression in the form of cuts by stealth, and a political scene that not only divides us by our various disabilities, but also by other forms of oppression such as race, class, gender, etc. In September, the provincial government put forth a draft standard to make parks and the outdoor environment accessible. This sounds great until you consider that the same government is eliminating Community Start Up and Maintenance funding to people living on social assistance, which many people rely on to find and keep their homes. They might as well call making these parks accessible the new Home Modification Program.

The accessibility legislation may get out foot in the door for changes in Ontario, but at what cost, but letting our government choose which barriers to eliminate and which to ignore, are we setting ourselves up for future discrimination? Where are the standards to benefit those with chemical sensitivities or mental illnesses? Who says it’s acceptable to leave them out.

The way the March was built also changed this year. Without a solid Occupy Toronto base to build from, we were basically starting from scratch. We discovered some of the perils and perks of grassroots group organizing. We came up with a new route, and made new allies that helped make our March a success.

We also discovered that for some people in our community the concept of disability pride is scary, the concept of the oppression of people with disabilities is still too hard to face, and connections between different movements in the disability community are something they are not ready to build. We need to work on that.

A question I often get asked about this March is what is disability pride. I think we can find it in a great many things. Being in the march, and making ourselves visable is one example, the solidarity we find in marching with each other is another. Another way I think we show this pride is by recognizing and fighting oppression. There are some people with disabilities who will try to tell you that oppression of people with disabilities, otherwise known as ableism, does not exist, that all we need is to eliminate a few barriers and we’ll be fine. I’ve actually gotten emails suggesting that. We know that’s not true. Anyone who’s on ODSP can tell you that’s not true, anyone who’s been asked to leave a disabiility grassroots organization because of a mental health issue knows that’s not true, and any parent who has feared having their child taken away because of their disability knows that’s not true. We can do better. For too long, the rights and oppression of people with disabilities have been discussed behind closed doors, or not at all, but through actions like the Toronto Disability Pride March we find our voice, and make ourselves heard in the chorus of movements.

It’s no mistake that the Toronto Disability Pride March brings out a call to build connections within the disability movement. It’s a call for equal access and equal rights for everyone regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, or what disability they have. This is something that seems to be lacking from the mainstream organizations and movements, and why the March will continue to forge its own path.

We call on our allies, people of every ability from the labour movement, the student movement and beyond. We call on those whose struggles have long been supported by people with disabilities to join our struggle and prove that we are stronger united. For more information you can find us on Facebook, or check out our website http://torontodisabilitypride.wordpress.com/. We look forward to seeing you next year!

 

Solidarity rally for Caterpillar workers in London, ON – Sat Jan 21

Electro-Motive, a subsidiary of U.S. industrial giant Caterpillar Inc., wants to strong-arm workers at its London plant into a pay cut of over 50 percent, dropping hourly wages from $35 to $16.50. It is also imposing devastating cuts to benefits and pensions on members of CAW Local 27 at a time when the company has enjoyed multi-billion-dollar profits and a 20 percent boost to production over last year.

A day of action has been called by the OFL in solidarity with these workers: http://www.ofl.ca/index.php/html/index_in/stop_caterpillar_london_day_of_action_sat_jan_21_11_am/

We Strike Together ~ Public Forum January 11th

UofT PUBLIC FORUM
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, 5PM
OISE room 2214 (252 Bloor St. West)
The 1% are undermining accessible public education
by increasing tuition and class sizes, cutting funding
and corporatizing campus. Join a discussion about how
the 99% on campus–students, TAs, staff and faculty–
can unite to support upcoming campaigns, like the
February 1 Day of Action and a possible CUPE 3902 strike.
Organized by Occupied UofT, in solidarity with UofT General Assembly,
UofT Students’ Union, UofT Association of Part-time Undergraduate
Students, UofT Graduate Students’ Union, Unite HERE 75 and CUPE 3902
For more info contact occupieduoft@gmail.com   @occupieduoft   #Occut

Toronto protest against military rule in Egypt


Defend Egypt’s revolution! Condemn the military’s attacks on peaceful protesters!
RALLY & PICKET
Monday, December 19
5pm to 7pm
Yonge-Dundas Square
Toronto | TTC: Dundas

Egypt military protest.jpg
Join the global solidarity protests against military rule in Egypt. In the last few days, the Egyptian military has brutally attacked peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo and across Egypt. The images of soldiers beating and disrobing protesters have sent shockwaves around the world.
Already ten people have been killed and hundreds injured. For more information, please visit the MENA Solidarity blog: http://menasolidaritynetwork.com/2011/12/18/occupycabinetsolidarity/
Bring homemade placards and banners. At the protest, we will distribute information leaflets to passersby and ask them to sign the solidarity petition, which will be faxed to the Egyptian Embassy in Ottawa.

#Disability and #Climate Discourse – an Excellent Article

People have been asking me for more information on disability and climate change.  I’ve found an interesting and recent article that isn’t to long to read.

The article explains how people with disabilities have largely been left out of climate change discourse, by referencing both disaster relief plans and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It also discusses how this has effected people with disabilities.

When reading this article it is important to also take into consideration that many people with disabilities are indigenous people and/or find themselves situated in some of the poorest areas of the world.  As you may know it is people like these who are being hit hardest by the effects of climate change.

As much as I found this article informative I would like to note two things.  First, this article offers no concrete suggestions on how to build linkages between the climate change and disability movements.  My hope is that by sharing this article I can encourage you to move in that direction.

I would also like to point out that I found this article through Disabled Peoples International. As someone who is against the current model of foreign “aid” I feel it’s necessary to point out that they support building partnerships with the World Bank,. They seem to have a very neoliberal focus of what equality and inclusion means if you look at their strategic plan, and considering the great harm that the global model of neoliberalism does to marginalized peoples, I feel it’s necessary to point out that contradiction.  I would also like to say that while I don’t support their values, they do have great resources.

Speaking of which, I should give you the link to the article: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/173

Please share your thoughts constructively!