This weekend was my first time experiencing the amazing and inspiring Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference at Hampshire College…and just in time for its THIRTIETH anniversary (commemorated by three large dance break-outs/parties in just two days). I’ve honestly been exposed to so much that my head is still spinning, and I will send out recaps from the workshops as I process all of the information over the next week.
Here is a recap of the Saturday workshop “Disability Justice and Reproductive Justice.” More than anything it painted a broad picture of Disability Justice (DJ)’s complex and rocky relationship with community health services and the medical profession. It showed how problematic it is to even define words like “disability,” let alone talk about it when there are so many misconceptions about what it is and how it interacts with other personal/individual and social/group identities.
Before the workshop even started, we all got a nice disclaimer about how everyone has the right to define mental illness and abnormality/atypicality for themselves. There is a wide spectrum of natural human emotions, along which we may try to identify a “norm” and then “outliers”…but there is so much variance it doesn’t even matter. Everyone will experience “disability” at some point in their life. The more that I collect life experience, the more I realize the “everyone-has-a-story” rule absolutely applies to disability, too. EVERYONE will experience (at least temporary) disability at some point in their life – you know, “unless they die first”.
Whether it’s something that’s widely accommodated, like needing eyeglasses, or something “invisible,” like chronic pain or a neurological disorder; everybody has or will have something. If we think about it that way, it completely flips the idea of providing “extra” or “abnormal” accommodations, and shows that accessibility should be the norm the way that people who need some form of accommodation are the norm. People who are not stereotypically abled ARE the de facto majority; and, I’ll bet, the numerical majority. People who are mostly temporarily abled have somehow falsely been accorded power and privilege that leads them to push everyone else to the margins.
Please see diagram below:
Anyway, another big take-away was the idea of “making space for the body” – both literal and figurative. Physically, it can mean things like allowing room for wheelchairs to move between aisles of chairs in a classroom. This example particularly resonated with me because during my first year facilitating a group for first-year college students, we played an icebreaker where I set up a giant game of Twister on the linoleum floor. We used fun questions like “If you have an exotic pet, do XYZ,” and I thought it went over really well. Although no one opted out, I immediately realized afterward how exclusionary it could easily have been.
I realized that because it was our first meeting, I hadn’t known whether any of the students would be using a wheelchair or have other accessibility issues. But now, I also wonder whether there might have been an invisible disability that no one spoke up about. For example, I have a friend who lives with very bad arthritis, and sometimes just climbing a staircase can be very painful – much less, I imagine, a game of Twister!
Reflecting on invisible/visible disability, as well as creating accessible spaces as part of a norm that necessitates inclusion, really resonated with me. Figuratively, “making space for the body” can mean creating spaces for conversations and dialogue about the body and accessibility; which I hope is starting here. I’m going to add another post where I will speak to more of my own experiences with disability and identity and justice. In the meantime, check out some of these resources:
A blog by panelist Mia Mingus, “a queer disabled woman of color korean adoptee working, creating and loving towards wholeness and connection, love and liberation.”
The Freedom Center
A huge resource for learning about disability, justice, and empowerment. Also the home of Madness Radio!
Panelists Dana Grace Keller and Caty Simons’ organization.
Matters of Justice
A fellow blogspot blog by panelist Martina Robinson.