Disability Thought Of The Week: Your First Time

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When did you first flex your advocacy or activism muscles?

What was the first time you really spoke up for yourself, as a disabled person, to assert your rights and disability-related needs? What was the first time you participated in activism, with other disabled people, on a disability-related public issue? When was it? What was it about? At what point in your life did it happen?

I’m asking myself ... and I’m asking you, the reader. Respond however you are able, with a blog comment below, a Twitter reply, or a Facebook comment.

Disability Thought Of The Week: Good Things Are Actually Bad

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About 70% of disability activism involves trying to explain that things people think are good or nice for disabled people, (or at worst harmless), are actually bad.

For example:

  • Sympathy
  • Sharing photos and videos of inspirational disabled people
  • Non-disabled actors playing disabled characters
  • First responder registries of disabled people
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Sheltered workshops

These are all things that most people think are good. In many cases, they don't think it. They just assume. It falls to us as disability activists to persuade them, essentially, that blue is actually red. Sometimes we have excellent arguments for this, but often we just have to insist that people take our word for it.

This is one of the built-in problems with disability activism; it’s inherently negative. It really has to be. But that's why it's so important for us to craft and push forward a “positive” agenda ... a set of things we affirmatively want.

Disability Thought Of The Week: Advocacy or Activism?

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At some point over the last couple of years, I started operating with what I think are my own definitions of the words “advocacy” and “activism” in the context of disability.

“Advocacy,” to me, is strategizing and arguing for your own individual needs and goals as a disabled person, while “Activism” involves similar activities, but in pursuit of the needs and goals of all or a portion of the disability community. This distinction is usually defined by the terms “Self-Advocacy” and “Systems Advocacy.” I just think calling them “Advocacy” and “Activism” is simpler and clearer.

And understanding the difference is hugely important! “Advocacy” and “Activism” are both valuable, even essential activities, for disabled people and for the disability community, but they aren't the same thing. They have different (though related) goals, and each calls for different (though related) approaches. In fact, I think that a lot of the problems of individual disabled people, and of the disability community. can be traced to using Activism strategies in Advocacy, and vice versa.

When do you do Advocacy, and when is it time for Activism?

Disability Thought Of The Week: Best Foot Forward vs. Radical Honesty

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One source of misunderstanding and conflict within the disability community is an apparent shift in how we as disabled people try to portray ourselves.

20-40 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that disabled people who wanted to succeed personally and further the cause of disability acceptance should project an image of strength, competence, and calm. The idea was that discrimination and inaccessibility were outgrowths of an assumption that we were sick, incapable, and emotionally messy. By "proving ourselves" we could prove these assumptions wrong ... basically winning the argument against ableism by our example.

Now it is much more common for disabled people to be open about our physical and emotional difficulties, and more blunt and frank about the corrosive effects of ableism. The more common message now is more complicated than it used to be. Fundamentally, we still view ourselves as capable and competent, but at the same time we are more willing to say "All is not well!" ... sometimes personally, and certainly in the broader social justice sense.

There's really not that much of a gap between these two approaches. We've always been fighting ableism, and we haven't given up on the idea that we can be vibrant, happy, contributing members of society. The main difference is that we tend not to value projecting an idealized image anymore. We are a little more willing to say how we really feel, and how things really are, even if it confuses and upsets others.

It is a different approach though. You can hear hints of an almost generational divide in conversations about disability these days. It's the difference between "best foot forward" and "radical honesty" approaches to portraying disability to the rest of society. It may cause conflict, but I think the dialog, and the shift, is productive.

Disability Thought Of The Week: Guns

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I am glad to see that based on what I’m reading, there seems to be a refreshing absence of mental health distraction and scapegoating in this weekend's "March For Our Lives" events.

Others have written well about why focusing on mental ill people ... or mentally incompetent, or autistic ... is bad, even from a pro gun control standpoint. It boils down to the fact that while many people who commit the most spectacular gun crimes at least appear to be “mentally ill,” people with mental illness are on average LESS likely to commit gun crimes. On top of that, the impulse to keep guns away from these folks is fueled mostly by unfounded but very deep fears and prejudices people have about mental illness. It's ableism masquerading as common sense.

In fact, I think this relates in some broader ways to how certain disabilities are still viewed in our society. Gun rights advocates and other instinctive conservatives tend to see a social problem like gun violence and look for answers in character. It feels more honest to them to blame the “bad people” who commit killings than to focus on guns, which to them is simply tools. They may or may not accept statistical evidence that the abundance of guns themselves shapes mass behavior, but in their moral universe, it’s all about individual character, personal decisions about Right and Wrong. On other hand, gun control advocates and instinctive progressives tend to look at social problems and seek technocratic answers, causes, and solutions that bypass personal character in favor of mechanical solutions that can make things better without having to make people better.

So here’s the problem for the disability community. Both conservatives and many progressives still basically view mental illness as at least partly about character. Not to the same extent perhaps, but there are a lot more shared assumptions between conservatives and progressives about mental illness than about most other issues. Prejudice against mentally ill people is, to some extent, “bipartisan.” So that makes it a tempting area of agreement where we might restrict guns, but only for a group of people with “all agree” we fear and, to some extent, despise.

Except that it looks like the young people of the "March For Our Lives," "Enough Is Enough" movement don’t share this misplaced focus on mental illness. Maybe it’s because the perpetrators of these school shootings are people they knew ... classmates ... so it’s harder to think of them as some kind of separate class or type of person. Maybe young people just have a better understanding of mental illness than their elders. They might even be savvy enough to recognize a deliberate red herring when they see one. Whatever the reason, it’s a modestly hopeful sign for the gun debate and the disability community.

Note: On Friday, Rooted In Rights posted several Facebook and Twitter items debunking the supposed link between mental illness and gun violence. They are well worth a look for further information.

Disability Thought Of The Week

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When I started this blog in February, 2013, my goal was to post something every day. I pretty much did that for about three years, until my other day-to-day activities and priorities changed, and I switched to more occasional blogging. At the moment I am in a routine where I post something 2 or 3 times a month.

I want to try something different.

I want to start posting a short "Disability Thought Of The Week" each Sunday. These will be anywhere from a couple of sentences to a couple of paragraphs long, and no than that ... just brief samples of whatever is on my mind in my journey through disability culture and activism.

So the new schedule for Disability Thinking content will be:

Sundays: Disability Thought Of The Week
First Mondays: Monthly Reading List
Second Fridays: Disability Blogger Linkup
Fourth Fridays: Regular Blog Posts

As usual, all posts will be announced on Twitter and Facebook.

A Bit Of Fundraising

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I have decided to take the plunge back into a bit of fundraising for the Disability Thinking website. In the out-of-pocket sense, it's a pretty low-cost affair, but not no-cost. And, if I take into account secondary costs like my time and the fact that I need to always have a working computer to keep the website going, I'm really subsidizing this whole thing right now out of my pretty limited personal finances.

Instead of going the Patreon route, at least for now I will be selling mugs and t-shirts, and also running a Ko-Fi site, where you can quickly and easily make small, one-time donations.

If I make some noticeable headway with these fundraising avenues, then I might consider getting back into podcasting, or maybe a YouTube vlog. We'll see how it goes! In the meantime, check these out ...

The graphic for these items is a circular word cloud derived from the Disability Thinking Blog, but you don't have to know about the blog to appreciate it. I think it's a nice way to get across the importance of words and ideas in disability culture and activism.

If you want to make a Ko-Fi donation, just click this icon:

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Note that the Ko-Fi button will be at the top and bottom of the sidebar menu on every page you visit, so it's easy to make a donation whatever you happen to be reading at Disability Thinking.