“More care, more of the time.”
I recently read Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by queer, disabled, femme, artist, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. This book exposed my ignorance. Before, I could acknowledge my able-bodied privilege, but I did not recognize the impermanence of it. It’s quite common (and ableist) to view disabilities as temporary, as something to overcome. As if disabled, sick, and neurodivergent folks are somehow living less valuable lives than abled people. As if able-bodiedness is permanent. News outlets, movies, and even healthcare professionals promote this false assumption. It has snuck its way into my mind as well, which is why I’m grateful that this book has enabled me to grow and encourage all to read it.
I’m only sharing things I’ve learned from Leah’s book, but I strongly encourage everyone to do further reading on their own of either Leah’s work or other work by disabled people. (I have included links to resources for more information throughout this post.) I’m on my own learning journey and acknowledge that I don’t know what I don’t know.
Often, accessibility is an afterthought when planning events. Are our rallies, marches, protests, conferences, classes etc. wheelchair accessible? I mean really wheelchair accessible. Is there a ramp at the entrance, are there at least 3 feet between aisles of seats, are bathrooms easy to find and get to? Is there an ASL interpreter? Are there several? Is there allocated seating at the front of the event/venue specifically for disabled folks? How long is the march/walk? Are we putting unspoken physical requirements on our events by making them movement based? All of these questions about accessibility start at the event, but how are we expecting people to get to our events in order to support the cause? This may feel overwhelming, but solutions exist!
There are many ways to increase accessibility without spending money. By using Leah's guides and models for creating care webs and networks, abled community organizers and allies can share the responsibility and relative costs (in money, time, resources, spoons) of creating more inclusive spaces instead of relying on disabled folks for their networks, knowledge, and expertise. Live Streaming is a great way to increase the accessibility of an event for people who wish to be involved but may be unable to physically attend. A livestream and live social media updates can broaden your event’s reach, are free, and require minimal effort. If your group does not have the budget to hire an ASL translator, someone could invest time to learn it themselves online. Closed captioning is free and simple for videos, and you could easily acquire write-ups of a speakers’ main points or outlines of their talks for a live alternative. Organizing a carpool spreadsheet or buying bus passes for people planning to attend are other low-budget ways to allow more people to get to an event. While I believe inexpensive or free solutions to all kinds of access problems are valuable and important, I do wonder what we are willing to pay for instead? In organizing movements, what are we prioritizing over total access and inclusion? Disabled folks have been brainstorming solutions to access problems forever; it’s time to think creatively, inclusively, and share that burden.
Leah talks about how abled-bodied community organizers can easily get frustrated by requests or demands from disabled folks for additional resources, because, as organizers, they are often already dealing with insufficient funds. This frustration is understandable if you view accessibility as an additional detail or luxury, rather than as an integral part of the justice movement itself. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate how we gauge the success of such events. It’s certainly time to reevaluate our priorities.
Creating spaces within the environmental movement (or anywhere for that matter) that include, respect, and value disabled and neurodivergent folks is not an altruistic act. Yes, it’s the right thing to do. But make no mistake, when we take care of each other, we all benefit. Healing and activism are not mutually exclusive. If the ways we visualize activism and community action exclude disabled people, then we need to take a long hard look at our values and how we’re living them. Healing and care work are valuable parts of all kinds of activism and justice work. And we need to stop shaming others and ourselves for needing and providing care. It’s natural. And the sooner we accept and indulge in that fact, the sooner we can truly thrive in the movements we hold so dear.
When it’s time to plan your next meeting, public forum, protest, or even hangout, I challenge you to think about ways to be proactive about incorporating a disability justice framework. Create and expand your own care networks. Learn about care work. Do the care work. We all benefit from disability justice, just as with environmental justice. To finish with a quote from Care Work,
Sydney is a North Carolina based environmentalist and creative. She completed DDCSP at the University of Michigan and is passionate about food justice, farming, and education. Her 2020 goals include reading as much as possible and dancing more. You can see more of Sydney's work here.