Oh Mighty Corrente Help me! (Need input for my zine article)
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Making spaces accessible to people with invisible disabilities
While others have covered making spaces accessible to people with physical disabilities, I want to tackle the invisible ones. Many people in our society live with invisible disabilities. In the US alone it is estimated that 10% of people are living with an invisible disability and 96% of people with a chronic illness are living with a disability. This means that more then likely you know someone who has one.
Examples are, but are not limited to:
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders
Epilepsy Major depression
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Repetitive stress injuries
Temporomandibular joint disorder
Let’s start with the easy stuff:
- Do not judge people by their disability. We am not our illnesses.
Have seating available. I have been to so many activist meetings that have “floor only” seating and on a “first come first served” basis. Have chairs available, and a variety from hard surfaces to cushy ones and make sure people know that they’re not “first come first served,” but that they are reserved for people who need them. People with chronic pain may need a cushy chair and people with other conditions may need a hard backed chair or else they may not be able to get back up again. Sitting on the ground and being able to stand back up is a luxury, never forget that.
Watch your words. Describing things as “schizo,” “psycho,” or “bipolar” are not cool (for example, there are a ton of words you can use that slur the disabled but they are too many to mention – if you think it can offend DON’T USE IT). I just heard someone describe the weather we were having as “bipolar.” DO NOT DO THAT. That is screwed up beyond belief and reinforces the stigma against people with mental health issues. Do not refer to anyone as a “crip” or a “gimp” even if they do themselves and definitely don’t use that to describe them to anyone else.
Don’t ask stupid questions. This kind of goes hand in hand with the above, but ffs DO NOT ask someone personal questions about their disability. If someone wants to share their life they will, but DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES DO THE FOLLOWING AND CALL PEOPLE OUT WHO SAY THIS:
- ask someone how they “got” their illness
- tell someone with a mental health disability that they can “snap out of it”
- ask people if they’ve tried X remedy instead of medications, chances are they have
- ask anyone with PTSD what their traumatic experience(s) was (were)
- at any point talk to them in a patronizing manner
- act like you know what it’s like to have a mental health disability b/c you (and this is a real example) “felt depressed once too”
- act like you are an expert at their disability b/c you read up on it
- DO NOT ASK US PERSONAL QUESTIONS. WE ARE NOT PUBLIC PROPERTY. NOTHING makes this OK. Not “If you don’t mind me asking,” etc.
- act like their partner is their “handler” i.e. talk to their partner instead of them, etc
- touch their Service Dog without asking first
- Do not stand inside the personal bubble. I realize that this varies by cultures and individuals, but ffs you should be able to tell when someone is uncomfortable and take a step back. Also, I have a large personal bubble, do not be offended when I sit a seat or two away from you, I don’t know you well enough to sit next to you without panicking.
- Don’t yell. Some people are very sensitive to loud noises and it can trigger others.
- Do not stand behind people
This list is not exhaustive. Again you should use your judgment. If you are unsure DO NOT DO IT: it is probably rude.
Be aware of touching. You may think that tapping someone on the shoulder from behind to get their attention is A-OK, but trust me it can make someone jump out of their skin (I’m guilty of this too). I’ve found that a lot of people in the activist community are survivors of one sort or another and have PTSD. One of the things a lot of survivors don’t like is being snuck up on or touched by random people. I made the mistake of touching a friend of mine on the shoulder once to get her attention and she nearly jumped across the kitchen. I wasn’t threatening her, I wasn’t a stranger, but I took her by surprise and I touched her in a way that she was uncomfortable with (tapping her on the shoulder from behind). Since people don’t always know what will set them off, and are not always vocal about their conditions it is best not to touch people you don’t know, even if you think it is something innocuous like tapping them to get their attention. Just don’t do it. It’ll make everyone more comfortable. Take it like you’d take sex. ASK PERMISSION.
Control the environment. If it gets too hot, too cold, too drafty, or too stuffy it can cause problems for people with certain disabilities or chronic illnesses. It can aggravate these conditions and sometimes cause the onset of certain symptoms.