What you need to know about the glue of disability online movements & advocacy: unity
I am not a disability studies PHD, nor am I a medical professional. So there are moments where I feel like an imposter when I talk about disability-related issues. Although there is something extremely valuable I bring to the conversation: lived experience.
As I mentioned before, I’m a person who lives with Dyspraxia. For such a long time, I also lived with a severe case of Anemia. The Anemia made me physically weak and prone to fainting every time I had my period. It started when I was 13-years-old and ended when I was 18-years old. I knew it had gotten really bad when I visited a nurse at my local community health centre. After noticing that I was really pale and the haemoglobin levels in my bloodstream were dangerously low, they told me to go to the hospital.
Several blood transfusions and tests later, an OB/ GYN prescribed the birth control pill and the Anemia has been non-existent ever since. I also have an inner circle where a majority are either neurodiverse or have some sort of mental health condition.
Not to mention, I’m married to someone with type one diabetes who was one of the founding trustees of the #insulin4all movement. I watched the movement grow and felt like I learned a lot from both the right and wrong choices of everyone involved.
Currently, I’m a major contribution to the events and projects of the Dyspraxic Circle wing of the #Dyspraxia #neurodiversesquad movement
Our community’s awareness week is in full swing, and I couldn’t be any more proud of the people involved. Although I’m also slightly afraid of what might happen with a crucial part of it: our ability to create unity.
Let’s start with why it’s a good thing.
The best part of all this is that we can challenge cultural and physical barriers. There’s something enormously beautiful about that in an era of COVID-19. Because staying far apart and covering our faces is normalized for everyone’s safety.
Making an intimate, emotional connection with another human being outside your own household is suddenly a risky endeavour. However, in the disability community, technology creates a safe loophole.
I can ask someone for advice and support without leaving the house or purchasing a plane, bus, or train ticket. The best part of it is that I can do all of that while doing the most universally important thing of all: looking people in the eye and sharing a moment.
But what makes it a bad thing?
Unity can also scare away key allies of a movement in overwhelmingly powerful ways. All that energy needs to be harnessed for good, but sometimes intentions can be twisted in toxic directions very easily.
A great example of this is a concept my husband and I call “Struggle Olympics” AKA “Privilege Olympics”.
The Struggle Olympics is a competition for attention and pity. In this competition, people try to outdo other people by claiming that their struggle is more severe/ valid than someone else’s. The logic of this silly notion, in a nutshell, is the following:
Everyone involved may share a mutual disability, but everything from race, gender, and sexual orientation, to someone’s social class, determine which perspectives are worth paying attention to.
In the Dyspraxia community specifically, I try to avoid that attitude as well with something that is a key part of that community; the timing of peoples’ diagnosis, and if they’re either diagnosed or a self-diagnosis. This can be a very polarizing issue because awareness is still a problem. Unfortunately, even in public healthcare systems like Canada and the UK, diagnosis and treatment can be an out-of-pocket expense.
However, all those identity politics aspects can be harnessed in positive ways
It’s why I think it’s fine for some events to be for anyone living with dyspraxia, and some events being for a specific gender, geographic location, race, sexual orientation, etc.
To me, things like women-only events, and events only for the LGBTQ community are a bit like bars/ pubs for people from a specific community. It’s why I didn’t go to a gay bar until a few years ago. I’m not gay or a man, so I wanted to respect the gay male community’s right to have their own safe space to meet people just like them.
First time I ever went to a gay bar, I was invited. I was out on Halloween night with two gay men, and they were introducing me to a Toronto neighbourhood with a vibrant and proud gay scene. Their favourite gay bar was nearby and they encouraged me to come with them.
The most important lesson that can be learned from this…?
We need to support not demonize people who want to create some groups and events for all Dyspraxics, and some groups and events for Dyspraxics from specific cultural groups. Because sometimes our differences create differences in peoples’ experiences.
However, those differences can also help us see things from a whole new perspective. Not to mention, some people feel safer sharing their experiences in groups that are the most like them.
The first time I visited a Muslim-dominated country, this was a basic truth I had to accept.
Little things that you can’t apply Western World viewpoints to came up, like the expectation that women were expected to sit in the back of cabs driven by men and vice versa. Suddenly, I saw women or men only spaces from an entirely different point of view. In other words, it just wasn’t a big deal to me anymore.
Throughout the pandemic, CBC, one of Canada’s most well-known news outlets, has talked a lot about how we live in unprecedented times. Although the way I see it, the unprecedented nature of it all is about a lot more than this nasty virus. It’s also about how we treat each other.
The last thing we need is for everything that can be difficult about living with a disability to be a lot worse than it needs to be. We need each other to accomplish actual, lasting change. Because no one can do this alone. So stop fighting amongst each other.
All that passion needs to be channelled into something a lot more important; fighting against the awful behaviour of people who have the power to create schools, workplaces, and political policies that don’t benefit people with disabilities and their families.