Thursday, May 8, 2014

On Disability Etiquette ...

Ross McGuinness, Metro - May 8, 2014

Dylan Matthews, - May 8, 2014

First I read the Metro article about the UK-based publicity campaign aimed at improving peoples’ disability etiquette. It seems like a very good, professional, high-quality campaign with good advice that will hold peoples’ attention.

Then I was overjoyed to read the article on the same subject, in the new “Understand The News” website I have been wondering when Vox would get around to dealing with a disability related issue or trend, and Dylan Matthews does a great job of explaining and expanding a bit on the theme of disability etiquette. The title, alone, is perfect and presents the notion of Well-Meaning Ableism beautifully.

I look forward with unreasonable excitement for Vox to tackle a major disability issue with one of their “card stacks” … collections of short “explainers” that break down complex issues into easily understood segments, each one titled with a question phrased as an average reader might ask. I highly recommend exploring and some of these card stacks, and see if you don’t agree that the format could be perfect to explain all manner of disability topics.

Ending Ableism: Part 2 - Systemic Ableism

Last Saturday, I started a series of posts offering some practical tips for “Ending Ableism”. My hope is to give people some simple but concrete and effective actions they can take to fight ableism, without necessarily becoming a full on disability rights activist. Saturday I proposed five tips for reducing Well-Meaning Ableism. Today, after a delay due to non-blogging priorities, I have three easy ways to fight Systemic Ableism.

1. Document businesses and other public places that are not accessible

As you go about your daily business and travels, contribute accessibility reviews of the places you visit using online accessibility databases like AXSMap and AbleRoad. Both offer a simple star-based process to record accessibility of entrances, interior wheelchair space, and restrooms, as well as an opportunity to make incidental comments on important accessibility details and the helpfulness of staff. The more places are reviewed, the more useful these databases will become as references for disabled people looking for stores, offices, restaurants, motels that are accessible. It isn’t as confrontational as filing ADA complaints, but they help bring broader consumer pressure to bear for businesses of all kinds to make their facilities more accessible.

2. Only support disability nonprofit organizations that meet the following criteria:
  • A substantial portion of their board of directors and paid staff are disabled people.
  • They don’t operate “sheltered workshops” or self-contained “day programs”, but instead provide services and supports to individuals, out all over the community.
  • If the organization has a jobs program, they pay disabled workers Minimum Wage or more.
  • Their publicity and fundraising strategies don't use fear, pity, or sadness about disability.
It is a sad fact that many of the most significant injustices affecting disabled people come from some organizations that are trying to support disabled people. It's another aspect of Well-Meaning Ableism, and because disability organizations involve themselves intimately in our lives, they have more power than most to either remove barriers or place more in our way. Why support a disability organization if it is part of the problem?

3. If you have the opportunity, ask political candidates what specific disability-related policies they support and what they oppose

Bad disability policies emerge more from ignorance and neglect than from hostility. Most politicians have only vague notions of what disabled people want and need from government, and even many savvy political observers don't know enough to ask probing, specific questions about what a candidate's positions on disability matters might be. If there is a particular disability policy matter you care about ... accessibility, special education in your local schools, funding for home care and community-based supports, voting rights for disabled people ... write a letter to the editor or show up at a candidate forum, and ask people running for office what they would do if elected. The more questions candidates get about specific disability issues, the more they will be forced to learn about them, and that will lead to at least more careful, conscious policymaking, if not better.