This is going to be another one of my from-the-heart, write as you go blogs.
The last few days, I’ve been fighting through tears and a choked up throat as I try to cope with how ableist, inaccessible, and exclusionary Fall 2022 has already been. Dealing with the massive rollback of accessibility and accommodations on-campus was already enough (if not more than enough!) but to watch my peers – my friends – host non-masked, inaccessible superspreader events in the middle of an ongoing global pandemic has honestly made me feel as though people want me dead.
As though people have pretended to care about disability rights, disability justice, accessibility, myself – just to appease me. Just to shut me up. Just to get me off their backs. Just to wait me out.
Because when you have an autoimmune disorder in the middle of a global pandemic and people care more about awkward icebreakers with strangers than you living to – at the very least – complete your degree – wouldn’t you feel like people want you dead too?
I feel like I’ve done everything short of begging on my hands and knees for people to care and remember that disabled students still exist. Spoiler: we still exist!
Even though so many of us have had to drop out of school, even though so many of us have died. And if I felt like begging would work, I would have done it by now.
I have created educational content on how to host hybrid, accessible events. I have answered ignorant DMs asking me to do people’s work for them – for no compensation and no credit. I have talked to the press. I have offered free anti-ableism and accessibility training to student groups. I have offered accessibility insights for free.
I have offered my time, energy, sanity, wellbeing – everything I have. I have bit my tongue and swallowed my pride. All because I genuinely hoped – and still naively hope – that I can make a difference. Not globally, not nationally (alone), but just on my university’s campus. Just among my peers. Just among people I thought I could consider my friends.
And you may say, “that’s so dramatic”. And I can’t blame you – before I was disabled I genuinely believed “ableism” was overhyped, overplayed, social justice snowflake warrior nonsense that wasn’t real. (I’ve written on it what feels like a billion times.)
But that’s how ableism remains so prevalent and pervasive – it’s how it continues to be excluded from equity diversity inclusion training and allyship campaigns. It’s how disabled people continue to be murdered by their governments around their world, and hidden away from society.
And all I’ve ever asked was for people to try their best!
To listen, to learn, to be allies. I’ve tested my patience trying to unpack microaggressions, I’ve answered ignorant emails asking for free consultations without credit. I’ve put aside my personal life to contribute to something infinitely larger.
I’ve given disability advocacy the best I can – I’m only asking others do their best too. I’ve said disability advocacy is a two-way street, we have to listen and learn to improve. We have to grow together.
So after all this, after all this work, after all this pain and suffering – I feel like I’m left with nothing. Or better yet, I’m left with 101 week. An overwhelmingly in-person only, unmasked celebration of ableism.
Of ignorance. Of apathy. Of burnout.
I get it – this pandemic has been tough. We have all went through a lot. And most people are not hardwired to cope with so much persistent bad – even existential – news.
But that doesn’t mean we get to give up. It doesn’t mean we get to pretend a pandemic is over. It doesn’t mean we contribute to the massive rollback of accessibility and accommodations on-campus.
We have fought through this for over two years now – and we haven’t fought so hard, and for so long, to give up now.
And let’s remember – from Day 1 of this pandemic it was disabled people most at risk. And of disabled people – poor, black, indigenous, queer, trans, homeless, racialized, disabled people were most at risk.
And it feels like non-disabled people still don’t care! Non-disabled people were relieved we were the ones dying. Non-disabled people thought we weren’t worth saving. Non-disabled people abandoned us. Non-disabled people control our governments, our health agencies, our international organizations. Non-disabled people didn’t just leave us to die, they offered us up all so they didn’t have to wear a mask and social distance.
But during this pandemic, we learned so much about just how accessible the world can be!
Where disabled people used to have to extensively coordinate personal arrangements to have food and medication delivered, food delivery services became the norm.
Where disabled people had to beg to be included in alternative formats, online conferences became the norm.
Where disabled students demanded equitable, accessible access to education just to be denied, fully online schooling became the norm.
In all of these cases, we were denied basic accessibility to essential rights. We have the right to accessible food, to accessible social lives, to accessible education.
And I will not be gaslit into believing I don’t. Into believing it’s not possible. Because this pandemic explicitly showed us that the accommodations we’ve requested have always been possible – non-disabled people just never felt required to act on it.
And now, after we’ve been shown how accessible the world can be when it benefits non-disabled people – non-disabled people are eagerly returning to the “before times.” While companies and governments claim to “build back better,” accommodations and accessibility are being sidelined – as they always have been.
That’s where we’ve been and where we’re at now. And I’d love to get into where we’re going – but I just don’t know.
I don’t know how else I can beg people to care about the disability community. To undergo the minor inconvenience of wearing a mask to not literally kill other people. I don’t know how to keep advocating as people begin to shut off and shut down.
I feel like I sound like a broken record – but how can I not if people won’t listen to the most basic explanations of ableism and how it manifests.
Here’s where I’d like us to go: I’d like us to enforce masking again. I’d like us to pay attention to our actively collapsing healthcare system. I’d like us to listen to others and practice empathy and allyship. I’d like disability to be included in “intersectionality” and “building back better.” I’d like to not get COVID again. I’d like to not worry about my disabled friends dying.
I’d like student groups to reach out for anti-ableism training. I’d like organizations to stop asking for my free emotional labour. I’d like my peers and friends to actually care about disability justice and accessibility – not just appeasing me in the short-run.
I’d like us to remember what we’ve lost this pandemic, and what we’ve been fighting for all along. I’d like to come out of this pandemic (whenever that may be) stronger, closer, actually better.
And one last disclaimer before we’re done: I know I am not alone. Disability advocates have been – simply put – hauling ass this pandemic. I’m not the only broken record still spinning on the turntable, even when the room is empty and the dust collects.
Disability rights are slowly (so, slowly) entering the mainstream – and they have been for a very long time! Without the work of past disability advocates, we would’ve been killed off much faster than we’re currently are now.
Disabled people have set clear boundaries and have taken heartbreaking precautions just to stay alive. I’ve been privileged to be mostly surrounded by people who can understand that I’m at risk and need to be cautious. But in an individualistic, ableist society – we feel alone.
Being disabled in a pandemic is like scuba diving without an oxygen tank.
Every action, every move forward threatens my life. But when I talk to other disabled people, it’s like I can come up for air and breathe again. And I’d much rather be given an oxygen tank than be forced into struggling for the next air pocket.
This feels excessively metaphorical, but I am running out of ways to express a not so rare phenomenon.
Speaking to disabled students across Canada through NEADS has showed me I’m far from alone – which is good for my mental health, but obviously terrible when we grapple with the fact that so many disabled people are fighting the same battles across the board day after day.
While disabled people are about 20% of the world’s population, we need non-disabled people to practice allyship and get us to majority. We need people in power to care, and we need to be put into positions of power. We need to be able to access spaces to change them. And we need to survive this pandemic to change how we respond to the next one.
Mask up. Get your boosters. Host hybrid events. Do your best. Don’t suck.