I’m having a moment. More likely a meltdown. All because of a media release on access to sexual and reproductive health.
Before we get into why I am an absolute wreck right now, let me make three things clear:
One – I am a firm believer in access to sexual and reproductive health. To abortion, whatever the reason for it. To quality sexual and reproductive health information. I am proudly pro-choice.
Two – I will always support other marginalized communities in their advocacy work for better access, opportunities, and outcomes.
Oppression is not like pie – there’s more than enough to go around. Public opinion and support and funding are all also not like pie – we as marginalized communities do not have to fight each other for our slice – we can just bake a bigger pie.
And when one marginalized community benefits, we all benefit. Our struggles are intertwined, our people are diverse and deserve to feel fully welcomed in their communities.
And three – I don’t believe critiquing “good” things makes them any less good. In fact, I believe we need to critique these good, progressive measures to ensure things keep getting better for everyone.
If we don’t critique things, if we settle for things the way they are – things won’t get better, they’ll just stay the same. And I’m here to tell you that I can’t survive more of the same. So many disabled people will die if we keep having more of the same. And the same is the continued marginalization and exclusion of disabled people.
From progress. From funding. From opportunities. From decision-making positions. From meaningful inclusion in policy making and program design. From education. From employment. From society.
Now that that’s all been said, let’s unpack why I am mid-meltdown.
As someone with a uterus (we are not doing transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer erasure here!), I have a bit of a stake in sexual and reproductive health.
Actually, everyone does. You’ve all been born, right? (Not that I should have to argue the whole “everyone should care about this” angle but that is where we are right now.)
And as someone who is disabled and has a uterus, I’m pretty passionate about accessible and disability inclusive sexual and reproductive health.
So you might be able to imagine how I felt after reading a media release announcing significant increased funding for sexual and reproductive health for marginalized groups that didn’t mention disability once.
Now, I won’t list the marginalized groups that were listed because that perpetuates an us vs them rhetoric. It’s not marginalized group vs marginalized group, it’s all of us vs systemic oppression.
What I will list are a few words frequently mentioned throughout:
- “previous experiences of discrimination with the health care system”
- “accessibility of information and services for underserved populations”
- “the right to make decisions about their own bodies”
- “increased risk for poorer sexual and reproductive health outcomes.”
It’s hard to describe what this feels like to someone who isn’t disabled, but to grossly oversimplify it: it’s almost like being picked last for dodgeball, but you aren’t even picked at all. And no one seems to notice. Or at least, they don’t speak up.
(And this metaphor is unfortunately not so metaphorical – plenty of disabled people aren’t allowed to participate in gym class. Or they’re not invited out. Or they aren’t even allowed to leave their homes.)
So, here I am, not playing dodgeball.
Less metaphorically, here the disability community is, once again, not being included in funding and programming designed to make programs more inclusive and accessible for marginalized groups.
And this one media release, while devastating for its disability exclusion alone, was a boiling point for me.
Already in this awful little exclusionary pot was the fact that disability was almost excluded from the anti-discrimination clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities passing 61 years after the UN was founded.
That Canada’s first federal accessibility legislation passing less than 4 years ago.
That most provinces and territories don’t even having accessibility legislation.
That countless equity, diversity, and inclusion foundations, programming, and policy actively exclude disability.
That actual human rights programs and offices and lawyers don’t adequately include and incorporate disability.
Since we’re rolling with this boiling point pot of water metaphor, let’s talk about that obnoxious steam that fogs up your glasses and hurts your hand while you’re stirring – the accessibility washing.
Accessibility has finally seemed to enter mainstream discussions. And before you get all excited thinking this means great things for disability inclusion, I’ll have to stop you right there. Because accessibility is being used to mean affordability, or better outreach, or better responsiveness.
Is that by definition correct? Technically!
Is it at the very least a little messed up to hijack a word commonly associated with the disability community to exclude them from measures they could benefit from? Absolutely!
And this awful phenomenon is cruelly complimented by organizations, academics, and governments using accessibility to gloss over disabled people entirely!
Instead of discussing harassment, discrimination, ableism, and stigma, it’s easier and more comfortable to discuss barriers in the built environment, communications, and technology!
But barriers are created, maintained, and perpetuated because the world does not think about disability! So us disabled people are stuck in this gaslight-y purgatory where everything is about us, but nothing is for us.
Yes, accessibility benefits everyone. But by emphasizing this universal benefit over addressing the very real discrimination and barriers disabled people face, accessibility risks coming at the cost of further marginalizing disabled people.
We are moving in the wrong direction, unrooted and unguided due to our conscious choice to ignore disability.
And just like sexual and reproductive health services, I’m glad progress is being made – but I sure as hell have every right to criticize the fact that disability is being excluded.
I started writing this blog with me teeth chattering, with my chest quaking, with my breath shaking and tears rolling down my face.
I wrote the following at the start of my breakdown but kept it until the end. It’s unedited and it is straight from the broken heart of an exhausted 21 year old disabled queer woman who just wants to be included. Who just wants disability to be included without having to fight, and beg, and spend the rest of her life demanding change:
I am so tired of being an afterthought. I am so tired of being ignored. I am so tired of my community’s history being suppressed and hidden and unrecognized. I am tired of begging for recognition when we deserve so much more.
I am so tired of begging for the scraps of inclusion. I am tired of begging for media attention because the media doesn’t care. I am so tired of trying to appeal to politicians because they ignore us because of an inaccessible democratic system.
And I am so tired of the sympathetic dismissive smiles and head nods from the people in power who will never understand what it is to be disabled. I am so tired of the public not caring about disability and not feeling the need to care.
I. Am. So. Tired.
And I think about how I’m dedicating my whole life to disability issues and how daunting that feels sitting here at 21 sobbing my heart out after a media release.
Just a media release.
It’s so easy to pretend like it’s just a media release.
I’d rather pretend it’s just a media release and not a symptom of society’s continued apathy towards disabled people. Of our continued oppression.
I’d rather pretend this is a one-time issue and not an every day lived reality. But it is. And unlike what feels like the majority of the world, I don’t get the privilege of ignoring this reality.
It is so easy to accept things the way they are. It is so much harder to have to fight for change. And it’s still hard to fight for change when there’s really no alternative.
It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it’s demanding, it’s all-consuming, and it is the only choice I have.
I am surrounded by brilliant disability advocates and activists fighting and working for change, and while I know the weight of the disabled world does not rest on my shoulders, I don’t feel like I’ll ever be able to walk away from this movement.
So please, stop making me have to fight. Stop making me have to beg. And stop saying nothing about us.