A person puts on shoes upon leaving a temple. Shoes and a wheel chair line the entrance.
Image Source: Savelie Antipov / Unsplash

Unlearning Ableism and Creating Care

Disability as a concept and experience is formed by a combination of medical/physical factors and social/attitudinal factors; capitalism, in particular, is an integral part of disability oppression (The Mighty). Growing up disabled, I’ve experienced plenty of barriers to work, school, and social activities. Sometimes this was social exclusion; other times, my physical capability ruled me out. But in many cases, it’s something in between. A building without wheelchair access is a physical barrier. It also simply wouldn’t exist in a social environment that not only recognized and accepted the unique needs and limitations caused by disability but prioritized the equal inclusion and participation of disabled people in society.

Capitalism centers nondisabled bodies because they are seen as (and often are) better suited to productivity and consumption. Disabled bodies are assumed to lack independence and be a drain on society’s resources. As much as capitalism pushes us to reject and marginalize dependence, the reality is that regardless of physical ability, we all depend on each other. That’s a good thing because interdependence is powerful (Leaving Evidence).

One thing everyone can learn from disabled people and culture is that there is beauty in being limited and knowing those limits. I use “limited” rather than “limits” because limitedness is something all humans are, not just something humans have. Hierarchies of acceptable versus unacceptable limitations have been created arbitrarily through ableist, capitalist expectations around ability.

TAKE ACTION

• Learn about disability history, culture, and community and resist ableist norms by talking about your identity and worth without referencing your job.

• Make your social media posts accessible to blind and low-vision people by adding alt-text and image descriptions to visual content

• Design content that meets digital accessibility standards, and make protests or events (whether in-person or virtual) accessible.

• Support groups like ADAPT fighting for disability justice.

When you feel limited, what do you do with that feeling? Every person can only work for so long, carry so many groceries at once, and process so many emotions at one time. So which are the limits you are comfortable with and why? If you do feel comfortable with limits like the ones I mentioned above, is it because you accept being limited — or because you see those as examples of “acceptable” limitations? 

Accepting our own limitedness is one step to detaching ourselves from the toxicity of capitalist views of worth. If you’re nondisabled, I’d encourage you to get comfortable with your limits and the limitedness of others.

Now, I want to be clear here: accepting inherent human limitedness is not the same as saying “in a way, everyone is disabled” or otherwise dismissing differences in ability and bodily experience. Disability is socially constructed (Autistic Hoya). It’s also a real and powerful thing. I ask you to not lose sight of that and the way that capitalism sets disabled people up to fail (Interregnum). 

My hope is that by accepting and leaning into our own natural limits, we can view and value each other, center disabled voices, and prioritize accessibility at all levels of our efforts: individual, community, and governmental.

There are plenty of resources available to educate yourself about disability history, culture, and community (Access is Love, SURJ, Sins Invalid). You don’t need to learn everything before taking action — you can do both simultaneously. 

Start with your conversations and relationships. Resist ableist expectations around economic production by talking about your identity and worth without referencing your job (Disabled Capitalists).

Make your social media posts accessible to blind and low-vision people by adding alt-text and image descriptions to visual content (Coyote). Though you’re unlikely to know if adding alt-text has brought your content to more people, a commitment to disability justice means working to accommodate all disabilities, not just those that are most common, visible, or have straightforward access needs. You can use Alt-Text as Poetry as a resource.

Throughout it all, work with disabled advocates so all movements, not just those working on disability, are inclusive. Too often, disabled people’s self-advocacy is overshadowed and out-funded by nondisabled people and groups. It is crucial that we center disabled voices, perspectives, and leadership. 

Make sure online content meets digital accessibility standards (We’re All Human) and when planning protests or events (whether in-person or virtual), make sure they are accessible. Also, be clear about the ways that an event may not be accessible. It is rare for spaces and programming to truly be fully accessible (Invalid Art). Promising accessibility but not delivering on them damages disabled people’s trust in your organization or venue.

Look into political candidates’ platforms and their record on civil rights of disabled people (ACLU). The Americans with Disabilities Act has improved accessibility and inclusion since it was signed thirty years ago, but we remain a long way from equal access (Dame Magazine). Make sure politicians follow through on their promises to the disabled community. 

And finally, if you’re disabled or chronically ill, consider submitting to Daisy Holder’s Covid Disability Archive to preserve our community’s artifacts and experiences from this time.

The inclusion of disabled people at all levels must always be a priority.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

• People with disabilities are excluded by social barriers like inaccessible design, architecture, and organization. 

• Capitalist institutions profit from the exclusion of disabled people when value is created by work and consumption. 

• Disability justice must be centered in all spaces and social movements.


This piece was modified in collaboration with Studio ATAO. Sign up for their newsletter and find other essential topics like today’s piece. 

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