Self-congratulations by the able-bodied community are premature

Recently I read a blog by a prominent SFF personality congratulating the SFF able-bodied community for being inclusive of people with disabilities. I responded to that blog, citing my personal experiences at conventions.

My comment was ignored by said personality. One person responded to my comment, criticising me for not being sufficiently expansive in my recognition of the multitudes of varying disabilities, thereby justifying people on two feet consistently pushing their way into elevators so people in wheelchairs couldn’t get to panels on time and thus missed out. The SFF personality thanked the person who criticised my comment.

My critic’s comment was, to a point, justified but it was also a “not all men” comment. That is, when someone points out that a man has abused a woman, the response is “not all men”, thereby undermining the legitimacy of claims and, worse still, undermining the legitimacy of feminist movement aimed at equity and freeing women from abuse. This person effectively said “not everyone who can walk can manage stairs so it’s ok that people in wheelchairs could not access lifts that were full of people who could walk, thereby preventing people in wheelchairs from attending panels”.

No-one acknowledged the point I tried to make: that ableist self-congratulations are premature and highly destructive. With such a prominent SFF personality congratulating everyone on being so inclusive, she’s giving a free pass, allowing everyone to think “we’ve arrived” when there is such a long way to go.

If you think my experiences — including my experiences of exclusion on the basis of failure to provide disability access year after year during conventions until, in 2013 organisers instructed me to provide my own disability access — are unique, if you think I’m just a whinger or malcontent, you should look at these blogs.

These guys don’t seem to be involved in the SFF community but the SFF community is harsh, effective at excommunicating those it does not like or accept. I doubt many in my position have a voice enabling them to be heard. My skill in making myself heard is, after all, the reason I managed to complete my degree in Professional Writing and Editing after my university refused reasonable access in 2013: staff refused large print photocopies thereby preventing me from participating in editing classes. They forced me to sit in class and watch everyone else do editing exercises and learn editing shorthand while excluding me. Thanks to my skills at making myself heard, I finished my degree and I’m still talking.

Try listening to people with disabilities and find out if WE think we’re being included, if WE think disability access is adequate, before you start congratulating yourselves.

5 Comments

  1. I think you misunderstood my post entirely.

    I was very definitely not congratulation SFF on being inclusive. I was chastising the community because I’d been to a grand total of 3 conventions that were accessible. Only three. I was using them as an example of what inclusiveness could look like, in contrast to the events at WFC.

    Can you tell me what made you think I was saying that “we’ve arrived?”

    1. It seemed to me that you were congratulating the community on accessibility; my perception was reinforced when you thanked my critic for his “not all ables”–equivalent comment (about the people using the elevator at WorldCon) but didn’t acknowledge my comments about lack of disability access. I apologise for misunderstanding you.

      1. May I ask what made you think I was congratulating the community? I’d like to correct that if possible.

        And I’m also sorry about thanking the wrong person. Since I thought your post was agreeing with mine, I had read that comment as amplifying what you were saying, rather than contradicting you. I’d forgotten to mention invisible disabilities My mom is in that camp. She can walk, but has serious balance issues due to Parkinsons and tends to fall on stairs. She’s broken several bones due to that.

        Should elevators be reserved for people with disabilities? Yes. We may disagree on what counts as a disability though.

        1. “We may disagree on what counts as a disability though.”
          I have a Master of Social Science. Before disability discrimination destroyed my career, I worked in community services. I participated in Reins, Rope and Red Tape: the disability arts advocacy program run by disabled for disabled until Arts Access SA was defunded by the government. I have personal experience of disability and I have family members with other forms of disability, I have worked with people with disability (as a counsellor and colleague) and I have advocated for people. Most recently I had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to complete my degree in Professional Writing and Editing because staff refused large print photocopies thereby forcing me to sit and watch other students participate in editing exercises in the classroom (for example) while I could not read, could not see and could not complete said exercises. I have a fairly comprehensive grasp of disability and related issues.

          I believe in the social model of disability: my poor eyesight does not make me disabled. It is society’s assumption, society’s enforcement, of a certain level of visual acuity as “normal” below which people like me are excluded that makes me disabled. I’m perfectly capable of taking the stairs. My partner won’t allow me to take the stairs if he’s concerned about me, if I’m tired or upset, because it significantly increases the chances of an accident.

          In contrast, it is stairs without a viable alternative that make someone else disabled.

          I accept that there are people who find stairs difficult because of back or knee problems (for example). Or even the guy from Vision Australia who visited me this week: he has cerebral palsy although I wouldn’t have known it if he hadn’t told me. All I noticed was a mild stutter but, apparently, he needs physical accommodations like a special chair and desk.

          However, if people in wheelchairs at WorldCon consistently can’t get to panels because ambulatory people push in front of them into the lifts and people block the pathways to the panels, then something needs to change.

          My experience of PAX Australia has been great: with a medical pass I can arrive 5 or 10 minutes prior to an event and sit comfortably in the foyer. They allow early access to panels so people with disabilities can choose the seating best for us. For me, it’s the front and slightly to the left of centre (from that angle my vision is the most stable I can get). For someone in a wheelchair, it might be up the front or halfway back but in an aisle seat. After we’re seated — no rush — then everyone else is allowed in. It beats events I’ve attended in Melbourne where my partner arrived an hour or two early to queue then people we knew elbowed their way past to get closer to the front. Or, at another event, my partner and I were instructed to sit in the back third of the hall after he’d queued early; the front seats weren’t reserved and weren’t taken. At yet another event, we paid a considerable sum for seating that was so far from the stage that I couldn’t see GRRM and the other GoT guests on the big screen. There was no consideration given to disability access; I contacted the organisers only to be rebuffed.

          It all comes down to listening, to opening up the dialogue and to people of privilege not exerting their power to override a minority group.

          It also pays to remember:
          There are two types of people in the world:
          The disabled
          and
          The not disabled YET.

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