Thursday, April 19, 2012

Need help: ROUGH DRAFT Making spaces accessible to people with invisible disabilities

Making spaces accessible to people with invisible disabilities:

While others have covered making spaces accessible to people with physical disabilities, I want to tackle the invisible ones.  Many people in our society live with invisible disabilities.  In the US alone it is estimated that 10% of people are living with an invisible disability and 96% of people with a chronic illness are living with a disability.  This means that more then likely you know someone who has one.

Examples are, but are not limited to:

Personality disorders
Primary immunodeficiency
Psychiatric disabilities
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Repetitive stress injuries
Temporomandibular joint disorder
Transverse Myelitis
Ulcerative Colitis.

Let’s start with the easy stuff:
Do not judge people by their disability.  We are not our illness.
Have seating available.  I have been to so many activist meetings that have “floor only” seating and on a “first come first served” basis.  Have chairs available, and a variety from hard surfaces to cushy ones and make sure people know that they’re not “first come first served,” but that they are reserved for people who need them.  People with chronic pain may need a cushy chair and people with other conditions may need a hard backed chair or else they may not be able to get back up again.  Sitting on the ground and being able to stand back up is a luxury, never forget that.
Watch your words.  Describing things as “schizo,” “psycho,” or “bipolar” are not cool (for example, there are a ton of words you can use that slur the disabled but they are too many to mention – if you think it can offend DON’T USE IT).  I just heard someone describe the weather we were having as “bipolar.” DO NOT DO THAT.  That is screwed up beyond belief and reinforces the stigma against people with mental health issues. Do not refer to anyone as a “crip,” “gimp,” “wheels,” or “blink,” etc. even if they do themselves and definitely don’t use that to describe them to anyone else.
Don’t ask stupid questions. This kind of goes hand in hand with the above, but ffs DO NOT ask someone personal questions about their disability.  If someone wants to share their life they will, but DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES DO THE FOLLOWING AND CALL PEOPLE OUT WHO SAY THIS:
- ask someone how they “got” their illness
- tell someone with a mental health disability that they can “snap out of it”
- ask people if they’ve tried X remedy instead of medications, chances are they have
- ask anyone with PTSD what their traumatic experience(s) was (were)
- at any point talk to them in a patronizing manner
- act like you know what it’s like to have a mental health disability b/c you (and this is a real example) “felt depressed once too”
- act like you are an expert at their disability b/c you read up on it
- DO NOT ASK US PERSONAL QUESTIONS.  WE ARE NOT PUBLIC PROPERTY.  NOTHING makes this OK.  Not “If you don’t mind me asking,” etc.  If we wish to share this information we will, but invasive questions from strangers are not welcome.
- Don’t yell.  Some people are very sensitive to loud noises and it can trigger others.
- Do not stand behind people – this can be very triggering.
This list is not exhaustive.  Again you should use your judgment.  If you are unsure DO NOT DO IT: it is probably rude.
Be aware of touching.  You may think that tapping someone on the shoulder from behind to get their attention is A-OK, but trust me it can make someone jump out of their skin (I’m guilty of this too).  I’ve found that a lot of people in the activist community are survivors of one sort or another and have PTSD.  One of the things a lot of survivors don’t like is being snuck up on or touched by random people.  I made the mistake of touching a friend of mine on the shoulder once to get her attention and she nearly jumped across the kitchen.  I wasn’t threatening her, I wasn’t a stranger, but I took her by surprise and I touched her in a way that she was uncomfortable with (tapping her on the shoulder from behind).  Since people don’t always know what will set them off, and are not always vocal about their conditions it is best not to touch people you don’t know, even if you think it is something innocuous like tapping them to get their attention.  Just don’t do it.  It’ll make everyone more comfortable.  Take it like you’d take sex.  ASK PERMISSION.

Control the environment.  If it gets too hot, too cold, too drafty, or too stuffy it can cause problems for people with certain disabilities or chronic illnesses.  It can aggravate these conditions and sometimes cause the onset of certain symptoms.

Do not touch a Service Dog without asking.  A Service Dog is working.  Petting it without permission may be distracting it from it’s designated tasks and create a problem for the owner.  Many Service Dogs are also trained not to sniff/acknowledge people when in their vests/when they are working.

Invite people to ask for help if they need it, and don’t treat them strangely if you think that any request is “weird.” 
Act like their partner is their “handler” i.e. talk to their partner instead of them.  Each person is still a person no matter if they have a disability or not.  Talking to their partner/friends instead of them is a disgusting thing to do and dehumanizes them.  DO NOT DO THIS!!!!!!!!