THE BLOG
11/21/2016 05:49 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2017

Intersectional Politics and Accessibility

"Intersectionality" is not just a buzzword. I often think to myself how much it would mean if, when folks talked about marginalized and oppressed people, they didn't list last, leave out, or forget about People with Disabilities / Disabled People.

Regarding that slash (/), above, you're going to use person-first language if that's your identity or preference, or just, as some have recommended (and others demanded), to be "on the safe side," if you are an outsider to disability experience. And, some folks should certainly not refrain from using disability-first language, if that is one's orientation, and the person using that language self-identifies as an insider.

There is no one answer to respond to the question of this disability linguistics matter. But, there are many disability "language etiquette" guides -- with various degrees of and commitments to risk, nuance, and alleged controversy -- designed to assist the non-disabled and others. Most emphasize person-first language; some even go so far as to dismiss if not abhor disability-first language. In contrast, a few of these guides articulate greater variety, like the one shared publicly by the Disability Cultural Center at Syracuse University.

My main concern here, however, is not terminology. I will continue with some examples of intersectionality that include graphic imagery and expression.

Black folks and other People of Color who have been killed by the police have often "also" been People with Disabilities. They didn't have "special needs." They were not pity parties. Or differently abled.

DISabled. (Dis)abled. Say it. Sign it. Type it. Some of these slain people's experiences of disability would have been visible to you -- if you are sighted. Some of these folks' disabilities were largely invisible and might not have been perceived by you, whether you're sighted or not.

Trans* disabled immigrants and Disabled Refugees of Color wind up in jail, deported, endangered, or in far worse circumstances (including dead), more often than lots of other folks.

In a recent Huffington Post piece, I addressed my disinterest in Oppression Olympics.

#BlackLivesMatter, period.

Many people are afraid, right now. We deserve to feel how we do. Folks who want us to "come together" have a nice idea. But, not everyone is "ready, yet" -- and, vitally (not a euphemism), some will never be interested, for understandable reasons.

An alternate title for this discussion could have been, "Accessible Intersectionality: The Rubber Meets the Road." Sometimes, that rubber is on someone's motorized wheelchair. Thanks for everything, Ed Roberts. I wonder what you would have thought of November, 2016. I have a pretty good idea.

Not everyone wants to join in, or can, without legitimate fears of compromising or possibly losing safety or wellness. Not everyone would be truly welcomed, or really included, or would have access to the "Solidarity Forever" sing along.

[Beware or take heed of the upcoming, strategic, run-on sentence.]

Because some folks are nonverbal, and type to communicate, and their assistant isn't free that night, and you're meeting in that building that has only steps, with overstimulating and non-adjustable lighting, with no furniture that's not painful, no nearby bus with an accessible route or other modes of accessible transportation or accessible parking (if you can drive at all) or information on an accessible ride share (if it's even available), and there are no American Sign Language interpreters, no image descriptions, no film captions, no way to even request accommodations in the first place, no pause time consideration, no vegetarian or gluten-free or Kosher or Halal food (if there's any food at all, and someone might also need that -- maybe they have diabetes or hypoglycemia -- and, no, it's not just "on them" to feed themselves when you are hosting a long meeting and you expect full participation from an array of folks...you could have folks pitch in, after all!), little to no imagination (but possibly plenty of waste-of-time guilt) with respect to expecting folks to show up who may have allergies or fragrance sensitivity, plus there is no noise level awareness, or a commitment to transparent and accessible language choices, or an understanding that emotional landscapes can be variant without being a dilemma, and there are no gender-neutral or accessible bathrooms etc., etc...

That sentence paragraph might have produced some stress for some readers. It has been my experience that stress, frequently followed by defensiveness, and then sometimes followed by inertia, are often the responses to the word "accommodations," because of ableism in our society.

I want you to believe and to know that you can and should aim to accommodate people and scenarios. Space sharing both physical and virtual and life-in-realtime are not really (and need not really to be only) about presumably stressful accommodations planning, if you: consider possibilities in the first place; design and create as you go along, in collaboration with others (always including Disabled People / People with Disabilities: "Nothing About Us Without Us"); and provide information in advance regarding how folks can request accommodations, in any case, for that "Solidarity Forever" meeting.

And, yes, situations that you may encounter in your intersectional political world are at times still going to be about someone's ethical and legal right to accommodations. (Deal with it. Please.)

Lots of Crip folks and our allies (who, by having proven themselves, already, have earned the right to use the word "ally") have great recommendations for what happens or could occur when there are "competing" needs between and among different Crip folks.

We are not being "politically correct" (please, yuck), demanding, aggressive, impossibly unrealistic, too expensive, a burden, a cause to sigh behind my back / our backs (those of us who have backs) in the *back*ground, in your way, or an inconvenience of any kind that is presumably creating a messy nuisance for your "social justice" movement of diversity and inclusion. Don't throw up your hands (yes, not everyone has hands).

Stand as you're able. I am here. We are here.

#CriptheVote -- post-election. Let's get busy. As I said above, involved we will be, if "we" want to -- and can. Don't push.

Activism isn't accessible to everyone. Activism also has many ways of being.

You don't get to tell everyone to take to the streets, without parking, curb cuts, or elevators; if someone's body, intellectual and communicative approaches, and/or emotional differences may lead them to feel overwhelmed or imperiled because of ableism and other forms of oppression; or if by showing up they may find themselves facing situations that could potentially or likely result in being ignored, disrespected, bullied, humiliated, attacked, deported, or eliminated.

Some folks just can't get there. Maybe they're at home writing an online manifesto, and you better realize that they are no less powerful than you. They might be blinking for each letter, as Jean-Dominique Bauby did, in order to compose his memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

I'm not just talking to non-Crips and Normals. I'm talking to everybody. You can be annoyed. My intentions are loving and assertive, not patronizing.

For example, it would be great if some of the chair users who are making videos always made sure that the awesome movies about Crip Pride had captions, and/or a transcript, with image or audio descriptions if needed and appropriate. It would be great if sighted Crip folks knew that not all Blind folks use Braille, but some do, obviously. Many Blind folks use other approaches to access content, including apps and screen readers. Not everyone has the money or resources to get this tech, though.

Your image-rich PDF document with pictures of the words that you have used or possibly even your website may not be accessible to screen readers. The reader then says: Blank. Blank. Blank. It is easy enough to include accompanying text, or you can commit to sharing text-only electronic flyer content. If you feel that you must have images, you could provide image tags in the e-flyers and put alt-text on your website. Unless you already have the necessary skill sets, or are willing to learn and apply them to create accessible, pretty PDFs, I recommend saving the pretty PDFs for printing for the sighted. (FYI, JPEGs are also not accessible if they are pure images. Facebook memes are often not accessible, either.)

Stand as you are able and wake up. Don't just be nice. Aim for chutzpah (guts, nerve, risk-taking, courage) in your intersectional labors. Chutzpah as you're able. Without undermining others -- or yourself.