A few weeks ago I took to Twitter with a thread on accessibility and why it matters. I was mostly just having a rant, but it had a lot of responses. Many people shared it, or responded and told me how helpful it was. When I asked whether it would be useful to tidy the thread up and turn it into a blog post, everyone thought this was a good idea. One person on my page even suggested “Maybe even something people can download and shove down the throats of those who won‘t see”… Well, we don’t espouse violence against the wilfully ignorant here at Newsnibbles, so a blog post will have to do! I hope you find it helpful. If you have anything to add, or would like to share your experiences, please do so in the comments (you may need a calculator for the captcha, sorry) or you can reply to the original Twitter thread, which I have embedded at the bottom of the article.
So, yesterday I read an article on ways for introverts to make friends. Whilst it contained some ideas about conversation starters (we’re introverts not teenagers) all the things involved leaving the house. And I don’t mean like OMG, all the people, I never leave my cave. Obviously I do have elements of that, particularly now my anxiety is back on overdrive, I meant that it’s very a very ableist assumption that everyone CAN leave the house to go to random places to meet new people.
For example, I am visually impaired. They won’t let me drive (think I might kill people or some nonsense – where’s the evidence, I say) and I can’t see to catch busses. I can meet people places I know, and I’ve been before, as long as those places are walking distance; and believe me, I will walk miles. I am as independent as I can possibly be, I get no help from the state – I can dress myself and therefore I must be fine. Really. But I couldn’t get into town to a new place that was running a club I might like or something unless someone else was already going and could take me. And I don’t like to ask that, because I know it’s putting people out – and no one offers.
I used to play sports somewhere that was close to where I live, but for a portion of the journey there was no pavement, so you had to drive there. If my regular lift couldn’t take me, literally NO ONE else offered, even though they all drove past my flat to get there. They aren’t mean, they just don’t think. People don’t think. So, if my lift was away, I wouldn’t go. Because this city is not designed for non drivers.
And the point of this is IT’S NOT JUST ME! I’m pretty much invisible. You’d never know I couldn’t see because I cover it really well, I’ve learned to cope. Just like you’d never know that my current anxiety levels are almost unbearable. Some days I am at the point where I can’t maintain logical thought patterns and spiral into panic over nothing. But there are people everywhere with chronic illness, disabilities be they visible or invisible who can’t just join a club to make friends. They can’t just pop along to book club or am dram, they need to plan their trip. To decide if they can afford the exorbitant cost of a taxi to get to this social thing that might only cost a couple of quid once you’re there… when they get there they may have the added concern of will people understand me once I’m there? Will they have the patience to try?
I work with people with brain injuries and cerebral palsy, amongst other conditions and sometimes they can be difficult to understand. The number of people who look to me (or their PA) for a translation when they’re speaking. They are SPEAKING ENGLISH! You just need to pay attention! It’s really hard, is the point. It’s not always just about being introverted. It’s about access, and under current circumstances and current government policy access is being taken away from so many people. Articles like the one I read about making friends are exclusionary. And not intentionally so. It’s just that the author did not give it any thought. It is not something that impacts on their world view. In society, in films, in the media, disability is invisible. It makes people uncomfortable so they pretend it’s not there.
The only way we’re going to fix this is by talking about things. Saying why things are not accessible, and not being made to feel bad, or belittled by people saying “well why can’t you just…” Wow! You’re a f***ing genius! Yeah, I could JUST do that! I’d never thought! It’s not our responsibility to try harder to conform. It’s society’s responsibility to make things more accessible for us so that we are able to take part and be included. Starting a club? Offer lift shares. Make sure the where it is is accessible. When you say that everyone’s welcome, do you mean EVERYONE? Does your film night have the option of subtitles and audio description. Is there an accessible toilet? Think it through.
This was the end of the thread, well done for getting this far. Then, there were responses, and the thread continued…
When you are having a perspective explained to you from a person who is experiencing it everyday, do not correct them, or tell them they are wrong based on your experience. This is the definition ‘splaining. The example being (and not naming anyone because naming people serves no purpose and undermines the greater cultural problem). When someone with a disability tells you that something isn’t helpful to them, the response needs to be “oh, I’m sorry, so what would be helpful to you?” Not, “well, I thought it would be,” then getting all defensive about why you did it. That doesn’t help anyone and it creates a hostile environment. Chances are, the differently abled person in question wasn’t offended when you initially did the thing, you were trying to help. But when you start to argue explaining why your view of why they need the thing is more important than what they are saying they actually need is not only undermining them, their sense of worth as a human, but it is saying that you, from your position of abled privilege knows better what they need than they do. I’ll provide an example. VI (visually impaired) assistant turns up with a wheelchair. VI person says I don’t need a chair, I can walk. The correct response is then to say, “oh, sorry, let’s walk.” That’s fine and no one is upset, offended or made to feel less than. When VI assistant becomes defensive and says “well, it’s quicker for me to put you in this chair anyway,” they are making the VI person feel like an inconvenience and an annoyance. That is not supporting them. A lot of people with disabilities suffer with anxiety, this won’t help. And dude, it’s your job to assist them. That’s why you’re there. Literally, it’s why you’re being paid. And the point is, people are differently abled, we need to help them do what they can do, not make them feel bad for what they can’t.
Let me put it in a different example that does not include disabilities. What if a guy at work tells a sexist joke. You say, “dude, that’s sexist, I’m not comfortable.” What he needs to do is say, “oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise, I won’t do that again.” Problem solved, nice working environment. If he says, “well, everyone I know thinks it’s funny so you just need to lighten up,” you are suddenly made to feel less than, marginalised and it is a hostile working environment. Does that analogy MAKE YOU GET IT??? HELP PEOPLE WITH WHAT THEY CAN DO! DON’T MAKE THEM FEEL BAD FOR WHAT THEY CAN’T. Here’s another story, like the wheelchair at the airport story:
I was in the opticians (OPTICIANS) supposed to be a professional f*cking eye doctor, and I had to explain to her that I couldn’t drive (looking back I wonder if she just walked in off the street) – like my prescription is right there, and you’re asking? Are you saying I could drive? Because chuck me some f*cking car keys, I’m outta here, mate. But no, I was right. Wow, I’ve only lived with this condition for 35 years, thanks for making me feel validated. But apparently I could have a blue badge, she said… I said… “but I can walk….” and she said “the people driving you might *like” a blue badge.” They might like it. I CAN WALK! I do not need to park closer to stuff! If the people driving me do need to, they need a blue badge! What the actual f***???
I actually only had two responses to this thread saying “can’t you try”, which is nice, after I already said don’t bother, we’ve already tried and that does not help. We want support accessing stuff, not people telling us what we can do differently. We don’t need to change! People with disabilities don’t need to try harder! We are already trying as hard as we can! Do you think we like not being included and not being able to access things? Society needs to admit its shortfalls, and actively work to improve, not become defensive when it’s told that whatever form of “help” it’s offering isn’t working. You are privileged not to be disabled. Lucky you, so you have no clue what it’s like! SO LISTEN TO SOMEONE WHO DOES! And don’t say “well, I have x anyway so…” I’m visually impaired. Doesn’t mean I would pretend to know what a person with CP or hearing impairment needs. You have to ASK THEM WHAT THEY NEED and RESPECT THE BLOODY ANSWER!
Thank you for reading all the way to the end. If you would like to read or share the original Twitter thread, it is embedded below:
THREAD: This was gunna be a tweet, but now it’s gunna be a thread…
So, yesterday I read an article on ways for introverts to make friends. Whilst it contained some ideas about conversation starters (we’re introverts not teenagers) all the things involved leaving the house.
— C H Clepitt (@BadgersTweetToo) March 18, 2019
C H Clepitt has a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of the West of England. As her Bachelor’s Degree was in Drama, and her Master’s Dissertation focused on little known 18th Century playwright Susannah Centlivre, Clepitt’s novels are extremely dialogue driven, and it has often been observed that they would translate well to the screen.
Since graduating in 2007, she gained experience in community and music journalism, before establishing satirical news website, Newsnibbles in 2010. In 2011 she published her book, A Reason to Stay, which follows the adventures of disillusioned retail manager, Stephen, as he is thrust into village life and the world of AmDram. Clepitt’s feminist fantasy, The Book of Abisan not only crosses worlds, but confuses genres, and has been described as a crime drama with magic. She has often said that she doesn’t like the way that choosing a genre forces you to put your book into a specific little box, and instead she prefers to distort the readers’ expectations and keep them guessing. Her 2016 work, I Wore Heels to the Apocalypsedoes just that, as just like the characters, the readers won’t know what’s going on in this laugh out loud satirical scifi.