Getting Moving on Disability Liberation (draft 10.7.21)

The worldwide movement of disability human rights is a powerful, connected community of effective advocates. It is one of the most innovative and effective movements for liberation in the history of the world. We have national and international laws and thousands of programs around the world that protect, and promote the inclusion of, people with disabilities. We’ve come far in just a few decades.

And we have a long way to go. Disabled people are still subjected to discrimination and exclusion in many arenas: education, employment, full participation in community activities. Many people assume that our main problems are caused by bodily limitations; but actually, it’s largely discriminatory attitudes that limit us from having the lives we want and deserve. Architectural barriers (shortage of ramps, of accessible transportation, of accessible housing, of making sure that communication technologies are accessible for screen readers to blind people, and so on) exclude about a sixth of the world’s population from fuller participation. These barriers result from a lack of creativity and from a failure to implement disability laws. Fortunately, increasingly available communication technologies enable more and more of us with vision and hearing impairments to connect. Discriminatory attitudes directed at people with intellectual impairments continue to keep this community separate.

RC theory and practice are supportive of the goals of disability liberation, yet many of our Communities still struggle to include people with disabilities and illnesses, and to encourage discharge about these issues.

People with disabilities and chronic illness are required to become creative and resilient, and we do! We have a lot to offer the world. Including us benefits everyone! Here are suggestions for making disability liberation work go well, or get going, in our RC Communities.


Discharge groups for people with issues in common are the best way to motivate regular discharge and create safety to do the work. Just knowing that a support group exists in the Area, even a small one that meets every couple of months, helps people begin to discharge about disability liberation. Note that it may take a while before people actually make it to the group.

Group time can be spent on news and goods, sharing theory and discharge time, setting goals for challenging internalized oppression, and brainstorming about RC Community access issues.

Suggested questions for a discharge group: What's great about your life, despite, or even because of, the difficulties or challenges? What do you appreciate about yourself? About your body? About your disability liberation work in the world? What can people with your condition uniquely contribute to the world's understanding of the human experience of disability or chronic illness? Or of all other liberation issues? What can people with your particular ethnicity or class background or other constituency contribute to clarity about disability or illness? How has your disability helped you better appreciate being human? How has any help or assistance you need enabled you to transcend isolation?

Also helpful is group attention to set reasonable life goals, with concrete group support and follow-through. Useful questions: What steps, small or grand, can you take to make your life more enjoyable? More close and connected to others? What steps toward having more fun can you include? A helpful general contradiction to disability oppression is to focus not only personal goals, but also on gaining wide-world visibility, power, and connection to the world community of people with disabilities. We need to notice that we are world leaders.

Other important issues for a discharge group: Early memories of our bodies, such as injuries or childhood illness. Early sexual memories. Self-blame and shame. Difficult relationships with medical providers. Attitudes from our class background toward illness and disability. Attitudes from our family or our culture. Attitudes from our profit-based societies.

“News and goods” should be a significant part of the group, even if people need to discharge to think of one. Also important is time in the group for creativity and play, using crafts supplies, singing, or poetry, to keep the focus light, fun, and present.

Outside of discharge groups, we can train our regular Co-Counselors to counsel us. We can share literature, offer positive feedback and suggestions, and have supervision sessions with a third counselor.


Discharge groups for people with chronic illness and physical symptoms receive mixed reviews. The pitfall is that people who struggle with physical pain, fatigue, or other symptoms and who are feeling despair about recovery, if we lack powerful contradictions, may negatively reinforce each other. The tone of the group can then spiral downward and the group fall apart. Factors that affect whether or not this kind of group works include the leader’s skill level, the degree of support for the leader, and the experience level of the participants. Here are some suggestions for such a group to keep the focus positive and useful (suggestions that are also good for individual sessions).

Spend only a part of the time on how hard it is to live with chronic illness. Individuals may need to complain in sessions one-to-one, but in a group, it is too restimulating to listen to many turns. Although each person does need a place to discharge the difficulties, the oppression, the discomfort, the fear, and the hopelessness, it must be done in a way that also brings laughter, shaking, and yawns. The majority focus in the group should be kept light and away from distress as much as possible.

It can be helpful for the client to have our attention kept on long-term flourishing, closeness, successful recovery, reclaiming power, and so forth: I survived! I’m safe now! My parents did the best they could, despite their hurts! I made brilliant decisions as a young person!

Counseling sessions are powerfully reinforcing experiences. The focus of the client's attention in a session will carry over well beyond that session into daily life and inform the client's attitude and decisions, conscious and unconscious.

It is important that recordings of victimization not be enforced, because they can actually reduce resilience. Our emotions have physical correlates in our bodies: hopefulness seems to reinforce recovery; despair recordings seem to reinforce physical difficulties. Of course, we do need to get to the negative emotions and early defeats in order to discharge them, but it’s good to leave the session with a more hopeful and powerful perspective. A useful naming of a chronic illness support group can be to call it a “party," a love-fest, or a playgroup, maybe even with hats or fun props. The group can spend time on singing, making noise, and playing short games, as well as on discharge. Laughing is essential to re-emergence and recovery from illness! Members can share lavish appreciations of each other. We can focus on closeness! We are amazing human beings and have a lot to celebrate, even in hard times.


A counselor to someone working on physical distress needs regular discharge with someone other than the disabled client—to work on feelings about the client’s situation. This suggestion applies even for a counselor who has their own disability or illness.

It’s useful to encourage a disabled client to seek others with similar health or disability conditions to break the isolation; and also to take (even small) leadership in disability liberation (if possible) to contradict feelings of powerlessness.


If our Area doesn’t yet include many disabled people, we can get people thinking about making it more welcoming. Are some classes and workshop sites wheelchair accessible and non-toxic to the allergic or chemically sensitive? Do disability and illness issues get raised occasionally along with the other liberation issues? Does an RC teacher have connections to disability circles that could be developed?

Many of us with disabilities or chronic illnesses don't talk about them, even if they are obvious, because internalized oppression makes us feel humiliated, or embarrassed, or at least confused about how to bring up the subject. The oppression makes many of us with "hidden" disabilities, such as arthritis, back injury, hearing or vision impairment, or chronic illness, continue to keep them hidden. If we find out about someone's hidden disability, we can go ahead and ask about it as thoughtfully as we can, being willing to make mistakes and apologize. A few might feel angry or intruded-upon at first (the reactions vary in different cultures); but I have found that most disabled people are glad for the opportunity to talk and will likely appreciate us later. It is worth the risk of initially restimulating others of us to allow us to open up a difficult issue, break silence, and begin to get discharge.

If we wish to start general disability liberation activities or take on a particular constituency of disabled people, we need backing. Leaders can help by counseling us occasionally, by helping recruit people to events, by identifying potential support group members, by identifying a possible ally as a support group leader if no qualified disabled leader is available, and by pushing other leaders to support and encourage us. If we take on this challenge, it should be consistent with our own growth and enjoyment.


If an ally wants to move disability liberation forward, great! We would love the help! Allies are essential both for good counseling for liberation and for help with the logistics of accessibility. That is, both for clarity outside of our internalized oppression and for access to RC resources.

Close allies to disabled people, such as family members and personal assistance providers, also have important issues to work on and can benefit from good allies.

 Allies need to watch out for any "do-gooder" patterns. People with disabilities need to be in charge of our own liberation and our help, even if allies initiate the offer of support. Our wide-world slogan: “Nothing about us without us!”

In an Area with, as yet, few people with disabilities, an ally can consult disabled people in another Area, read the RC disability literature, and explore wide-world disability literature.

In an Area with people with apparent (as opposed to "hidden") disabilities, an ally can notice whether we are appropriately included. An ally can ask, “What would make Community events more welcoming? What are your goals and challenges for access, and a reasonable time line for addressing them?” And then be ready to be counselor.

In a Community without the resources yet to accommodate everyone, raising the issues and offering counseling are a start. For figuring out what is workable, being as honest as possible in assessing community resources is important.

An ally should avoid the role of one-way helper or counselor and instead assume that people with disabilities have resource to offer the Community, including good thinking and good counseling skills.


For articles about accommodating specific disabilities and about broader issues of inclusion, see the Present Time article, “Disability Assistance at Workshops,” other relevant Present Time articles, and the journals Complete Elegance and Well-Being.

Marsha Saxton
International Liberation Reference Person for Disabled People

Last modified: 2021-10-07 18:48:51+00