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Interrupting All Oppressions and Patterns

Dear Harvey,

I have been using RC for just over four years now. I have a spinal injury and also severe asthma, which means I get to use a wheelchair a lot, although I can also walk a little. Using my wheelchair means I don't get so tired and can do more. Using RC was what mainly pulled me through the first year after my spinal injury. The asthma followed a year later-I had a major attack that almost killed me and I was very ill in hospital for a long while. RC theory helped more than anything else. The reality was that the world was still a great place but I had a spinal injury and asthma. I could see clearly that if I didn't have any internalised distress about being disabled, and if disabled people weren't so horribly discriminated against and oppressed, then disabled wasn't "bad" . . . just different.

I have a commitment to RC theory and to world liberation that I didn't "decide" exactly. It just happens to be so. Whatever else happens, I am not going to pull out of RC!! So I'm here and I intend to stay here. I didn't "decide" to lead either-that just happened too. Within RC I am the only person who identifies as a disabled person within a very large radius . . . so the job of getting the oppression of disabled people on the RC agenda in my Area and getting RC activities accessible to everyone has fallen mainly to me. I have tried to make contact with other disabled people in RC but have not succeeded . . . yet.

Last weekend I went to my first big workshop since I've been using my wheelchair. It was fantastic! It was a Lesbian, Gay, and bisexual workshop. I wholeheartedly agree with the policy that identifying as Lesbian, Gay, or bisexual is a rehearsal of distress. I have always believed this to be true of my decision to identify as Lesbian. Being at the workshop has given me such a good start on how to counsel people around this policy because I got to see so much of where and what their distresses were around your statement. Thank you for pushing us all to discharge our distress rather than keep on rehearsing it.

At the workshop the surrounding countryside was beautiful. But the site was not accessible. They're trying to make it so, but it isn't accessible. I spent so much of the time in great physical pain, pain that I needn't have been in if only the venue had been accessible. I also could not get from one part of the workshop to another without having to endure either the pain of a long walk or the pain of a long and bumpy ride in my wheelchair.

I think I've just found where I have been stuck around leading on the accessibility issue. I can never find a place to start; it all feels "too big." Today, though, I think I've made a real breakthrough concerning my timidity about demanding access to all RC events. It goes like this:

I can't force people to discharge their disablism, but I can and I will interrupt their rehearsal of the distress.

I think the key is to see this for what it really is. Anything from which I am excluded purely because I use a wheelchair has to be a rehearsal of distress. It cannot possibly be rational to exclude me, anymore than it is rational to exclude a person because of his or her skin colour. I think it is time for me to stop being "nice" about this. It is time for me to take charge, to be bold and decisive, and to take risks.

In my Area we are doing well. Fundamentals classes and support groups are no longer held in someone's home. Most things are held in venues that are more or less accessible. The Area Reference Persons are thinking fairly well about this, mainly because they have a relationship with me and see frequently what I am up against. There is much room for improvement, but we have made a great start and have achieved more than I sometimes think.

I would like to ask you to think about something. In October's Present Time you speak of people "disabled by patterns." I do agree with all that you have said, but I'm not sure about the use of the word "disabled" in this context. In the wide world, we disabled people have come up with something we call the "Social Model" of disability. Basically it means that "disability" is the oppression itself and comes about because society does not think well about the needs of all people. We are trying very hard to get people to stop thinking that a person is "disabled" by an impairment they may have. For example, it is not my spinal injury that prevents me from going to the cinema, it's the forty steps outside the cinema that prevent me from being able to get in. Therefore it is the cinema that disables me. To say that a person is "disabled by their patterns" perhaps subliminally reinforces the idea that a person is disabled by something about her or himself, rather than by something society does. It's not about being "politically correct," it's just that our language plays a big role in perpetuating disablism.

Something the leader said at the workshop, after she had read out loud your statement about identifying as Lesbian, Gay, or bisexual, was that there is no point in discussing our restimulation surrounding the statement, that discussing a piece of distress gets us nowhere. It's far better to contradict it and help a person to discharge it. I think this could also apply to our need to think better about disabled people. I need RC to be accessible to me; I need people to stop using certain venues and to look around for somewhere more suitable. Discussing why that may feel difficult or restimulating for people won't really get us anywhere. Would it be better to say that they should just do it, but I'm happy to give them whatever attention they need in order to think about it?

My Area Reference Person decided last year that he would neither attend nor advertise an event that was held in an inaccessible venue. Since then I've become tired of people ringing me up with a list of twenty different reasons as to why they should use the inaccessible venue they've always used previously-usually their house-and desperately trying to get me to agree with them and approve. Sometimes I do, because I'm too scared or too confused or too restimulated to disagree with them. The most popular reason is, "But we know there won't be any disabled people there so it must be okay." It's time for me to stop colluding with the distress, mine as well as other people's, and be firm in my belief that this is distress. (I have as much distress about disability as anyone else; I've just been forced into discharging it over the last three years.)

Tonight I was at a support group where we discharge distress around money, and someone came over to me and said: "How nice to see that you're staying out of your wheelchair now. Well done. You're doing really well." I thought about interrupting this distress and replied: "Actually, the only reason I haven't brought my wheelchair with me the last few times is because I don't get so much distress run at me when people don't have to see it. Rather than praising me for not using it, it would help me if you were to encourage me to use it more." I felt a bit bad for not just smiling and accepting the praise, but I'm trying to do the best that I can.

Thank you again for making this latest statement. I am so looking forward to the day when we are all just "human beings" and do not have to identify any other way. You have done so much to set us on the right track. I hope one day to become as good a model of the inherent goodness of human beings as you are.


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00