An Introduction to Disability Liberation

I recently led an Introduction to Disability Liberation. Seven people attended. I myself have a disability—environmental illness—and one of the participants has muscular dystrophy.

I defined disability as a physical, mental, or emotional condition that significantly limits one’s activities of daily living and/or ability to work. We discussed some categories of disability (see below). I talked about RC work on disability. I mentioned our International Liberation Reference Person for Disabled People and Complete Elegance, the RC journal on disability liberation. We reviewed some contradictions to stereotypes of disabled people (see below). I offered a set of questions to help allies discharge on disability liberation (see the awesome list below!).

We discussed how disability oppression affects everyone. Able-bodied people are made afraid of becoming disabled (being disabled is not an advantageous position in society). They are also separated from disabled people. They miss out on contact with and information about disabled people.

We had a panel in which the two of us who are disabled answered the question “What’s good about having a disability, and what’s hard?” We said that the separation of able-bodied and disabled people is, of course, hard on people with disabilities. We pointed out that “access”—to people, places, activities, and employment—is a key feature of able-bodied people’s “privilege.” We speculated about how life would be different for people with disabilities if everyone lived in tribes. People would have much more secure lives if societies were structured around small communities of people of diverse strengths who were close and committed to each other. Instead, our societies stratify and separate people in order to prioritize the smooth functioning of an exploitative economic system.

Finally, we split into small groups to discharge. The allies met together in one room and the two of us with disabilities went to another, so we could all voice our distresses without being overheard.

Here are some questions to help allies discharge on disability liberation:

•When you were growing up, when did you feel different because of your body or your abilities? How did people respond when you were sick?

•How do you feel emotionally when you are sick?

•When has something not “worked right” on your body, and what feelings have you had about that?

•When did you or someone else in your family need extra attention or special treatment? How did people respond? How did you feel about the situation?

•What feelings have you had about people in your life who were sick or disabled?

•When have you been inconvenienced by someone needing extra help or not carrying his or her own weight*?

•What messages did you hear when you were growing up about people with disabilities?

•What feelings do you have about people receiving government benefits (financial assistance) for being disabled?

•How do you tend to feel when you are around someone with a disability?

•What fears do you have about becoming sick or disabled?

•When have you felt frustrated about your abilities?

•What stands in your way of being completely delighted with the prospect of being disabled?

•When was a time you thought well about a person with a disability?

Here are a couple of understatements to use for discharging: 

“It sometimes happens that a disabled person has a great life.”

“Occasionally a disabled person has a bit of fun.”

The following are some categories of disability:

•Disabled Since Birth — Acquired Disability

•Mobile—Need Assistance with Mobility

•Senses Function Well—One or More Senses Impaired

•Can Communicate—Have Communication Challenges

•Can Access Most Environments—Have Challenges Accessing Some Environments

•Good Overall Health—Struggling Health

•Mostly Pain-Free—Have Chronic Pain

•Stable Condition—Unstable or Degenerative Condition

•Short-term Disability—Long-term Disability

•Visible Disability—Invisible Disability

•Have Physical Issues—Have Emotional Issues—Have Intellectual Issues

•Disabled and Working—Disabled and Not Working

•Disabled and Poor—Disabled and Needs Met

•Disabled and Isolated—Disabled and Connected

•Disabled and Have a Guardian—Disabled and Do Not Need or Have a Guardian

•Disabled and a Child—Disabled and an Adult—Disabled and an Elder

Here are some useful contradictions to stereotypes of disabled people, taken from the cover of Complete Elegance No. 8. (at the time it was published, “physically different” was the term in RC for disabled):

•Physically different people are nice to touch.

•Physically different people are experts.

•Physically different people are hard workers.

•Physically different people have a lot to say.

•Physically different people are strong allies.

•Physically different people lead rich lives.

•Physically different people are fun.

Amy Anderson
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
list for RC Community members  

* “Not carrying his or her own weight” means not doing his or her share of the work.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00