Dear disabled people
Through this year of a global pandemic being disabled has been terrifying and powerful. As I sat at home in my first self-quarantine, I was overwhelmed with grief seeing the numbers of deaths for disabled and older people rising globally, day by day. Due to discrimination and mass institutionalisation the pandemic attacked us harder and our commumity/ies will never be the same. I also became infuriated by how easy it was to turn the world around to accommodate nondisabled people’s need to work from home or use products that are not seen as environmentally friendly (masks and gloves). Disabled people have fought tooth and nail for decades for these accommodations and experience massive shaming for using a plastic straw to have a glass of water. I felt both powerless and invisible as a human being and a collective.
However, coping with a changed world quickly reminded me of the flexibility of disability and disabled people. Adaptation came pretty easy for me and finding ways to navigate a different way of existing felt mundane. In an odd sense it wasn’t new. It’s something an ableist world constantly demands from disabled people, and was now, in the middle of the storm, gaining from our work. The slowness and stillness that came from staying home and working from my kitchen table was partly liberating and stress releasing. My disabled body was not forced to move according to fast paced standards that sometimes causes me to disrespect my own boundaries and health. Also, what an extraordinary relief it was to spend less energy dealing with sexist and ableist micro aggressions and access anxiety in the supermarket or at work or at the bar. What a vacation from emotional labour!
But isolation was hard. And still is. Again, disability was one of my most important lifelines. In the darkest moments and the deepest pain connecting, directly and indirectly, with disabled people kept me going. My crip family and our virtual happy hours made me laugh every time. The understanding and empathy I found in our conversations made it easier to tackle the todays and tomorrows. My Tabú sister’s mutual check ins and virtual gatherings were a source of safety for me. As always, a grounding community to belong to.
Disabled people’s contributions to social media, art and other cultural spaces filled me with so much energy, light and hope. The beautiful Netflix documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution restored me as an activist alongside Judy Heumann’s biography Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist. Reading a disabled woman’s story of growing up and becoming an activist healed parts of me I didn’t know needed healing. Not to mention the virtual Crip Camp organised by disabled people for a whole summer in the middle of a pandemic. Loved it.
Seeing black disabled people demand that their lives matter was powerful and uncomfortable and confronting and I’m thankful for all of it. I have not done enough and I will do better. The BBC Ouch – the cabin fever podcast, created by disabled people, about living in isolation and quarantine in COVID times, was absolutely amazing. I was excited for every episode and listened to them carefully, as I coloured, which was a new hobby I took up in my staying home period. I also started to follow some badass disabled mothers on Instagram like Nina Tame, Alex Wegman, Rebekah Taussig, Dani Izzie and more. Following them is a constant reminder of the power of disabled motherhood and kept me focused while I swam through the Foster Pride Workshop which was infuriating, exciting and exhausting. I still wait for the outcome. Although I know I’ll be a great mom having gone through now almost seven years of relentless discrimination and blatant ableism leaves me afraid at times. These mamas keep me together as well as the disabled moms who are around me in my daily life.
This summer I got a new job as a disability rights protection officer. Through my work I have faced my privilege daily when supporting people who belong to the disability community but have not been included in our revolutions. I am constantly reminded how little I know and how oblivious I can be when thinking I know how shit things really are. Well they are much more shitty than I ever thought, especially for those disabled people who have been left out of our movement/s. However, I am constantly in aw with how some disabled people manage to keep breathing and so grateful for the trust I’m given and the faith people have in our collective ability to change the world for the better.
So, overall and alongside others, disabled people got me through this year (again). We are often focused on self-empowerment and self-love in our social justice work and we should. Loving and believing in our disabled bodies is radical and ground-breaking in a world that is hard to survive in as a disabled human being. But this empowerment and love needs to be something we also give to one another. I believe disabled people showing each other love and having faith in one another, loudly and straightforwardly, continues to be crucial when seeking disability justice across intersections and plays a part in healing our personal and collective traumas.
That’s why I want to take a moment in the end of this year to thank you, disabled folks, for your never-ending love and ambition for me, yourselves and other disabled people. For not giving up on us. For keeping hope when there is not much to grasp for. For staying alive. For remembering and honouring those who could not. For constantly finding new ways for our bodies to thrive and for never accepting anything less than a damn revolution.
I love you!