Thursday, 17 August 2017

Let's talk about Harmful Ablesplaining and Autism

Ablesplaining.  In which some non-disabled people tell disabled people about what disability is and isn't.  About what we should and should not be feeling, or experiencing, as disabled people. Presenting themselves as The Experts.  Talking over the top of our experiences, discounting them, minimising them.  Presenting us as weak, incompetent, malicious or otherwise if we say that their explanations are not correct, or their conduct is dangerous or inappropriate.

A few months ago, I went to a conference about disability.  It was held in a well respected centre.  A well known author was the conference leader.  This leader is not disabled.  They have an autistic person in their family.  There is no need for names here, because this is a situation where I and others talked directly to the group concerned, and are working to sort it out. It is one example out of many, from my own experiences, and that of many others.

For several hours, we were told incorrect or negative things about autism/disability.  Using the autistic young person's photo and name.  Without their permission, it seems.  Disabled people were described by a participant as 'evil'.  That went unchallenged by the leader. The sensory environment was hell for some of us, when a simple bit of alteration could have sorted it out.

I soon became non-verbal and in a fairly 'shut-down' state.  Other autistic individuals in the room were likewise distressed or angry.

It took me a week to get myself OK again.
It took one of the other disabled participants more than a week, and they were physically ill during much of that from the stress.

When we raised our concerns with the chief of the well-respected centre, we were told that there were a variety of opinions, and some enjoyed it.  

It's not OK.

There is never a need to put solely a non-disabled person on stage to 'ablesplain' disability to disabled people.  One should look for respectful co-working.  One should find disabled people to be the experts also.

There is never a need to present incorrect information to an audience, and then describe it as a different point of view.  No, it's just incorrect.

There is never a need to run a disability conference without taking account of good, clear, existing materials on how to make it disability-accessible for most people.  No hearing loop.  No large print. Flickering overhead lighting.  Why? Those are basics.  Absolute basics.

"Oh, those disabled people are just looking to make trouble".  No, we're looking to be able to survive from one day to the next, without being made ill.  Able to go home and look after our families, many of whom also live with various disabilities.  And we'd like to pay a good sum of money for something we learn from, and benefit from.  Not something which floors us.

Quite simple, really.

There are plenty of allies out there.  People who are not disabled, but who are respectful.  Who ask.  Who listen.  Who learn.  I am hugely honoured to share life with them.  People who share the stage with us.  People who use their own voice to amplify ours, to point to us, to include us.

But goodness me, there's some attitudes out there that belong in the distant past.  

If you are running any sort of disability conference, who are your speakers?  Are they disabled?  Are they working with people who are, in really respectful ways?  Are they doing/arranging a proper check of environment, to make sure the basics are there?  Are they checking that individual needs beyond those basics have been considered?

It's not good enough to say 'Well, other people enjoyed it', if many of your disabled participants are left ill and in distress.  At all.

Thank you for listening.

The photo shows a white middle aged man in a red sweater, saying, "I'm no expert, like you are, but let me explain in any case".