On Guilt and Surviving

18 01 2012

This post is for all those disabled people who feel guilty for not ‘doing enough’, even when they’re scraping by on benefits/unofficial support networks, and often living on the edge of financial, physical and psychological ruin on a regular basis.

You don’t owe anyone your life. That doesn’t just mean a plate of bread and a glass of water, that means the things you need to get by. The things that aid you in ways that others may not comprehend. The time you spend with friends. The money you spend making your life bearable. The treats you cherish because they make wading through the daily shitpile worth it for a little while longer.

I know how much it hurts when you see others throwing so much into fights that you know to be vital. The self-hatred that comes creeping round when a dozen threats are looming over you and those you care about, and you can’t be there to raise your voice with the rest. The feelings of inferiority that comes when others are ennobled for giving the energy you never had. What I’m trying to say is that that guilt is misplaced. You are not lazy for not burning yourself out on the bonfire of activism. You are not greedy for spending money making your life bearable, or even enjoyable. You are not less for not being dealt a hand full of aces. And you are not guilty for not giving what you need to The Cause.

This part is just as important to remember. By doing all those things, by surviving, you are fighting, too. It would make it so much easier for those in power if the disabled did not exist, or just curled up and died. By resisting that, by living, you are fighting them. It may be a way so small as to seem insignificant, but it still matters. You are another cripple on the street. You are another disabled person on their registers. You are another stain in their pristine uniformity that won’t come out no matter how hard they try and wash you away. You exist, and thus you contribute to that same fight. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If all of this sounds like excuses for not being brave, for not being noble or just or great, then consider the noise in the background. We live in a society where we are constantly barraged by the idea that everyone has the same chance, that everyone can do whatever they want with some elbow-grease and some goddamned bootstraps. This is a lie. Meritocracy and all it’s rhetoric comes apart at the seams if you look hard enough, and while it may be ubiquituous in it’s broadcast, that doesn’t make it right. Great people were more often than not dealt great hands at the start, and they always had ones that they could build up with. If you find you can only scrape by with your own, that doesn’t make you a lesser person.

Letter to the Panorama Team at the BBC, in Response to “Britain on the Fiddle”

4 11 2011


I am writing to you to express my disappointment with your program, specifically it’s portrayal of disabled people. You consistently misrepresent the facts (eg: Lumping together fraud & error statistics to make the former appear larger) and paint disabled people in Britain as nothing more than scrounging parasites. You present participation in sports such as sailing or cycling as scandalous evidence of lack of disablement, which is not only a clear error (which highlights the lack of research done by the program makers), but is also an extremely dangerous one to make, as it actively contributes to the atmosphere of violence which is directed towards disabled people in this time of economic hardship. Your program has severely cut short my own attempts to return to the sports I enjoy, as I worry that if I do so I will be at risk of violence, harrassment and institutional persecution. This is a direct result of the misinformation spread during your program.

I had hoped that a program with such a history of journalistic integrity would strive to live up to it’s heritage. I see now that this hope was ill-founded.”

Anyone who wishes to join me on this can contact the Panorama team at: panorama.reply@bbc.co.uk

Signal Boosting: Journeys with Autism Reply to SBC

20 09 2011

An extremely well written article taking apart the assumptions made by Simon-Baron-Cohen in his book on autistic people and psychopaths (“Zero Degrees of Empathy” or “The Science of Evil”, depending on where it’s published). Isn’t it comforting to have this guy as one of the leading professional voices on your mindstate?


I Am Not Your Puzzle-Box.

9 06 2011

If I see one more piece of art by a neurotypical creator claiming to ‘unlock’ the ‘puzzle‘ of autism, I will puke. Violently, and in their direction.

This is something that’s grated at my nerves ever since I first attended a Disability Theatre conference back in 2010.  We are a group who, because we’re often seen as ‘lacking’ a voice of our own (as opposed to communicating differently, or just not wishing to), hold the dubious honour of being the cherished subject of dozens of pieces every year, always aimed at nuerotypical crowds, and most often claiming to ‘explain’ our experiences and view of the world, with the spoken aim being furthering understanding and compassion. Read the rest of this entry »

I Can’t Do X.

5 06 2011

Having recently got back from seeing X-Men: First Class, something occurred to me that I thought would be relevant to put up here. There’s a trope in our society that’s so pervasive that it’s often accepted without thought, and when people attempt to apply it to reality, those who are harmed are always those who are most vulnerable (I’m not handing out prizes to anyone who guessed that one).

The trope I’m referring to is the one where Character 1 tells Character 2 to do something. Often it’s at a vital moment, which will make-or-break the quest at hand. 2 looks despairingly back at 1, and tells them “I can’t! I can’t do it!”. At this point, 1 gives 2 a motivational speech, in which they often outline some key flaw in 2’s thinking. 2, either imbued with fiery determination or given a new perspective, now finds the task was doable after all*.

I shouldn’t have to go into great depth here convincing people that fictional tropes and portrayals have effects on the world around us, so I’m going to go ahead with that as a given. With that as the case, the pervasiveness of this trope is problematic, especially when placed in contrast with society’s treatment of the disabled. In recent years this has grown especially vicious, as the recession has led to a frantic scramble to find those who can be cast out from the welfare system in multiple countries. More and more people have come to regard disabilities as simply a sign of psychological weakness, of us limiting ourselves out of a fear of failure. And when the heroes and stars of the narratives we ingest on a daily basis act according to this assumption, is it really so surprising that we find more and more people eager to embrace such an idea when it’s presented not only reality, but also the solution to their country’s financial problems?

When I or any other disabled person says “I can’t do this.”, we do not mean “Please feed me a patronising monologue on how my disability is primarily internalised self-doubt.” We mean “I can’t do this”. Whether this is due to physical disability, mental disability or increased likelihood of danger due to our disability doesn’t matter. We are the experts on our own lived experience as disabled people. When we say that we need assistance with something, or we flat-out can’t do it, meeting that statement with skepticism or condescending armchair psychoanalysis is not only insulting, it’s flat-out dangerous. While you may think of yourself as the benevolent guardian angel of a misguided being, pushing them past their limits into bountiful new pastures, what you’re actually doing is furthering the systemised oppression they face on a daily basis, and quite likely endangering their health, too.

* In X-Men: First Class, it’s not that out of place, and it’s woven quite well into the characters in question. The movie simply reminded me just how pervasive this trope is in our society.

Research as a Tool of Abuse

14 05 2011

The use of research to oppress and erase minority groups is not a new phenomenon. It has been perpetrated for decades (centuries?), often under the guise of helping us, or ‘helping to better understand’ us. This disingenuous tactic allows people in positions of power to assert and propagate their political agendas, behind a false mask of scientific curiosity and philanthropic exploration.

This allows damaging and oppressive ideologies to spread freely, carried now on ‘evidence’ that was often extrapolated through a mess of poor methodology and societal assumptions. This fresh wave then allows those same assumptions to deepen their roots in the public mindset, furthering a cycle of stigma and abuse that hurts those that it supposedly set out to help.

I’d be hard pressed to find a better example of this than Simon Baron Cohen’s latest escapade. Baron Cohen is a well-loathed figure in autism research, and in his latest piece he set out to not only erase the identities of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, but trans people as well. He went about this by making various groups of people take the Autistic Quotiant test, and then carving the dubious results into a facsimile of his beliefs.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Vogon Bureaucrafleet “DWP”

15 04 2011

“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Presented for your viewing pleasure, the Vogons of the DWP. Blank image is at the bottom of the page, and new versions can be easily made at Meme Generator. My apologies for the grammar in a few of these, it was late at night.

A Vogon from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy TV series. Text: "DWP Vogon: There's no one here with clearance to access your file. Rest assured you're being denied service for your own protection. Goodbye."

Read the rest of this entry »