Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One Year Ago: What Ableism Didn't Do

(This is my second post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD).  It's a follow-up to my post last year - you don't have to read the post from last year for this one to make sense, but it might be a good idea.)

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2014

One year ago.

That's how long it's been.

One year ago I stood shaking from head to toe in a teacher's lounge bathroom trying not to throw up from sheer anger, shame, and anxiety.  One year ago, I listened to you call me belligerent for standing up for myself.  One year ago, I heard you say these exact words:

"I'm forced to conclude that either you've been making excuses, or you haven't been being truthful with us."

Do you remember those words?  Do you remember that meeting, that two hour meeting, where you said "This isn't about your limitations, you're the one who keeps bringing them up"?  Do you remember how hard I cried?  Do you remember telling me that you couldn't recommend me for student teaching?  Do you remember how you looked at me like I had three heads when I mentioned the Disability Services Office, and how you skated around the word disability so many times?  How I finally snapped and said "You can say "disability", you know.  I'm not afraid of it."?

I'm still not afraid of it.  I wasn't then, and I'm not now.

One year ago, I was effectively kicked out of the education major at a university that is fairly well known for their education program.  I was given a choice to switch my major or graduate without teaching certification.  Kicked out for no other reason than my disabilities.  Because a disabled teacher will apparently lose the respect of her students.

One year ago, ableism knocked me down.  But I got back up.  Here's what ableism DIDN'T do.

Ableism didn't stop me from getting my diploma.  In December, I walked across that stage with my head held high, silently shouting "FUCK YOU" to everyone who tried to stop me from getting to that moment.  I now possess a B.S in Education - which, given what happened, is an appropriate abbreviation.  I don't have teaching certification, but that's okay.  I have my own path.

[Short girl wearing maroon graduation robes and cap leaning on a hot pink walker with snowy bushes in the background.]

Ableism didn't stop me from getting a job - two, actually - as a freelance writer for two different websites.  It's not a usual job.  It's not a job with an hourly wage.  It's not a 9 - 5, go into an office job.  But it makes me a little money sometimes, which is more than I had before.  It gives me hope that someday, someone might want to hire me "for real".  Someday, I may be able to support myself.  And one of the very first things I wrote?  Was about how accepting the students in the classroom I did my field experience in were of my disability.  I said nothing about the attitudes of the adults.  Do you feel ashamed, that a group of third graders was more mature than you?

And finally, ableism didn't stop me from going for my dream degree - a M.A in Disability Studies.  I've been dreaming of this program since high school and nothing and no one - no, not even you - was going to stop me.  I'm nearing the end of my first semester in the program and I enjoy it in a way I never enjoyed the education program.  I look forward to going to class each week and I've made some great friends - and even found a boyfriend.  Finally, I get to do what I want to do.  No thanks to you.

I hesitate to say I've recovered, because I haven't.  I hesitate to say I've forgiven and forgotten, because I most certainly haven't.  So many nights over the past year, I've lain awake at night obsessing over the events that happened to me, the things that were said.  Trying to figure out what the fuck happened.  I have obsessed and cried and been unable to get it out of my head.  I have launched myself into a full scale panic attack a week before graduation because I knew I'd see you and the others who did this to me.  I have been traumatized, and it's sadly not the first time.  The scars on my soul will never fade completely.  I hope you're proud that you put them there.

But I've moved on and I'm kicking ass, in my own way.  Ableism did a lot of things.  But ableism didn't break me.  And because of that, you failed.  You thought you won, but you didn't, not really.  Because I bounced back, a little more bruised, a little more bloody, but I bounced back.  I hope someday, something I wrote lands in your inbox and you feel ashamed of what you did to me.  A sincere apology would be nice, but more than that, I hope you never treat someone the way you treated me ever again.  Change is a powerful thing, and I hope you learn lessons from the things you did to me.

I'd like to end with a quote from one of my favorite songs, Brave by Sara Bareilles.  I don't think it's a coincidence that both this song and Roar by Katy Perry - two absolute anthems against bullying, hatred, and oppression - came out the summer after I was forced out.  I don't believe in God, but I do believe in Fate - and I think Fate gave me the tools to get through my experiences.  As long as I live, I will fight to make sure no one has to go through what I went through.  You fueled my activist fires even more.

Your mistake.

"Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do

When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave"

Disability Is Not Your Get Out of Jail Free Card

(This is my first post for Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD).  Also known as "this will be my BADD post if I wake up tomorrow and don't have the spoons to write the one I plan to write.)

There's a post that popped up today from a fairly well-known "autism parent" that talks about closed groups on Facebook where autism parents can talk about their reality, also known as "how awful their lives are".  I'll let said parent do the talking:

"This is a group that lives with “severe” or “extreme” challenges; aggression, self-injurious behavior, intensive behavioral challenges. Their lives are almost unmanageable. Their children (including adult children) require so much care, that these families struggle to make it through each day."

Said parent then proceeds to quote members of the group who say that they have wanted to kill their children, how difficult it is for them, etc. etc.

All throughout the comments parents applaud, saying this post was needed, saying that they, too, deal with these challenges, they, too, have wanted to kill their children.  They say that better services are needed and that they would do anything for a cure.  They mistakenly assume that autism acceptance means that autistic advocates and allies all think autism is a blessing, all rainbows and sunshine.

Autism isn't a blessing.  Neither is any other disability.  My disabilities are not blessings, nor burdens.  They just are.

I grew up around several people who were "severely" autistic.  I saw what they and their families went through.  I'm still seeing it.  I'm not oblivious to the very real struggles that disability can bring.  I go through them myself.  But that does not, and will never, justify hurting your children, or worse.

What is it about autism (and other disabilities) that serve as a metaphorical "get out of jail free" card?  When parents shake their babies to get them to stop crying, we (rightly so) protest and demand that these parents serve appropriate jail time.  When parents of autistic children abuse their children, we apparently demand sympathy and compassion for abusers and murderers.  Don't believe me?  Take a look.

This is a comment from an article about a man on trial for murder after shaking his baby daughter:

[Text reads:  "Hang him - but first shake him half to death!!!  What a smiling face he has so satisfied with what he did!  He makes me sick!!!]

And this is a comment from an article about Kelli Stapleton, who tried to kill both herself and her autistic daughter back in December.

[Text reads:  "People shouldn't judge this woman unless you've been in her shoes. Anyone who has dealt with a family member who has the same level of mental/emotional issues as this daughter can understand how the day-in/day-out stress simply wears you down. And there is no recourse in our systems for taking care of these people, the social safety nets have all been eliminated in cost-savings. It's a mess."]

See the difference?  It astounds me.

There is no denying that we need better services.  We need insurance coverage for AAC equipment, for programs that actually help disabled people, for personal care assistants.  We need programs that cater to disabled people's strengths, while helping them through their weaknesses.  We need sensory rooms galore.  We need an education system that's flexible and doesn't focus on meaningless test scores.  We need programs and schools and activities that are actually inclusive and welcoming toward people with disabilities.  We need treatments - not cures - that will help disabled people manage the aspects of their disabilities that do cause suffering or otherwise interfere with living a full and happy life.  Those are the kind of services we need and I am the first to say that the amount of services we have right now is sadly lacking.

But the need for better services does not, and will never justify wanting to hurt your child.  Wanting to kill your child.

Services and cures - they're two separate issues, they're completely unrelated.  Don't force them together.  Treatment is not cure, and some people may seek treatment voluntarily to better their lives.  That's okay. But when you're forcing treatment onto a child or someone can't communicate enough to consent, that's a problem.  Especially when that "treatment" is dangerous and done in the name of "normalizing" your child.

I'm tired of hearing about murders or potential murders.  I'm tired of murders being justified.  I'm so, so tired.  Please, make it stop.  My life is not your tragedy and neither are the lives of my friends - "high" functioning, "low" functioning, whatever.  Is it so damned impossible to comprehend that we might be happy with our lives?

I am happy.  We need more services.  It is not okay to hurt your children.  There are aspects of disability that interfere with living a full life.  We need acceptance.  These statements are not mutually exclusive.  Stop acting like they are.

Disability should not obstruct justice.  Disability is not your get of jail free card.  Period.