A few months ago, Vi La Bianca, a previous guest writer for my blog Yopp, invited me to be on her YouTube show Secular Sexuality, a show that looks at every angle of sexuality that you can think of, with an emphasis on noticing how mainstream US culture has shaped our opinions and practices around sex. I was invited specifically to discuss the intersection between sex and disability, which is a topic many people are deeply uncomfortable with.
I wanted to share and recommend this episode because, in addition to offering a lot of very useful advice to fellow disabled people and their partners about how to engage with sex and dating, a large portion of the show is devoted to discussing important issues that disabled people face in general.
This is not the first time I’ve been invited to an interview of this kind, and while my interviewers tend to be highly knowledgeable about activism and social justice, it always takes them by surprise just how much is happening within the disability activist community that they don’t know about. Disability rights are a severely neglected branch of social activism, even among some of the best and most thoughtful mainstream activists.
So, if you’re looking to get a glimpse into this world of issues as well as a lot of information specifically about sex/dating and disability, I highly recommend watching this really fun and educational episode! The video is one hour and thirty-six minutes long, including two live callers who share their experiences of how disability affects their sex lives. Not Safe for Work themes and language are also covered.
how we can improve the amount of access available to disabled people
ADA violations and the lack of input from the disabled community on accessible design
the intersection of being a woman in addition to being disabled/chronically ill
the hurdles of navigating the medical system (primarily regarding the US)
disability representation is fiction and media
Disability and dating/sexuality
the difficulties of dating while disabled
the issue of disclosure (”coming out”) as disabled
cultural resistance to the idea of disabled people having sex
the fetishization of disabled people
exploring your sexuality as a disabled person
communicating with your partner about how your disability will impact your sex life
putting your needs and physical safety first
You can watch the episode, for free, below. Enjoy!
If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, you may have to link through to the site to view this video.
KELLA HANNA-WAYNE (Yopp!) is a member of The Zine core team and a co-host of this month’s blog series on illness and disability. Kella is a disabled, chronically/mentally ill freelance writer who is the editor, publisher, and main writer for Yopp, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people, and reducing oppression; and for GlutenFreeNom.Com, a resource for learning the basics of gluten-free cooking and baking. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, Multiamory, Architrave Press and is forthcoming in a chapter of the book Twice Exceptional (2e) Beyond Learning Disabilities: Gifted Persons with Physical Disabilities. For fun, Kella organizes and DJ’s an argentine tango dancing event, bakes gluten-free masterpieces, sings loudly along with pop music, and makes cat noises. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, Medium, and Instagram.
Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul announced a new final rule today, modernizing an agency disability rule that was introduced in 1978 and has remained unchanged. The new regulation, “Removing the Inability to Communicate in English as an Education Category,” updates a disability rule that was more than forty years old and did not reflect work in the modern economy. This final rule has been in the works for a number of years and updates an antiquated policy that makes the inability to communicate in English a factor in awarding disability benefits.
“It is important that we have an up-to-date disability program,” Commissioner Saul said. “The workforce and work opportunities have changed and outdated regulations need to be revised to reflect today’s world.”
A successful disability system must evolve and support the right decision as early in the process as possible. Social Security’s disability rules must continue to reflect current medicine and the evolution of work.
Social Security is required to consider education to determine if someone’s medical condition prevents work, but research shows the inability to communicate in English is no longer a good measure of educational attainment or the ability to engage in work. This rule is another important step in the agency’s efforts to modernize its disability programs.
In 2015, Social Security’s Inspector General recommended that the agency evaluate the appropriateness of this policy. Social Security owes it to the American public to ensure that its disability programs continue to reflect the realities of the modern workplace. This rule also supports the Administration’s longstanding focus of recognizing that individuals with disabilities can remain in the workforce.
As if the long venomous tongue jutting out
Would bite me lethally
Instantly on seeing
But the number of death
Bitten by long pointed tongues
As thousand time less
Than the number killed by
Failure far exceeds the achievements
The fear of losing in achievement
is not there in failure
As the fact
How heartbreaking s the sorrow
Of losing after having
Not having at all
Is vivid in memory of the snake
It juts out its long forked tongue
So that none can settle at a desolate corner of its heart
The tongue is the impenetrable sentinel
Of the inner world of the snake
Visitor takes to its heels
On seeing the guard
But snake do not chase to bite anyone
All the snakes are innocent
We are indeed
Sleep is bliss
Death is bliss too
The first one is not permanent like the second
But the transitory is favoured to the permanent
Fatigue after gratification
Sleep after fatigue
Gratification possible following sleep
Gratification impossible after death
That is the reason
The second one is everyone’s favourite
We are basically punters
Punters need more sleep
She cooks meals
She washes the clothes
I put on
She is responsible for
Fetching the children
To and fro from school
She is responsible for
Receiving guests and relatives
Marriage and functions
Meetings and discussions
Are her responsibility
She is like a bobbin
Since waking up
Till retiring to bed at night
GUNA MORAN is an Assamese poet and critic. His poems and literary pieces are published in national and international magazines, journals, webzines, newspapers and anthologies such as –
(i) Tuck magazine (ii) Merak (iii) Spillword (iv) Setu (v)Story Mirror (vi) Glomag (vii) Poem Hunter
(viii) The Sentinel (ix) The Hills Times (x) Litinfinte (xi) Best Poetry (xii)Academy of the Heart and Mind (xiii) The Creation times (xiv)Infinite sky (xv) International Anthology of Poems on Autism (xvi) International Anthology on Water (Waco Fest Anthology 2019) (xvii) International anthology on TIME (xviii) THE VASE : 12th Guntur International Poetry Fest Anthology 2019. (xix) POETICA : The Inner Circle Writer’s Group Poetry Anthology 2019 (xx) Nocturne (poetry of the Night, An Anthology). (xxi) Phantasmagoria Magazine.Apart from this, his poems have been translated into Italian and French, Bangla language also.
BIBEKANANDA CHOUDHURY, an electrical engineer by profession working with the State Government of Assam has completed his Masters from BITS-Pilani. He has also earned a diploma in French language from Gauhati University. He has got published works (both original and translated) in Assamese, Bengali & English in popular periodicals and newspapers. His translated poems have been published in ‘Indian Literature’, the bi-monthly journal of sahitya akademy. ‘Suryakatha’, the Bengali adaptation done by him of the is being taught in the undergraduate Courses of Banglore University and Post graduate Courses of Gauhati University. A collection of 101 folk tales from the foothillsof Patkai translated by him has also been taken up by publication by Gauhati University. He is presently the editor-in-chief of Dimorian Review a multidisciplinary web journal.
He came into this world with an innocent spirit but with a physical condition, recognized as ‘Development Disability’. At that time it was commonly called ‘Mental Retardation’, which meant anyone suffering from it would be having difficulties in certain areas of life, especially in “language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living”.
A helpless human being born in this world with an innocent soul, oblivious to life’s reality, unaware of its purpose, totally unconscious of self but for the fulfillment of the basic need for food and strangely, of extreme sensitivity to music. The tunes that caught his fancy would excite him to the point of screaming that gradually melted into crying and, after long hours, would end by fatigue and sleep.
Everyone at home loved music. Father had quite a collection of 75 rpm records and a stylish Grundig record player which would be attached to the radio. Almost every evening there would be a half-hour music session before dinner was served.
My earliest memories are of joyful moments when he was born. Good looking, with dark eyes, long eyelashes, adorable face specially when it broke into a smile, but something was very odd about him. I could not understand just what at that time. Two years old but hardly able to sit: “when will he play with us? Why doesn’t he speak ?” The only answers were “with time dear” and “in due time, he will.” We would run off and get busy with our own games and books, accepting the quietly given explanation.
When he was five, he began to sit, but still no speech, nor play, nor self awareness. He would sit on the tricycle but could not pedal or ride. With time he learned to stand and one day took a few steps. Soon with the support of the wall he began to walk. Still no speech. Fits of laughter began to occur and would end up in screams. Lying on the floor nothing would stop the screaming untill time brought an end to them.
He never knew he had a name. He was not conscious of t parents, siblings, or anyone else. He had no idea of day or night. When he started walking he was not aware of the way to go. Once unnoticed he walked out of the gate and onto the road, he was almost run over by a passing vehicle. He was hit and the fall broke two of his ribs. It was a painful time for him. From then on he had to be strictly monitored and often in a bolted room.
With passing years the truth of his never getting well and normal was accepted. He would never be able to converse or take care of himself. He needed constant vigilant care for falls or injuries, for safety against electric wires and shocks, for all sorts of dangers. There was no end to care as he was alive in a world of his own. Parents did all they could. No medicine would work.
Hunger is a strong instinct. He would reach out and hold the arm tightly of anyone close to him at that moment and would push that person towards the door of the room.I t was a clear indication that he was asking for food, but he had to be fed. He could not hold a spoon or a cup, nor a biscuit nor a piece of bread. Sometimes the morsel would get stuck in the throat because it was not properly chewed. Panic would result. Fortunately the first aid of patting on the back would work.
He was not aware of the dangers of injury. Once, in a fit of laughter he clutched the electric extension wire on the floor and let out a loud scream, by the time the connection was cut his hand was burned, the flesh cut and bleeding. The wound healed but the hand could not be normal again. The need for constant vigilance kept the whole family alert. The risk of leaving him alone even for a few seconds was profound and life threatening. One aspect in his personality was that he was a docile human being. Nonviolent.
A newly established state had very little health care or disability support centers for special-needs children or adults. Tariq ,as he was named would live in his own home, which for the family became a guarded place. Fear concern and worry prevailed, only prayer would bring some solace and strength to the heart. One can never fully understand nor find any answers. The truth is with the One Power Almighty.
Disability of all sorts needs constant care comfort patience respect and love. May Allah the Most Gracious and Most Merciful save and protect his people on this beautiful Earth and May all be blessed with the best of health and happiness.
For you, Ms. Frizzle, I would fold
my fingers around the curves of my stomach, dig
my nails into the flesh, rip
it open so you can go right in.
Take your big-eyed bus full of curious children
and explore my mysterious body.
Watch organs lighting up a little too bright.
Red blood cells drifting lonely
like they’ve lost their best friends.
Scattered inflammations and infections hiding
in muscle and tissue.
Explain to the children that these are things
that make me hurt
but not enough for anyone to see.
And when people don’t see something,
they don’t do anything.
Teach them that lesson.
It will always apply.
This poem first appeared in Philosophical Idiot and in Alana’s chapbook, The Uncertainty of Light
I’m enthralled as I watch an actor scribble symptoms
in notebooks and cry when the pain is too strong
and see doctors who seem to know a little too much
about what’s happening, but it’s okay.
I’ll keep watching.
I can’t be that picky.
I ignore all the cues that this will end
the same way as all the other TV
reflections of me, the fun house mirrors
that only show sickness as a distorted, shortened
There was no other ending.
He’s only got one place to go.
His actor family
weeps over his departure
at just the right time
in the series.
His death is art.
My life goes unseen.
This poem first appeared in AlienPub and in Alana’s chapbook, The Uncertainty of Light
ALANA SALTZ (alanasaltz.com) is the editor-in-chief of Blanket Sea, an arts and literary magazine showcasing work by chronically ill, mentally ill, and disabled creators. Her poems have appeared in Occulum, Five:2:One, YesPoetry, Moonchild Magazine, LadyLibertyLit, and more. She’s the author of the poetry chapbook, The Uncertainty of Light. You can visit her website at alanasaltz.com and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @alanasaltz.
Thanks to the support of my world-class son and a stellar medical team, I’ve lived for about two decades past my original medically predicted expiration date. Every year or so I feel compelled to get on my soap box – though the topic is off-theme for my poetry site, The Poet by Day – about lung disease, its increasing prevalence, and its debilitating effects. This post was originally written in 2016 for The Poet by Day. At that time, I needed oxygen for activity only and carried a small tank or two in a backpack as above. As expected, over time the disease progressed and years of insufficient oxygen resulted in other complications: pulmonary hypertension and right-sided heart-failure. These are further complicated by a rare blood cancer (not curable but managed). These complications result in my being home-bound and often bed-bound for days.
I am now on high-flow oxygen (15 liters) 24/7 and am attached to two linked stationary oxygen concentrators at home and have large portable tanks for doctor visits and to get around the senior housing facility that is my home. These are moved around with specially-designed carts. My son must come with me to doctor appointments because it takes four tanks per trip, which is too much for me to handle on my own.
At the time in our history when we started to see nature as something apart from us, when we gave up our shamanic instincts and in our hubris separated them from our growing science, when we devolved from stewardship and one-with to ownership and power-over, we set ourselves up for a world of multifaceted pain and disruption. One result in modern times is environmentally induced disease caused by xenobiotic substances that result in cancers, autoimmune disorders, and interstitial lung diseases (ILDs).
My concern here – as a powerful and noteworthy example of the impact of industrial pollutants and of wars and other violence to the earth and its inhabitants – is interstitial lung disease. I have hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an ILD that can be caused by smoking. I am a lifelong non-smoker. Everyone – EVERYONE – is at risk of ILD, smokers or not, and so are other animals. We know that in the United States and England alone, the numbers suffering from ILD are growing. No matter where in the world we live and what we do for work, we all need to recognize and acknowledge this as part of the complex package of environmental injustices.
Our lungs are the only organs that are exposed and immediately vulnerable to industrial pollutants and inhaled chemicals, dust and other particulate matter in the air. One study tells us, “Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in humans worldwide. Environmental factors play an important role in the epidemiology of these cancers.”
Consider the two hundred ILDs: These are diseases that affect the tissue and space around the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs resulting in scaring (fibrosis). We – and other animals – can’t breath through scar tissue, which is not permeable. Hence the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen is inhibited. The result is a slow, horrifying and painful death by suffocation. This is mitigated for people like me who have access to healthcare, supplemental oxygen and medications like prednisone and mycophenolate mofetil and, when the time comes, palliative care and ultimately hospice. People living in poverty, in war-torn areas or working at risky occupations in third-world countries, get no such relief and no palliative care is available to them in the final stages. This is unimaginably cruel.
While the most common interstitial lung diseases are considered idiopathic, they can result from exposure to certain chemicals– including medications – and from secondhand smoke and occupational exposure to agents such as asbestos, silica, and coal dust. They may also evolve from an autoimmune reaction (hypersensitivity pneumonitis) to agents in the environment, some of which might be naturally occurring and benign for many people.
Forbes Magazine cites lung disease as one of the continuing legacies of 9/11, the result of “toxic collections of airplane fuel, asbestos, fiberglass, metal, plastic, garbage, waste materials, fecal material, human remains and who knows what else.” In reading this description, one can’t help but think also of the people of Syria and other regions of war and conflict. It is not uncommon for soldiers returning from war to report newly developed respiratory disorders.
Industry, war and conflict, greed and denial, all combine to put the very ground we live on at risk, the air we breath, and the precious functioning of our lungs … We rightly worry about and advocate for issues of deforestation, pollution, hunger, dislocation, destruction of property and other issues of environmental injustice. Not the least of our motivations, concerns and advocacy must be for the sake of our lungs. It’s a fight for the very breath that enlivens us.
It wouldn’t be so bad
if I lost it in one place
at least I’d know where to find it!
I have to lose it here!
I have to lose it there!
And just when I find it there
I‘ve lost it again here!!
People wonder why
I never answer my own door
I wonder if they can hear me
breathing from under my covers?
Sometimes I hear myself
calling from another room
Or it could be that other guy
who blames everything on me
Of course it’s never his fault
Nothing ever is!
Nothing is enough for him!
First he impersonates me and steals my best lines
Now he covers his ears with mine
and complains that I don’t sing
with the right inflection!!
he’s the only one
who has to listen to me at night !
Song of the Deaf
What can I say
that you haven’t already heard
I feel left out
Everyone else has two sides
but when I turn around to face the other way
I still point in the same direction!
Sometimes people talk behind my back
right in front of me!
Of course I must expect that
I try to anticipate everything
otherwise I fall behind
and I have nothing to fall back on!
That is why
my world is suspended in animation–
I use my hands to balance silence
the way stars hold up the sky
A cloud can fall back on the sky
but I must climb deeper
into God’s Ear!
Only…where does the sky begin?
I’d give anything you know
just to hear the color blue
Song of the Blind
It bothers me that my eyes are broken
and God will not fix them
Each morning I watch and listen for Him
and wonder through which doorway of my senses
He will choose to enter next
Each day He and I together
make and remake the bed–
make and remake the world
Mostly it is the same
And that is both my comfort and my fear
I have heard that once someone is truly loved
she is never the same
You cannot imagine how I long for change!
You cannot imagine how I long for certainty!
I can only imagine
I never quite know which
I will stumble into next:
Death that l o n g night
Life that l o n g day!
I am without sight
I am not without vision
Please find me
Song of the Homeless
How long must I go on
pushing my life before me?
My feet are bare and swollen—
they do not know me anymore
And I haven’t yet enough hands
to keep me warm
nor make a pillow for my head
Maybe I’ll grow new fingers tomorrow
so they too can stick out
like a sore thumb
I suppose you think
I can find a better place to hide
than in the poverty of my skin
Do you think I like
carrying my heart around with me
in a basket?
You do not care
that I have forgotten the words
to the songs I am singing
And I am running out of songs
How could you know first-hand
that it is not my death I fear…
only that I should learn of it
A former San Francisco Poetry Slam Champion, Antonia Alexandra Klimenko is widely published. Her work has appeared in (among others) XXI Century World Literature (in which she represents France) and Maintenant : Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art archived at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She is the recipient of two grants: one from Poets in Need, of which Michael (100 Thousand Poets for Change) Rothenberg is a co-founder; the second—the 2018 Generosity Award bestowed on her by Kathleen Spivack and Josheph Murray for her outstanding service to international writers through SpokenWord Paris where she is Writer/ Poet in Residence
CLARISSA SIMMENS (Poeturja) is an independent poet; Romani drabarni (herbalist/advisor); ukulele and guitar player; wannabe song writer; and music addict. Favorite music genres include Classic Rock, Folk, Romani (Gypsy), and Cajun with an emphasis on guitar and violin music mainly in a Minor key. Find her onAmazon’s Author Page, on her blog, and on FacebookHERE.
MBIZO CHIRASHA ((Miombo Publishing Blog Journal) is one of the newest members of The BeZine core team. He is the Poet in Residence at the Fictional Café (International publishing and literary digital space). 2019 Sotambe Festival Live Literature Hub and Poetry Café Curator. 2019 African Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival , Essays Contributor to Monk Art and Soul Magazine in United Kingdom .Arts Features Writer at the International Cultural Weekly .Featured Writer Poet Activist at The Poet A Day. Core Team Member and African Contributor to Bezine of Arts and Humanities(https://thebezine.com/) in USA. Flash/Short Fiction Writer for Squawk Back Publication.Contributing Writer( Africa) to IHRAF Publishes–publishes.The Originator of the Zimbabwe We Want Poetry Campaign. Curator of Miombo Publishing Blog Journal. Founder and Chief Editor of WOMAWORDS LITERARY PRESS. Founder and Curator of the Brave Voices Poetry Journal. Co-Editor of Street Voices Poetry triluangal collection( English , African Languages and Germany) initiated by Andreas Weiland in Germany. Poetry Contributor to AtunisPoetry.com in Belgium. African Contributor to DemerPress International Poetry Book Series in Netherlands. African Contributor to the World Poetry Almanac Poetry Series in Mongolia. His latest 2019 collection of experimental poetry A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT was released by Mwanaka Media and Publishing and is both in print, on Amazon.com and at is featured at African Books Collective. 2003 Young Literary Arts Delegate to the Goteborg International Book Fair Sweden (SIDA AFRICAN PAVILION) .2009 Poet in Residence of the International Conference of African Culture and Development (ICACD) in Ghana. 2009 Fellow to the inaugural UNESCO- Africa Photo- Novel Publishers and Writers Training in Tanzania. 2015 Artist in Residence of the Shunguna Mutitima International Film and Arts Festival in Livingstone, Zambia. A globally certified literary arts influencer, Writer in Residence and Recipient of the EU-Horn of Africa Defend Defenders Protection Fund Grant, Recipient of the Pen Deutschland Exiled Writer Grant. He is an Arts for Peace and Human Rights Catalyst, the Literary Arts Projects Curator, Poet, Writer, publicist is published in more 200 spaces in print and online. Mbizo’s Amazon Page is HERE.
When being sick was all you knew
Sweet Jesus, the doc last week asked
“When was the last time you felt good,”
Me and Bobby McGee and I saw black
Roses. Could not thread my way to good.
Life a Harlem-globetrotter procession of sham
Dunks and wheezes. Born RH negative all my
Blood exchanged. Lord have mercy then
Coughing times in bed over and over again.
I hadda find good feeling cuz i was an other early
Outcast over and over. Put the music on
And I would play the piano
Rocking to peace my outcast soul.
Sickness made me hold on to my
Strange and play it on an Aeolian harp
To woo the good places and make me me.
Thank you Kris Kristofferson,
Good enough for a life to live,
To share with you the secrets
Of my soul on the edges
Of strong all along. Be a pearl
On my own making the
Good happen. Jiving Janis.
Feeling good was good enough for me.
LINDA E. CHOWN grew up in Berkeley, Ca. in the days of action. Civil Rights arrests at Sheraton Palace and Auto Row. BA UC Berkeley Intellectual History; MA Creative Writing SFSU; PHd Comparative Literature University of Washington. Four books of poetry. Many poems published on line at Numero Cinq, Empty Mirror, The Bezine, Dura, Poet Head and others. Many articles on Oliver Sachs, Doris Lessing, Virginia Woolf, and many others. Twenty years in Spain with friends who lived through the worst of Franco. I was in Spain (Granada, Conil and Cádiz) during Franco’s rule, there the day of his death when people took to the streets in celebration. Interviewed nine major Spanish Women Novelists, including Ana María Matute and Carmen Laforet and Carmen Martín Gaite. Linda’s Amazon Page is HERE.
Nothing but “I can’t I can’t I can’t” is sounding in my head.
My best friend has her hand on my knee. She’s carefully offering me solutions to try to get me out of this trap. I say no to every single one. I know it looks like I don’t want to find a way out. I do. I can’t find it. I want permission to lose it, permission to stop searching for a way to function like a normal person. I don’t want to be held together. I want to split apart and lose myself in the fragmentation.
It’s like the most vulnerable part of me is exposed to the outside world and I have to protect it from even the smallest hardship because it has no armor, and if I damage it, it will never recover. It’s like every tool I’ve learned my entire life to cope with the workings of my mind, to cope with the unpredictability of other people, to cope with my tendency to give all of myself, is inaccessible. I cannot protect myself from anything.
I hang up the phone. My event has been canceled with just a few hours of notice. I don’t know the words in my language to name the feelings in my head. Anger? Disappointment? Stress? What emotions do those words embody? Are they the ones that I have?
For some reason, I can’t tell anyone that my world is crashing down until I know what words describe my feelings. Somewhere inside me I know there was an explosion of twenty emotions contained by a vacuum but all I felt was the muffled noise that the explosion made when the bomb went off. I want to open the door to this capsule and look at the damage but I can’t find the door either. I want to peel off this band-aid. I can’t find the edge of it, even though I’m scraping my skin, hunting for it.
There are flashes of pain in my heart, and then my vision goes fuzzy as I stare at nothing. I stay like this for a minute and then resurface, the pain returning but a little diluted, and I catch my breath. I don’t remember if I was breathing while I dissociated.
I come up for air and with no warning, I’m lucid again. I feel like myself and yet I thought I was myself before. I want to connect with my boyfriend, I can feel his touch. It penetrates all the way to my core. It’s as if I haven’t seen him all day. Just an hour ago, I was pushing the words, “How was your day?” out of my mouth, as tears built up under my face, filling my cheeks and the contours of my eyes, clouding my vision, making my thoughts slow, waiting to burst out again.
A window into my writer’s brain opens for a brief moment, I manage to type out three paragraphs and then I feel the window slowly closing, my heart succumbing to numbness like a cloud that covers my connection to myself. It’s an impulse to protect myself from something I can’t quite name. I hear a distant cry of grief as my creativity, my productivity, my reason for being valuable, slips away from me once more.
I’m fine just a little sad and I’m lying on the floor wondering why I’m a little sad but I’m fine and then it hits me like a sack of bricks dropping onto my chest that I’m not scared of abandonment I’m scared of losing access to intimacy, this precious substance, the lack of which causes me to wither and numb myself, and why am I so afraid of losing it? Don’t I know I can find it with someone else? But no, this time, I cannot dance to fill the hole in my heart, this time I cannot easily meet new people to try to date again, this time my disability hangs on my shoulders like a neon sign that says “I’M NOT WORTH YOUR TIME” and I have no way of knowing who can see the sign and who can’t. The bricks stay on my chest even as sobs explode out of me and I gasp at the pain, this new strange backward crying I’ve started doing, as if the act of pushing the pain out of my chest only makes the pain from this wound more vivid, and every breath, I cry to rid myself of the pain and then gasp again as the pain penetrates deeper. The crying stops because I have no answer to the question, “what will I do if I lose intimacy again?”
One month of increased anti-depressants or maybe it’s getting to the other side of the trauma or maybe it’s the most recent conversations with my boyfriend but whatever it is, I can feel the streaks of dopamine cutting through the dull molasses that so recently covered my heart every moment of the day. Rather than every task being a dead end, pointless, sad endeavor, some of them have light at the end. And then because your brain responds not just to the dopamine trigger itself but the lead up to the dopamine, I get that little bit of light earlier and earlier, like catching my breath for just a moment at the end of a devastating work out that has no benefit. I keep expecting to fall into the tank of quicksand again– where I will respond to every thought, every need with “I don’t care,” or “what’s the point”– but instead I step and there’s solid ground. My feelings swirl and collect neatly, still sharp and intense but they present themselves clearly so I can pick them up one at a time and hold them close.
Like the first day back after a wipeout flu, I’m exhilarated by how functional I am, trying to cram as many to-do’s into this stretch of motivation and energy as I can. I start to slow down and find myself scrolling through Facebook an hour after I finished my last task. Determined to teach my depression that my doing-things neurons can fire even when that cloud is consuming me, I barter with myself until I find a reward motivating enough to get me up. I wash dishes and chop some vegetables for the dinner that I will never make. I sit back down, feeling as if the flu has hit me again and it takes a moment before I realize I’m not depressed, I’m spent. 7pm and I am done for the day.
This weight in the center of my chest keeps pulling me inward. I try to interact, to connect, to think of things to talk about. What do healthy people talk about for fun? I try to predict what is expected of a person like me in a situation like this and mimic what would be done, but it’s as if I’ve never done it before. What did I use to do?
The longer I resist the pull to withdraw, the more exhausted I feel. As I give into the pull, tears come to my eyes without words to accompany them. The pain surges up and out but I am no closer to understanding it. I crumple inward, angry at my inability to understand my own mess.
I read my writing from three months ago and stare and stare at the clearly illustrated points and organized structure. How was my mind ever free enough to write this?
I have a doctor’s appointment to follow up on my medication change. I rate my symptoms on a scale of 0-3, trying to accurately represent what I feel and also accurately represent the difference between the last time I filled out this sheet and now. Last time, I counted out my total, decided it was too high, crossed out several of the numbers, and replaced them with lower ones. I struggle to describe to my doctor the paradox of grief and emotional pain so deep that I can barely function, and yet somehow I am not in danger of hurting myself or neglecting basic needs. Each day I am simultaneously devastated and okay. It’s as if I’m sitting at the edge of a pool and I’m choosing to throw myself in, let myself sink to the bottom, struggle and writhe, and then float back up, out of breath and exhausted. My doctor tells me that it’s okay to call my weird childhood a source of trauma. I think she thinks I’m a person who undermines my own trauma. I am. But not like that.
I’m cleaning my room for the first time in I don’t know how long. My desk became a storage unit, items without homes stacking higher and higher. I start at the top and place one thing at a time in the recycling, the trash, or the place it belongs. The stacks get a little smaller and then my hand falls on… A bar of chocolate? From who knows how many weeks ago, my favorite type of chocolate was sitting untouched at the bottom of a pile of junk. I have no memory of buying it or putting it here.
It’s another reminder of how far away I am from healthy me. I know she’ll come back but I have no sense of how long she’ll be gone. It feels strange having concrete evidence that, just a few months ago, I was clear-headed enough to buy myself a treat for later in the week. I was not constantly inundated with feelings that halt my body until they’ve moved through me, wrecking me in the process, that I was not always resisting the pull of numbness, of something brainless to take the edge off this hurt. I don’t know what the path back to health looks like. I just know I’ve done it before.
I slowly open a tiny door and peek inside. A warm vulnerable feeling fills me, like watching a fawn and holding your breath hoping it will not startle and run away. The feeling is so delicate and precious that I tell no one I have it. I cannot step inside the door for more than a minute at a time, the fear of self-expression is too powerful.
When I interact with other people, I close myself off and pull away so that they won’t startle the fawn either. Even when I want to connect, my door inside closes and so does the rest of me, my body language turning away as if I want to avoid all contact even when part of me wants to show my new discovery so badly.
But I watch as unwittingly, words flow through my fingertips, I have something to say, I think something important and moving and I express it, without the usual wall of doubt surrounding me. If I ask myself to write in a formal document, the terror returns, rising up in my throat as if asking myself to write a paragraph is as bad as asking myself to tell my therapist I no longer want to see her. But I did that, so maybe I can do this too.
(New York, NY) – Chinese authorities have reportedly detained and quarantined citizen journalist Chen Qiushi, who has been reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. PEN America today said holding Chen incommunicado suggests he may have been targeted for his reporting, and that such actions jeopardize not just his rights but the rights of all Chinese citizens to access information about the epidemic.
“Given China’s widespread censorship of stories about the coronavirus, PEN America is gravely concerned over the possibility that Chen has been arbitrarily detained and that authorities are using ‘quarantine’ as a pretext to justify their actions,” said James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America, “Even if Chen is ill, there seems to be no discernable reason why he can’t use a phone or a computer, and yet his friends and family say they’ve heard nothing from him. The Chinese government must be transparent about why Chen has been detained, and if there is no compelling medical reason, they should release him immediately.”
On January 24, Chen–a lawyer, activist, and citizen journalist–traveled to Wuhan to report on the coronavirus outbreak. As part of his coverage, Chen posted a series of videos shot in Wuhan’s hospitals and streets, as well as interviews with coronavirus patients and doctors. On February 6, Chen’s mother posted a video saying that friends and family had not heard from Chen and asking for help locating him. Later that day, a friend of Chen’s posted a video saying authorities had told Chen’s friends and family that he had been forcibly quarantined, although officials apparently have not shared when or where this happened.
Chen began acting as a citizen journalist in 2019, reporting on a flooding disaster in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province. In the summer of 2019, Chen went to Hong Kong to report on the ongoing protests there. Upon his return, authorities reportedly repeatedly questioned him and deleted all his domestic social media accounts. In December of last year, Chen shared on his Twitter, he attempted to travel to Japan but was informed by government officials that he was not allowed to leave the country.
“Chen has been targeted for his work as a citizen journalist before, and we fear that the exact same thing may have happened here,” said PEN America’s Tager. “If he has been detained for his work, this would represent not only an obvious assault on Chen’s freedom of expression but also on the right of all Chinese people to have access to information about serious health threats. It already seems clear that the government’s attempt to censor information about the coronavirus has potentially worsened the public health situation. We urge China’s leaders to take a more transparent approach, and to refrain from targeting those who are speaking up about the coronavirus and the government’s response.”
The outbreak of the coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China in late December 2019. A group of several doctors who first went public with information about the virus were reprimanded by police. Among the whistleblower doctors was 34-year-old opthamologist Li Wenliang, whose subsequent death from the coronavirus has resulted in online outrage and calls for freedom of speech. The government is still reportedly engaging in widespread censorship of coronavirus-related stories and news.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
Down the hall from
my hospital room
a man’s voice sings
the blessing for Shabbat
I see out
of thin hair
a pink hospital gown
as an old woman
peers round the corner.
When the man
back to bed.
21 June 2019
My journey to identifying as a disabled person was anything but clear cut. Before the injury that flipped my life upside-down, I thought that my pre-existing health issues were within the range of normality. And once it was discovered my sudden uptick in pain was injury-based, I had no reason to believe that my injury wouldn’t heal in a timely matter. Most of our exposure to the world of disability tends to be what we see in TV and movies, and every fictional character I knew of that ever contracted a serious illness or sustained a severe injury always overcame their obstacles and recovered 100% (or they died). The idea that your body could be physically impacted in such a way that you may never fully recover or the recovery takes place over 5-10 years, never occurred to me. I assumed my issue was temporary.
And when I did eventually begin playing with the word “disabled” to describe myself, I received a lot of resistance from the abled people surrounding me. They would say things like, “Do you really see yourself that way?” or “But you’re so much MORE than that,” as if calling myself disabled was inherently a more self-limiting description than calling myself a brunette. I was discouraged from claiming a label that ultimately became a key aspect of my identity.
The truth is, I had absorbed many of the mainstream beliefs about disability that all of us learn, and I had to find out the hard way that they were untrue. These misconceptions inhibited my ability to accurately describe myself, to be proud of who and what I am, and they actually prevented me from accessing the help I needed.
Expanding Your Understanding of Disability
One of the biggest misconceptions about disability that I was implicitly taught is that when you become Disabled, you are entered into the Official Disabled Club and it will be clear and obvious to everyone around you that you are a Disabled Person. (Spoiler alert: This does not happen.)
Our culture sees disability as something concrete and binary which is weird because bodies are incredibly complicated. Pretty much any function of a human body can manifest with a variation that’s extreme enough to be disabling, either due to the severity of the dysfunction or due to the symptoms’ incompatibility with society’s expectations around how people should move through the world.
Just one presentation of disability can actually represent a huge range of levels and types of ability. For example, there are literally hundreds of reasons you could require a wheelchair: pain, muscle weakness, lack of bone density, fatigue, unstable blood pressure, dizziness, paralysis, amputations, temporary injuries, recovery from surgery, the list goes on. Some people need a wheelchair for those issues 100% of the time, other people need one only when their symptoms are severe and can walk the rest of the time, and yet other people only need them when they’d otherwise be required to stand for more than an hour at a time. “Wheelchair-user,” which is just one disability in society’s eyes, is actually hundreds of different disabilities.
But our binary ideas about how disability presents itself means we struggle to identify disabilities accurately. Ambulatory wheelchair users– people who use wheelchairs but are able to walk some of the time– are regularly accused of faking because instead of recognizing the wide range of conditions that wheelchairs are used to accommodate, many people have the misconception that either you need a wheelchair 100% of the time or you never need it. Abled people expect disability to present in a very specific way and anything that varies from that 2-dimensional description is treated with dismissal.
Overall, our definition of what “counts” as a disability, is very limiting and we’re quick to categorize conditions we don’t understand as not “real” disabilities. Conditions like chronic anxiety or ADHD are rarely thought of in these terms, and even people with visible physical disabilities struggle with being recognized as disabled enough.
Because what we’re really categorizing is not disability at all, but whether it’s okay for someone to ask to be accommodated. “You’re not really disabled” almost always means, “You don’t actually need help with what you’re doing.” If culturally speaking the general consensus is that you should be able to cope with a physical/cognitive issue without help, then we’re discouraged from seeking it and shamed for “pretending” to be disabled in order to receive special treatment.
The result is that many versions of disability are hidden from mainstream awareness, and millions of people that would live easier and happier lives if they were given accommodations or life adjustments are forced to go through unnecessary hardship.
You Don’t Have to Do Things the Hard Way
Prior to disability, I was already in the habit of downplaying my needs, and given this cultural backdrop with which we view disability, I was very slow to embrace the word “disabled” and the implied necessity for assistance that went with it.
At the time, the idea that if at all possible, you should do something without help, was such a normal part of the society around me that I didn’t recognize how illogical it was. While there are certain forms of access like accessible parking spots or restrooms where there is a limit to how many of those resources are available, there are so many forms of assistance that are not limited.
But we force this contrived scarcity mindset to all sorts of things: It took me weeks of suffering through the pain of walking on a recently-injured ankle before I realized there was no reason I shouldn’t ask for a ride or take the bus to work. No amount of saying “It’s only five blocks!” would change how resource costly it was for me to walk or how much pain I was spared by getting a ride.
Joining the disability community opened my eyes to a world of possibilities for adapting your life structure to fit your own needs. Even though I originally resisted joining the community, once I recognized that my set of physical conditions did count as a disability, accepting the identity actually validated that yes, I really did need help, I really did need adjustments to my daily life that were counter to the average American’s lifestyle in order to be the healthiest version of myself. Saying I was “disabled” became a way to make those needs more real to myself.
How Are We Defining Disability?
There is an underlying problem behind all these cultural misconceptions about disability, and it’s rooted in how we define what it means to be disabled.
The primary definition we have in our culture is called the medical model of disability. In the medical model, a disability is defined by a defect, a flaw, an abnormality, a lack of something, that interferes with your ability to function in everyday life. In the medical model, a disabled body has something wrong that sets it apart from the default body, which is a healthy abled body. (Note that “body” in this context also includes cognitive function and mental health.)
According to this model, if I call myself disabled, I am saying that there is something wrong with my body. I’m saying that my body is fundamentally lacking in something that normal bodies have. And it’s extraordinarily easy in our culture that moralizes health to conflate, “something is wrong with my body,” with “something is wrong with me.”
Introducing the Social Model
To combat this stigma, the disabled community created a new model: The social model of disability essentially says that disability is not caused by a problem with your body, but an incompatibility between the way your body works and the way society is structured. If disability is defined by the level of difficulty you have navigating the world around you, it stands to reason that the nature of that world is going to impact the severity of that difficulty.
The social model is all about identifying the external structures that are making something difficult for a given person and changing and adapting them so that the level of difficulty decreases or even disappears. For example, the popularity and ease of access to eye-glasses and contact lenses means that we can effectively remove a vision impairment that 200 years ago would have been debilitating.
(Note: There are varying opinions on whether it’s best to use a combination of the social and medical model, or to define the social model not as eliminating disability but as accommodating disability to the fullest extent that is possible for a given condition or environment.)
But many disabilities require a more in-depth look at our society’s structure to achieve accommodation: I live in a society where the default expectation is that I need to work for money so that I can pay my basic expenses, and on average, it will require 35-40 hours of work a week to make enough money to pay those expenses (This summary is extremely oversimplified and outright incorrect in many cases, but this is the general belief about what’s normal in our society.) The work I do is also expected to be at a location other than where I live and in most cases, includes doing a handful of the same tasks over and over again.
None of these constructs are inherent to human society, they’re just what’s normal for this time period and the part of the world I live in.
But the nature of my disability means that I can work a maximum of 20 hours per week, my expenses are higher than average thanks to additional healthcare costs, leaving the house is particularly resource-costly, and repetitive tasks fatigue my muscles very quickly. If I were to work a “normal” job and pay my bills like a “normal” person, my pain and likelihood of injury would be so high, I would need significantly more assistance, and my health issues would compound on one another. My disability would get worse.
However, if I’m allowed to work part-time, at my own pace, from home, doing a variety of tasks that use my body in different ways, my health and productivity both improve. My pain decreases, I have more energy, and I’m overall a happier person. I am significantly less disabled when my life structure is compatible with my physical needs.
The social model takes the focus away from trying to fix a disability and instead puts it on improving a disabled person’s quality of life. For me, it dramatically changed my understanding of what a disability is and how I define it: A disability is anything in your mind and/or body that inhibits or prevents you from engaging with basic aspects of society– work, relationships, hobbies, meeting survival-based needs– as a result of a society structured around the habits of the majority.
Using the social model also puts focus on one of the most important aspects of the identity of being a disabled person: the virtue of adaptation.
An Identity of Adaptation and Creativity
If you join the disability community on twitter, you’ll notice the majority of folks there will include “disabled” or the blue “accessible” icon in their bio. But more than once I’ve seen abled people object to this: “You base your identity on your disability? What a depressing outlook on life!”
If you’ve only learned the medical model, letting your disability define you sounds like you’re saying, “There’s something inherently wrong with me,” or “My life is filled with things I can’t do.” From that perspective, disability as an identity is depressing.
Being disabled means looking at your environment and being able to pull back the veil of assumptions about what it means to live a “normal life” and challenge them. Being disabled means rejecting the default and saying, What if we did things a different way?
If I visit a fellow disabled friend’s house, I can count on them to anticipate my needs and ask the right questions to make sure that I am happy and comfortable, even though demands on their resources on average will be higher than the demands on an abled person. An abled friend, other the other hand, usually requires a crash-course on how I need to be accommodated and what I can and can’t do before they can effectively be my host (and they likely won’t initiate this crash-course, which means I have to do it pro-actively).
It was the disability community that taught me to adapt my life to optimize it for my needs, to prioritize my own well being over the social expectation of what a life should look like. My disability impacts my career choice, my relationships, my hobbies, my activism, my relationship with myself, my understanding of the world around me. My disability is an integral part of my identity and that is not a sad thing in any way.
Because being disabled involves an exceptional level of creativity, innovation, adaptation, decisiveness, solution-seeking, thinking one step ahead, and changing the status quo. When I say that disability is part of my identity, I’m saying that I’m part of a group that shares this unique set of skills and this specific outlook on life.
With such an incredible set of qualities, why wouldn’t I want to identify with the community responsible for teaching me that my needs will always be worthy of accommodation?
Kella Hanna-Wayne is the editor, publisher, and main writer for Yopp, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people and reducing oppression. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, Multiamory, Architrave Press and her work is forthcoming in a chapter of the book “Twice Exceptional (2e) Beyond Learning Disabilities: Gifted Persons with Physical Disabilities.” For fun, Kella organizes and DJ’s an argentine tango dancing event, bakes gluten-free masterpieces, sings loudly along with pop music, and makes cat noises. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, Medium, and Instagram.
This article was cross-posted on yoppvoice.com on February 8th, 2020.
Illness is a worldly test of faith strength and trust. It comes any time and face
it, we must—from childhood to old age. Some are lucky, some not so fortunate.
Some are born without health, physical and mental; they need care respect and
love. Illness strikes from time to time,sometimes mild sometimes serious. It reminds
us of a power, greatest of all, a power who gives us the cure. Illness taught me
to surrender, accept the changes, and be patient.
And so I faced pain fever and bleeding until the body lay in a red pool on a flat table.
The doctor knew better to let me bleed. I lost a child. Three days and three nights, I just lay.
Life was kind to let me stay, engulfed in cold silence. I could not even pray. I knew that In God’s hands was the way.
Bleeding body and pain again. ‘This is normal’, they all said, and stared. I was a child, my mother cared, now I am a mother.
Would my child care? My child helped, but I myself, too, had to be brave. It all has to be a personal affair in the end.
To nature we all must bend.
Lying cross like on the operation table
I could not move. I was only able to
see the eyes, calm quiet concerned,
the face behind the mask.
I try to remember, but I forget—
my body half lifeless, numb and stiff.
I could not speak. I was only able to
breathe. Frightened, I heard my heart beat and someone’s faint talking, some words audible, some mumbled.
I tried to understand but failed.
Eyes met the eyes as I felt a quick cut,
a part of me slit, incised, painless,
speechless. I remained, while some
talking I heard; my arms now stiff,
I prayed for strength, dropping into
sleepy numbness. I surrendered.
Two unknown human beings—are
they angels from above, hidden behind
gowns and masks? I know not what they
do or how, but they are briskly active.
I shake, I hear a voice, ’15 more minutes’.
I meet the eyes, calm and serene, confident.
I feel secure. ‘It’s done’. I hear talking,
‘twenty minutes’, ‘ suction’, ,stitch’, ‘suction, stitch’.
Then I do not see the eyes anymore, nor
the angel figure. Legs, heavy, start tingling.
Shivering takes over, I tremble with cold.
More talking I hear,
‘blankets’ please; another one,
”I am feeling cold’; an electric heater
throws welcome heat on my face.
I cross my arms as if in embrace.
The shivering stops—I feel empty.
More eyes, I see, more talking I hear—
why is this room so warm?
Hustle bustle around,
my bed pushed, rolled, turned.
I feel nausea—I see personnel in green.
Am I smiling? Yes, for others, for I am brave.
Inside, my heart cries. I wish to keep looking
in those eyes so calm, so serene, so loving,
giving hope of life and saying, ‘all will be Ok’.
It is a matter of time
All will be Ok.
Two months later:
As I was leaving the doctor’s room after showing her the test and physical examination reports, she looked at me directly in my eye and said, ‘you won’t be able to sit on the floor anymore’.
ANJUM WASIM DAR (Poetic Oceans) is one of the newest members of The BeZine core team.
Anjum was born in Srinagar (Indian occupied Kashmir) in 1949. Her family opted for and migrated to Pakistan after the Partition of India and she was educated in St Anne’s Presentation Convent Rawalpindi where she passed the Matriculation Examination in 1964. Anjum ji was a Graduate with Distinction in English in 1968 from the Punjab University, which ended the four years of College with many academic prizes and the All Round Best Student Cup, but she found she had to make extra efforts for the Masters Degree in English Literature/American Studies from the Punjab University of Pakistan since she was at the time also a back-to-college mom with three school-age children.
Her work required further studies, hence a Post Graduate Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) from Allama Iqbal Open University Islamabad and a CPE, a proficiency certificate, from Cambridge University UK (LSE – Local Syndicate Examination – British Council) were added to her professional qualifications.
Anjum ji says she has always enjoyed writing poems, articles, and anecdotes and her written work found space in local magazines and newspapers. A real breakthrough came with the Internet when a poem submitted online was selected for the Bronze Medal Award and I was nominated as Poet of Merit 2000 USA. She accepted the Challenge of NANOWRIMO 2014 and Freedom is Not a Gift, A Dialogue of Memoirs, a novel form was the result. She was a winner, completing her 50,000 word draft in one month.
Although a Teacher and a Teacher Trainer by Profession, she is a colored-pencil artist and also enjoys knitting and is currently trying to learn Tunisian Crochet.
Memoir writing is her favorite form of creative expression.
ANTONI OOTO has and still looks for answers which he shares at times with poetry. He finds pleasure in reading the works of many poets such as WS Merwin, Jane Kenyon, Donald Hall, Elizabeth Bishop, Margret Atwood, and the humor of James Tate.
“I read various poet’s first thing in the morning aloud.
My wife and I discuss the structure, rhythm and beauty of the lines.”
Reading poetry aloud (he feels) allows the voice to find a cadence that the reader might miss when seeing the words on a page.
Antoni Ooto is a poet and flash fiction writer. He came to writing late after many years as an abstract expressionist artist. He eventually found his voice in poetry.
His works appear in Front Porch Review, Amethyst Review, The Ginger Collect, Soft Cartel, Eldritch Lake, Pilcrow & Dagger, Young Ravens Literary Review, and many others.
Antoni works in upstate New York with his wife poet, storyteller Judy DeCroce.
Earlier this week, as I was crossing the parking lot toward a grocery store, I noticed a man sitting on a motorcycle near the accessible parking spots– the spots closest to the door that are reserved for disabled people. I realized he was parked in one of the striped spaces between the accessible spots.
For a long time, I didn’t know what those striped areas were for. They provide wheelchair users the space necessary to lower their ramp or lift out of their car so they can get in and out. I also learned that many people who are unaware of their purpose, block these areas, thereby preventing the car next to them from loading wheelchairs/walkers on or off. An obstacle in the striped area means that disabled people may not be able to get in or out of their car.
I kept staring at the motorcycle, assessing, tempted to just go right up to the man and tell him to move but I’ve never told someone off for blocking disability parking before.
I had recently read a story about a disabled woman who was making a run to the grocery store during the busy holiday season, only to discover that the entire row of legally-mandated accessible parking spots was blocked by a truck selling Christmas trees. The few spots that were left were being used by customers loading their trees into their cars, preventing every person who actually needed those spots from using them.
Thankfully, the disabled woman managed to swipe a spot. If she hadn’t, she would have had to skip shopping or wait in the car while her husband and daughter shopped for her. But as soon as she left her car, she was forced to endure a shouting match with a customer who wanted to load her Christmas tree. “She stole my spot!” yelled the able-bodied woman who had 100 other parking spots to choose from.
The disabled woman reported the problem to store management, received a sincere apology, but half an hour later when they left the store, the truck was still there. The people in charge of enforcing the rules had not bothered to do so. Who knows how many disabled customers came and left, unable to shop because they had no place to park.
I don’t think able-bodied people understand just how non-negotiable disabilities are. Some of us can walk, some of us can walk short distances. But when we cannot walk, or if we can only walk a maximum of 15 feet, that limit is not something we can push against. We can’t bargain with it. We can’t make it go away. A deaf person cannot negotiate with their level of hearing. A blind person cannot adjust their level of visual impairment.
Those of us who do have the flexibility to walk longer distances will often leave the accessible spots for someone else on the days that we don’t need them, precisely because we understand that others need them more. We don’t tend to ask for more than we need or round up our limitations for convenience. We play down our needs as often as possible.
I pondered over the story about the disabled woman and the christmas trees as I went inside the grocery store, trying to decide what I wanted to do about the blocked accessible spot. I imagined what it would be like to arrive for a normal boring shopping trip only to discover that you simply can’t get out of your car. I decided to wait a minute and if he was still there when I went back to check, I’d find a staff member and tell them to handle it.
And then I’d check back again to make sure the staff member had followed through.
For some reason, getting people to understand that people with disabilities need accommodation isn’t as simple as telling them. When a person whose job it is to serve customers, refuses to help or offers only verbal support with no action behind it, it reminds us that able-bodied customers will always be prioritized over disabled ones.
After about five minutes, I went and checked on the motorcycle. Thankfully it was gone.
But the awful feeling that crept over me when I saw it didn’t leave.
What if I hadn’t been there? Would anyone have noticed that there was a problem? In all likelihood, I’ve walked past the same situation multiple times and never thought twice about it. How often does this problem go completely unaddressed?
I don’t have a disability parking pass because I’m now strong enough to walk the extra distance without issue the vast majority of the time so in some ways, this issue doesn’t directly affect me. But the cultural attitude this problem is rooted in, does affect me.
When I worked as a cashier, customers would often place their money on the counter next to the credit card machine– outside of my reach. I told one man that I needed help with the money because I had trouble bending over. He snapped, “You shouldn’t be working here if you can’t bend over.”
Never mind that it would actually be illegal to fire me from a job that’s 99% customer service skills and multitasking, and only 1% bending-over. I heard this attitude from customers repeatedly whenever I asked for help: I shouldn’t be working there, it didn’t make sense that I was working there if I was disabled, I should really find another job. No one offered me a job of course, and no one was interested in hearing that I’d still need accommodation and assistance at a different job. I’d still be disabled.
It was that same message: You shouldn’t be here. Can you just not be here? I’m not interested in the mechanics of how you do that. Can you just stop? Can you just resolve my cognitive dissonance about disabled people lacking the accommodation they need to work comfortably or live without being required to work and let me pretend that’s not an issue?
If your disability prevents you from working, the average length of time it takes to be approved for disability assistance in the United States is two years. The first time you apply is almost always denied, as standard practice, regardless of your circumstances. You cannot work or bring in income during the time you’re waiting for your application, or you will be denied. And if you’re lucky enough to be approved, the amount you receive will not be enough to live on. If you make income from any additional resources or if you get married, your stipend can be revoked or reduced.
How do you survive in such a system? How can you not absorb that you should not exist?
Worst of all, these decisions are made and enforced by able-bodied people who just don’t listen when we say, “Actually, that’s not how this works.” We don’t have the power to set the record straight on what disabilities “look like,” or what resources we should have access to, or what real accessibility is. We just have to hope and pray and be thankful for what we get.
These ideas seep into you, affect your decisions, your opinions of yourself. You may not even realize they are there.
About a year after I became disabled, I noticed that something in my romantic relationship of four years had changed. My boyfriend felt less like a life partner and more like a companion.There were no changes in his behavior that were causing this shift. He wasn’t moving away from me. I was moving away from him.
Once it became clear that my disability was not temporary, I found myself believing that I could no longer be a good life partner for my boyfriend. My life was filled with so much maintenance, boring medical talk, careful balancing of treatments and resources, and always always new limitations. I couldn’t offer excitement or spontaneity or passion like I used to be able to. Why would he choose boring and limited? Why would he want me if I was disabled? Why would anyone?
While I managed to work through these feelings in this particular instance, the central issues beneath them popped up again. When I injured my arm, it took an incredible amount of courage to ask for the help I needed with cooking, cleaning, and other chores.
But even in the face of so many friends willing to help me, my self-esteem plummeted. I couldn’t use my arm or hand at all and the extra energy my body was spending on healing and reacting to pain meant that my focus was shot too. No cooking or baking projects, I could only type on my laptop for short periods of time; no writing, no event planning, no DJing, no any of the things I was good at. I could only read articles on my laptop, watch TV, and spend time with whoever was available to come to my house.
I found myself confronting some old ideas about myself: What value do I have if I can contribute nothing? Why would people want to be around me when all I do is take from them and I don’t give back? I have always needed to be giving 50% more than I take, and if the amount I take gets too high, I’m tortured with guilt. What was there to love about me if I didn’t have my talents to hide behind? What would happen to me if I spent large chunks of my life in this position?
I had these limiting beliefs about myself long before I became disabled, but the thoughts in my head were now reinforced, not just by me, but by society’s opinions of my disabled body.
At its center, I think the purpose of any kind of oppression is to minimize the existence of people like you. Whether that is by actively killing you, letting you die through neglect or lack of resources, by conceptually obliterating you, by making even you question whether you actually exist or not, or by punishing you for every moment you do exist. Oppression of any group seems to boil down to, “Everything that you’re doing right now, could you please not? Could you please just, cease to be?”
KELLA HANNA-WAYNE (Yopp), one of our newest Zine team members and a partner in our upcoming February series on illness and disability, is a disabled, chronically/mentally ill freelance writer who is the editor, publisher, and main writer for Yopp, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people, and reducing oppression; and for GlutenFreeNom.Com, a resource for learning the basics of gluten-free cooking and baking. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, Multiamory, Architrave Press and is forthcoming in a chapter of the book Twice Exceptional (2e) Beyond Learning Disabilities: Gifted Persons with Physical Disabilities. For fun, Kella organizes and DJ’s an argentine tango dancing event, bakes gluten-free masterpieces, sings loudly along with pop music, and makes cat noises. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, Medium, and Instagram.
“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” Stella Young, was an Australian comedian, journalist and disability rights activist. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta and used a wheelchair for most of her life. When she was fourteen she audited the accessibility of the main street businesses of her hometown.
Throughout the month of February 2020 The BeZine blog is featuring a range of material on illness and disability in concert with Kella Hanna-Wayne’s YOPP!, a social justice blog dedicated to civil rights education, elevating voices of marginalized people and reducing oppression. Our intention in doing this is to give voice to those with illness and disabilities, to raise awareness of the issues and outcomes, and to offer workable alternatives for those who have to manage in environments that are not conducive to inclusion.
We’ve already had some question with regard to terminology: disabled v. differently abled. We respect each contributor’s chosen terminology, which will be reflected in their posts.
Kella and I are disabled and we both prefer that term over differently-abled. Here are my reasons:
There are things I – like many others – am absolutely unable to do. Period. End of story.
“Differently abled” is inherently meaningless in this context. All human beings are differently abled. Some are better at music, for example, and others are better at accounting.
Almost everyone has some degree of disability, especially as aging progresses. If you wear glasses, you are disabled and, depending on your occupation or interests, you might be unable to function without glasses.
A reference to anyone as a “differently-abled” individual, is a cruel euphemism. In my own case, for example, it diminishes the reality of my 24/7 life, which involves being on high-flow oxygen, being unable to lift anything heavy, being restricted to certain living conditions, often being restricted to bed, dealing with chronic bleeding due to a rare blood cancer, and living with extreme fatigue.
“Differently abled” implies a norm that does not exist. There is no one way to feel, to communicate, to educate oneself, or to ponder and create art. The implication is that anything that deviates from the fantasy norm is less than ideal, possibly even somehow wrong.
“Disabled” is not a disparagement. It’s truth. It’s accurate. Implicit is an acknowledgement that there are productivity and quality-of-life challenges that have everything to do with social, political, and cultural assumptions and structures and nothing to do with any one person’s atypical body or mind.
Finally, “differently-abled” is a stigmata that ignores the kinds of accommodations (including some life-changing technologies) that could be made available to help those many with atypical bodies and minds to lead fuller, richer lives and to contribute their energy and talent to help others and their communities.
This is the short story, the down and dirty of it. Input is welcome from readers and we hope that you will enjoy and benefit from contributors’ posts throughout the month. We are still open for submissions to the February blog-post series on illness and disability and for submissions to the March 15 issue of the Zine, themed “Waging Peace.” Submissions should be emailed to email@example.com.
In the spirit of love (respect) and community
and on behalf of The Bardo Group Beguines, Jamie Dedes
The BeZine, Managing Editor