Issue No. 3: The Ally Issue
or You Can Lead a Nondisabled Ally to The Google But You Can’t Make Them Use a 100% Familiar Search Engine to Find Available Access Tools Themselves
In which Mx. Crip-Manners points out how good manners make good allies
“We’re super-excited you’ll connect us with disabled women for our project! We don’t know how to clean out a conference room though so can you take that on?”
Yes, it really is that basic: Do you invite abled guests to muck out your space for your shared meeting or event? I’m guessing you don’t. You consider your space to be your responsibility. Just as I, a wheelchair user, don’t expect my walking guests to bring their own chairs. But you expect your disabled invitees to either resolve your access barriers or teach you granular how-tos. I know this from decades in grassroots women’s organizations and philanthropy.
That’s not okay.
My considered position is the result of 20-plus years of waxy bummer build-up that comes from, first, being invited to be a partner or guest — and then being tasked with “the early shift of ableism” to clean up inaccessible messes.
Expecting this is just plain bad manners from you, otherwise decently-funded organizations, including foundations. Isolated requests for help, particularly under clearly difficult circumstances, are not the issue.
Did You Know?
Disabled people are not magical access specialists. We learned stuff. By learning. We are always learning new stuff. By learning. As Crip-Yoda says, “Learn you must.” #CripTips
Want in on the conversation about ableism? Check out what disabled advocates, civil and human rights activists, and philanthropic leaders had to say at the Twitter chat on 10/12/18 about philanthropy and inclusion. Then make your voice heard at #FundDisAdvocacy.
Foundation funding for disability advocacy dropped 23% between 2011-2015. Disabled people were the only group to see a decrease. Most funders are “aware” of disability but do they see ableism and structural discrimination? How do we make funders see disability civil and human rights as areas of actionable, urgent advocacy? A first step is recognizing disability as a constant but hidden set of variables in nearly all formulas for civil and human rights.
I’m writing to you in my capacity as a community organizer – which is another name for a social justice fundraiser.
I believe you and I share common ground on the importance of advocacy:
We know that the great civil and human rights gains of the last century, envisioned and organized by the grassroots, were built to last through the courts and legislation, and they will continue to be the battlefields for preserving them.
I’m writing because disability civil and human rights advocacy is missing from your funding portfolios.
The first step in changing that is frank communication.
When you do not explicitly say “disability” in funding advocacy, you send a message to us: Deny, disown, and downplay your disability identity. That denies all marginalized communities access to our hard-won legal tools and, worse yet, our expertise in using them.
You may understand this letter, at first, as pertaining to a discrete group: disabled people. But it is a fundamental mistake to think that civil and human rights for any community can be fully achieved if we neglect, forget, or disregard such a basic human condition as disability and allow it to be the “natural” cause of poverty and abuse. If we are not safe or free to be vulnerable, then we cannot call ourselves safe or free. Our society is not safe or free.
In my particular line of work — fundraising — I have the “challenge” of making the case for funding cross-disability civil rights work from institutional funders who are still predominately stuck in the disability = tragedy trope.
I need allies from outside the cross-disability communities because that’s how philanthropy — and everything else — works: it’s who you have relationships with, who you can ask for help, give help to.
I was really excited about closing out Women’s History Month this year by developing and delivering an interactive workshop, “Building Your Organization’s Capacity to Ally With Girls Who Have Disabilities: Principles to Practices” for fellow (sister?) Alliance for Girls members, as part of my work at DREDF. (To the members who attended — you were GREAT participants!) Based on issues I’d recently written about, I wanted to call it “The Crip Sense or ‘I See Women and Girls With Disabilities. In Your Organizations.’” (Scroll down for 3 “posters” of workshop content.)
I said that part of having The Crip Sense is seeing things that are painful:
- Disability human and civil rights violations. Way too many of them.
- Violence against disabled children and adults – especially people of color (PoC) with invisible disabilities — even by caregivers, school personnel, and law enforcement officers, and that such violence at home, in school, and on the street is excused or rationalized.
- Girls who have internalized stigma that makes it feel “normal” to disown, downplay, or deny having a disability.
- Girls who hear – even from some disabled people – that “initiative” and “personal responsibility” can defeat systemic barriers born of — and well-maintained by — prejudice, and that they’ve failed if they’re defeated by rigged systems.
Why This Workshop, Why Now
In 2017, an inclusive movement includes cross-disability civil rights organizations, as a given.