Um, peeps without disabilities, we need to talk.

making-the-splot-face2

Yeah. So. Here’s the thing. People without disabilities, many, many of you need sensitivity training when it comes to disabled folks like myself. Like, big time. Because you don’t even know what you don’t know. And you’re hurting us with your ignorance.

Last weekend at a conference, I was scheduled to be a panelist to discuss how to write characters with disabilities in speculative fiction. I was all like, “Whoot, this is my jam! I am so gonna sit back with my fellow peeps and we’ll share stories and learn from each other.”

Except.

Except.

Sigh.

Nobody gave me any heads up that of all the panelists, I would be the only one with a disability. I discovered it as the talking began. My heart went into my throat but it’s not like I could flee the room. There were people who had come to learn. I have journeyed the spectrum from being invisibly to visibly disabled. I’ve a voice to speak about the prejudices hurled against people like me. I know how I want to be represented in writing. I’ve written characters with disabilities myself. I had stuff I could contribute to the discussion.

Oh. Shit.

I did my best to bring across the points I felt should be addressed: give us personalities, make us sexy, don’t create inspiration porn, we don’t need to be cured in your stories, and don’t write us to be pathetic and sad.

When I felt more and more questions were being directed at me, by a pretty rockin’ audience I might add, I felt really on the spot but I reached into the knowledge I did have and answered as best as I could. Without prep. Without another panelist in the know to correct me or add to my perspective.

Because I don’t have all the disabilities. There is a wide diversity of them, and I would have loved to have seen that representation. You just cannot have a panel about a marginalised group of people that should be own-voices, and fill it up with non-disabled people. Even if others with disabilities had to cancel, it’s better to cancel the entire panel, in my opinion, than have one person try to carry it. Or at least ask the one person left if they mind being a soloist. What if I had been ill? The entire panel would have had no representation of people with disabilities.

It’s akin to an LGBTQIA panel comprising only of cisgender, heterosexual people.

Now, I must say I have no issue with writers who aren’t disabled including disabled characters in their stories. Go for it! Get your sensitivity readers and make sure you don’t tread into own-voices territory. But just like how I include queer characters in my stories and have them thoroughly vetted by sensitivity editors, I stay away from certain stories I couldn’t possibly write because I wouldn’t have that personal, experienced perspective.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate non-disabled authors who do their research and want to offer their experience on a panel such as this, but I feel the vast majority of the panelists should be own-voices. Ideally, all the panelists would be own-voices, but we’d encourage you all to include disabled characters and then give you advice on how to do it best.

You know, like how I thought we’d do on that panel.

*cough*

I was shaken, livid, and really upset when it was over. I know I carried myself in my fun Cait ways, because I liked the audience and again, wanted to offer what I could. But throwing me into that situation with no warning was not acceptable.

Thankfully, I have the support of other friends with disabilities and we’re going to work together to help educate in these spaces.

Because an education is needed.

No one should be made to feel marginalised in what should be their safe space.

I’m making the Splot face right now.

/cg

CGAuthorCait Gordon is an Irish-Canadian warrior princess and author of Life in the ’Cosm, a space opera about a little green guy who’s crushing on the female half of his two-headed colleague (Renaissance). Cait’s also the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network, a blog featuring writers who manage disabilities and/or chronic illness. She likes cupcakes.

 

 

 

 

My First Time in a Wheelchair

As many of you know, I’ve a disability that affects my mobility. In 2016, I decided enough was enough and I would make use of mobility devices so that I could have a better quality of life and stop saying, “I can’t,” to events. The reason it took me so long to get there mentally was because I was giving into other people’s ideas that exercise can cure me forever and ever. So, I suffered needlessly as a result. A singular thought– I am the boss of my body changed my attitude for the better.

Around my house, I very rarely use a cane. I mostly rely on my own power. Outside of the home, I carry a cane because it helps me to keep better hip posture and I walk faster. It also helps me when my knees randomly conk out. My next purchase will be a rollator (a walker with wheels) so I can spend more time at conferences or CONs, and to be able to stop and sit in the thing. Standing in line is extremely painful for me.

This past December, I sustained three sprains in my feet after a mishap on some stairs at a restaurant, which created a whole new world of nope for me. However, I was not going to miss seeing Kinky Boots at the NAC on Dec 31. I remembered that they had wheelchairs at the NAC, and when my husband and I went to the show, I used one to get around.

I must say the staff at the National Arts Centre are wonderfully helpful. They were stellar. But I didn’t have a great experience. Not because of NAC staff, but because of the NAC patrons. Humankind disappointed me that afternoon. I thought certain behaviour around people who are disabled would be common sense, but apparently it’s not. So, the next section of this article will be called:

Bleeding obvious things you shouldn’t do when someone is in a wheelchair

wheelchair-pinkI’m sorry if this insults your intelligence, but some people need to be schooled.

1. Talk down to us

Speak to me like I’m a grown-up person, okay? I’m just a woman sitting in a wheelchair. I can understand what you’re saying without you talking to me as if I’m four. You don’t have to patronise me because you feel sorry for me, either. I don’t feel sorry for me, so let’s put that one away, mkay? Thanks, doods.

2. Squeeze past me on a narrow ramp

OMIGOSH, can you not wait the 30 seconds my husband needs to negotiate the chair and me down the accessibility ramp? So many people pushed past us in a very tight space. This ramp is for people like me, not able-bodied people trying to dash by as if their trousers just caught fire. WAIT! Wait for us to go through. What is the matter with you???

3. Push past us into the smallest elevator in town and insist there’s room

This is when I wanted to slap people upside the head with my cane. My husband and I were all alone, waiting at an elevator, when several people arrived. The elevator doors opened and they piled inside, shouting, “There’s room, there’s room!” Yeah, no, you clueless trolls, there wasn’t enough room, because the wheelchair needs to be turned to fit inside the thing. I barked at them and told them we’ll take the next one. They looked sheepish, but I was fit to be tied.

4. Use the washroom assigned to disabled people

You know how I know when someone who is able-bodied is using the accessibility bathroom? The expression of extreme guilt on their face coupled by a bolting escape. This was rich, too. The only bathroom I could access because of construction at the NAC was through a parking garage, by a men’s washroom. Now, peeps, you know that men take no time to pee and flee from their washrooms, right? Welp, one fellow decided to use the accessibility washroom and the look on his face when he saw us waiting outside told it all. My husband was the one to pick up on that. I was still fuming from the ramp-crowding people. (This wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced this at the NAC, btw.)

Come on, people, you can do better than that.

I wrote a letter of complaint to the NAC about my experience, asking them if they would post signs and such at elevators and bathrooms, telling people to give priority to people in wheelchairs. The person who wrote back sympathised with my complaint and will take actions to inform staff to be diligent. They agreed with me that these things should be obvious.

Are we so disconnected from each other these days that we’ve forgotten common courtesy? Are we so self-centered that our being in a rush for everything makes us too impatient to (1) wait a few seconds for a wheelchair to pass, and/or (2) to catch the next elevator? Do we just have no more freaking manners?

I’d like to believe we can do better than this. However, it seems like we need reminders. So, here’s the thing, in a nutshell:

Make life not so much about you, but remember to consider others. Treat people with dignity and respect. If you have the privilege of being able-bodied, then kindly give priority to people with disabilities and don’t use their designated spaces as shortcuts for your own convenience.

Do we have that? Good. Because holy schnikies, peeps. Don’t make me come over there. I might have a disability, but I can go from friendly to cranky in six seconds if you disrespect me. Irish, you know.

/cg

CGAuthorCait Gordon is an Irish-Canadian warrior princess and author of Life in the ‘Cosm, a space opera about aliens with issues (Renaissance Press). She’s also the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network blog.