food for thought: dis/abilities and labor

Last week I collected a number of insightful pieces on the intersection of dis/abilities and public (or work) spaces. The extent to which our work lives are governed by the concept of an idealized, able-bodied worker-citizen has become increasingly apparent to me over the past decade as I and my peers navigate employment with a range of health challenges that limit our ability to live up to that (inevitably impossible) ideal. In an overarching way, I think it is helpful when we consider the role dis/ableism — discrimination and social policing based on particular cultural expectations of physical and mental normativity — to remember an observation once made by historian Gerda Lerner: “All of us, ultimately, will join one of the most despised and abused groups in our society–the old and the sick.” Whether or not we now consider ourselves as individuals with non-normative bodies or brains, one day we will experience these things. It is a universal part of the human condition. Therefore, understanding dis/ableism as it operates within society is ultimately not an exercise in insider/outside politics. It is, and should be understood as, an exercise in humanity (we infirm creatures) versus the inhuman expectations to which we’ve decided to hold ourselves and one another within our socioeconomic system.


Tenured Radical @ The Chronicle of Higher Education amends an earlier piece she wrote featuring advice to entering college students and their families by discussing at length the way in which inflexible policies can discriminate against people with disabilities. She’s discussing attendance in the context of higher education, but we might also should consider how expectations of attendance (and workplace sick leave policies) are shaped by assumptions about able-bodiedness and what constitutes meaningful workplace participation:

Students need to be fully engaged with their own education, but when disability accommodation comes down to a struggle over policy between a student and a member of the faculty (which it never should and often does), this is an outcome of perhaps unintentional, but certainly structural, discrimination against disabled students.

(The comment thread on the above post is also extremely valuable, so don’t stop reading with the end of the OP.)

Dis/ability is, like any other facet of our lives, intersectional — inseparable from all of the other categories into which society sorts us. Katie Rose Guest Pryal @ Curriculum Vitae offers some tips on how not to alienate your colleagues with invisible disabilities and about the ways gender, race, and disability intersect:

When we talk about psychiatric disability in the academy, we cannot ignore how race, gender, socioeconomic, and other kinds of privilege affect how people with disabilities live and work. It’s a lot easier to deal with the stigma of mental illness if your colleagues aren’t already questioning your competency on the job—overtly or not—because of which boxes you check on census forms.

(via Feminist Law Professors)

It’s always good to have a week where you learn something, and for me that was the term “disability binarism” and its meaning. Cara Liebowitz @ That Crazy Crippled Chick writes about the consequences of disability binarism:

It’s easier to let people believe that I can’t stand or walk on my own.  I get tired of being called lazy, or having a bus driver tell me I “tricked” him.  Can I walk? Absolutely and for sheer convenience I plan to keep it that way, even if I like rolling a lot better and it allows me to do more things. But my chair allows me to go places without worrying about my energy levels. I can zip from there to here to there without so much as a second thought and I never realized how much energy I expended walking and calculating how much of that energy I could expend before I HAD. TO. SIT. DOWN until I started using a chair. Able-bodied people just throw out “walking distance” so flippantly, because they don’t know what it’s like to expend so much energy into just staying upright and putting one foot in front of the other and not falling in the middle of a busy city street.

(Linked within the above post is The Spoon Theory with which all of you should become familiar. So useful.)

Don’t want to be that jerk of a bus driver described above? Check out Erin Tatum @ Everyday Feminism who brings us five tips for avoiding awkward as an able-bodied person interacting with someone who has a visible disability:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to sit there with a smile plastered on my face as some middle-aged stranger babbles at me in a singsong voice about how I’m impressive for going to school and wanting to do something with my life. By deciding how much we’re capable of understanding and then limiting that depth to an elementary school level, you immediately undercut any potential for genuine connection in the conversation.

(via @MagpieLibrarian)

On the vector of gender rather than dis/ableism a recent study finds women in the non-profit sector continue to do more work for less pay than their male counterparts (via @StepheStellar).

Meanwhile, Amanda Hess @ Slate report that targets of online harassment (not surprisingly, disproportionately individuals from socially  marginalized groups) are finding crowd-sourced solutions to what should be considered a social problem:

What this approach fails to recognize is that online harassment is a social problem (one that disproportionately affects the same folks who are marginalized offline, like minority groups, LGBT people, and women), and making the Internet a safe and equitable place to communicate requires a social solution. So now, some Twitter users are stepping up to provide ad-hoc fixes where Twitter itself has declined to dabble.

And finally, congratulations to the Society of American Archivists for formally adopting a Code of Conduct governing behavior at “conferences, events, [ in] meetings, formal mentoring relationships, and online spaces.” I’m particularly stoked that the model for the SAA’s CoC was based on work done by the community at Geek Feminism Wiki. While we’re all aware that Codes of Conduct are only the beginning — words must be backed up by deeds! — it is definitely an important step to have a code in place and a stated mechanism for enforcement. I hope that this Code is widely advertised and actively incorporated throughout the annual meeting being held this week in Washington, D.C.

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