What is disablism? It’s prejudice and discrimination and oppression against disabled people. Most people in the UK say disablism, most people in the USA say ableism, and they mean the same thing by it for the most part.
And if you have to ask if your kind of disability counts, it probably does. It’s an all-inclusive term, and anyone who says otherwise is engaging in the very disablism the word was created to fight. Here are some but not all sorts of disabled people who face disablism (yes, many of these groups overlap, because some are medicalized, some are accidents of history, and some are actual logical groupings of disabled people):
- Physical disabilities
- Cognitive disabilities
- Chronic illness
- Developmental disabilities
- Intellectual disabilities/Learning Disabilities (UK version)
- Learning Disabilities (USA version)/Specific Learning Difficulties (UK version)
- Pervasive Developmental Disabilities/Autism Spectrum Disabilities
- Emotional Disabilities
- Psychiatric Disabilities
- Mental Illness
- Chronic Pain
- Terminal Illness
- People who are perceived as disabled, even if not
And anything else like that. All people in these groups face oppression and discrimination for being who we are, so all of us count as meaningful in discussions of disablism or ableism.
I know I don’t always talk about disability directly on this blog. My mostly-defunct blog Ballastexistenz is where I normally discuss disability politics. But disability is a major part of my identity, and it creeps into my poems in ways you’d sometimes be surprised at. Even poems that don’t mention disability in any way, can sometimes be tied back to my experiences of disability.
For instance, I write a lot about my spirituality, which involves the redwood forest I lived in through infancy, and again as a young adult. What does that have to do with disability? If you’ve ever been in the psychiatric system, any spiritual or religious beliefs you have are considered “symptoms” if you’re not really lucky. That goes double if your religious beliefs come from a “religion of one”, where nobody else shares those beliefs.
The same happens a lot to people with temporal lobe epilepsy, who are told that our religious experiences are all seizures. Even though a religious experience changes you for life, and a seizure that just happens to switch on the “I saw God” part of the brain, doesn’t. There are people quick to make it sound as if ecstatic seizures prove there is no real spirituality, that it’s all just a trick of the brain. My answer to that is the following:
In one of the earliest seizures I remember, I was lying in my crib (which I had until the age of four or so) and a doll appeared in front of me. My mother had had a penpal from Japan, and the penpal had sent her a Japanese doll. The Japanese doll glided through the air and started moving side to side like the needle on a speedometer. (For years I called that “doing push-ups”, but my language skills weren’t that great.) I heard a voice in the distance say “uh-oh”, in a sing-song fashion. Then I started vomiting uncontrollably. And then screaming. And then my mother came rushing in, picked me up, and carried me into the living room.
It’s very typical of complex-partial seizures, to hallucinate something that you have really seen before. By the standards of the people who say God or spirituality is not real because some seizures feel like spirituality, then the Japanese doll must not have been real either. After all, I hallucinated it, there must have been one part of my brain specific to remembering the appearance of the Japanese doll, and that part of my brain was triggered during the seizure. In other seizures, I’ve seen the Dark Mark from the cover of a Harry Potter book. I’ve talked to people who’ve seen paintings from their past, often it’s things we never would’ve remembered if the seizure hadn’t called them up. But all of them were real things. The temporal lobe is involved in memory, among other things, so temporal lobe seizures can cause us to hallucinate objects from our memory.
I’ve had genuine spiritual experiences. I’ve never had ecstatic seizures, but I’ve had ecstatic migraines, which are rare but do exist. There is a definite difference between the two. But again — just because the brain can call up a hallucinatory version of something, does not mean that every version of that something is a hallucination. The Japanese doll existed and still exists. And as far as I’m concerned, genuine spirituality and spiritual experiences continue to exist, and are distinct from seizures that just happen to hit the part of the brain that is also triggered during real spiritual experiences.
And that is how spirituality becomes pathologized, and that is why when I get around to making posts with different categories relating to disablism, my spiritual beliefs will be part of those poems, even if they don’t directly mention disablism. Because there are people who would still pathologize me for the content of those poems.
Anyway, I’m going to keep sorting poetry (I’ve got an awful lot of it on my hard drive, only some of which has been published) and will eventually make it into posts for BADD, although I might fall asleep before I end up doing that. In the meanwhile, check out BADD yourself, it might be interesting to you. Keep coming back all day long, and indeed for the next few days, because usually posts get added into the mix for several days in a row. Disabled people often are late turning stuff in for a lot of things, and this is no exception. It’s always amazing to me to read through all the posts and see all the different ways people see disablism.