Monday, May 01, 2006

Blogging Against Disableism

This Blogging Against Ableism post is devoted to challenge patronizing people with disabilities. In my experience, it's one of the more common and typical manifestations of (dis)ableism, and also one of the most slippery and insidious. How can you check an attitude anyway? Yet, as far as abuse of power, the dismissal of someone is a major action.

Blogging Against Disablism Day
I define patronizing as:
Treating someone as if you think they are dumb, pedantic, annoying, or otherwise less valid of public contribution and participation. Behavioral examples include eye rolling, private looks of condescension, dismissing, erasing, cutting off, babying, or otherwise invalidating.

I kept returning to this idea of posting against patronizing, and kept talking myself out of it. What about the ways in which many people with disabilities are systematically oppressed as among the most poor, least employed, and least educated in the world? What about the ways in which our "social security" systems lead people away from contributing to society and trap people in poverty? Globally, what about the lack of even basic access to health care and sanitation, to basic mobility equipment and medications?
What about the ways in which psychiatric system survivors are among the most frequently homeless, due to the decentralization and then unfunding of support services? Patronizing just seems like such an unimportant issue. Who cares if we get patted on the head or treated as children occasionally?

Well, why is it exactly that people with physical, communication, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities are undereducated? It could be that the educational systems have systematized patronizing by undervaluing, underfunding, and underestimating students with disabilities.

And why is it that people with disabilities are more often than not un-employed or under-employed? Just thinking of a few friends, I can only guess that discrimination based on appearances and prejudices outweighed the Masters degrees, years of professional experience, and demonstrated competency had something to do with an attitude of patronization. After all, even if someone with an obvious disability could do a challenging job, it surely couldn't be as good or beautiful as anyone else, and wouldn't the customers question the business's competency then, too? It's interesting that bosses and HR departments' patronizing have often been inaccurate when people actually have the chance to interact with customers and do the jobs.

The de-institutionalization movement was probably a good thing, but as community services were never funded enough to fully develop or to be sustainable, people were left without services or options. So the jails, hospitals homeless shelters, and streets became the institutions. But what could we expect from psych survivors? Perhaps if our patronizing attitudes didn't write people off as hopeless failures, we would see the injustice in these broken systems.

Patronizing can be babying, bullying, or talking down to someone...
but it can also be violating another person because we can't quite see them as fully human.

My own experiences of being patronized are memorable but limited. When I am patronized for looking too young (as an autistic FTM) or too autistic (which is sometimes misread as intellectual disability, anxiety, psych disability, or even younger age), I have the privilege of opening my mouth and quoting theory or showing diplomas, and I have the skin color and class markers to back up my claims along with the privileges of medical care, technology, and diagnoses. But what would it mean to use this privilege in a way other than simply showing that people were mistaken in their categorizing of me as one of the patronizable ones? I've often gotten angry not that my characteristics were misread, but that there was a different way to treat people based on how we are viewed. Yet, I must say that in the moment, I don't know that I've ever challenged those assumptions in a more universal way.

As my blog title alludes, I am a postmodern Lutheran who believes myself to be a redeemed sinner in a broken but re-creating world, made whole by the love of God shared through other people. So when I confess my own patronizing when I feel annoyed or bored by someone else, usually having something to do with disability (my own, theirs, or both), I am both taking responsibility for my own part in it and acknowledging that our world is one where the brokenness of patronization and corresponding devaluing of people is endemic and also in need of repair. With that, I pledge to attempt to check my own patronizing.

Here are some ideas of how I intend to challenge to act of patronizing:
  • Find and express ways that all contributions are valid and important, even those that seem impractical or simplistic, overly-emotional or naive
  • If nothing else, what one person voices is an indication of their experiences
  • Take the time and effort to listen critically to ideas that seem strange, pedantic, or simplistic
  • If behaviors or ways of being are annoying, dull, or odd, have a direct and respectful conversation with the person to find ways to work out understanding and respect
  • Call out and stop the patronizing of others
  • If all else fails, try to save eye rolls for alone time
Anybody have more experiences to share or ideas to challenge patronizing?


Canine Diamond said...

Pam/Reaching for the Light told me about your blog (I'm another nontheist Quaker).

I'm Asperger's but wasn't diagnosed until college. My public school system tested me in eighth grade because I was obviously having problems, but couldn't find anything with their basic tests and said they couldn't give me any help unless they could prove what was wrong with me. The high school said that they also couldn't give me any help unless they could prove something but that, even if they did, all they could do was put me in remedial classes. I ended up being a National Merit Scholar, no thanks to them.

The school got some dumb award for having a high SAT average and my mother wrote them a nasty letter reminding them that they hadn't earned my scores. Go, Mom.

Jay said...

Nice to meet you. I became friends with Pam by eating breakfast with her at the same Co-operative restaurant with her for years in a row, and she met and started dating my partner's best friend a couple of years ago.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. And tell your mom thanks too!

Aspergers is one of those experiences that could be in itself used as proof of the Social Model of Disability.

It sucks that our education system is so stuck on a medical model of disability that one has to prove incompetence in order to get help to do as well as possible. My partner (with ADD, Depression, and probably a math disability) actually self-advocated by asking for math help in elementary school instead of being tracked in the all-advanced-all-the-time classes, but instead of being put in the mid-or-lower level math class, he was given extra tutoring from the Gifted and Talented teacher and stayed in the advanced class.

Even though it may have been easier to have access to a few more resources as a kid, I'm thankful that I wasn't diagnosed until age 25 at my own prompting, although it still amazes me given what I know were issues when I was younger.
I certainly wouldn't have tried Social Work Graduate School, which was one of the best educational experiences I've had where my autistic gifts were most affirmed (and also the way in which I gained most of my advanced people-skills).

I think part of the confusion of Neurotypicals with the real difficulties of people with Aspergers is that they are counter-intuitive to what most people consider difficult. In my experience, most people can empathize with having difficulty with calculus or with having difficulty reading Shakespeare, but the experience of having difficulty with talking to people or decoding gestures doesn't even occur to many neurotypicals as possible. One fairly effective way that I've tried to explain this to people is to talk about how strange and incomprehensible autistic behavior seems to them, and to image that the whole rest of the social, political, and relational world seems like that.

Anyway, happy Blogging Against Disableism Day!

Intern-al Theology said...

re-creating world

I really like the present tense of this. It makes me think of redemption as both an event and an ongoing process.