Friday, February 25, 2011


Welcome, one and all, to February's Disability Blog Carnival - the 74th, if you're counting. I asked you to Participate, and you did. While 'Participation' is perhaps not the most exciting of themes, a great set of writers have interpreted it in all kinds of ways. Here, in no particular order, are their fantastic posts.

Our first post comes from In my eyes my life with cerebral palsy (a blog whose strapline I adore), about going for what you want in life. A childhood example shows the impact of getting involved:

"When I was a kid the local wheelchair basketball team had an activity day, I attended and loved it so much that I begged my occupational therapist to go again so much that I managed at the ripe old age of five to convince them to lower the program age range from eight to five."

Having that kind of impact can involve some serious work, though. When social and physical barriers are everywhere for disabled people, participating in the most ordinary of activities can be frustratingly difficult and thoroughly depressing. This month, Wheelchair Dancer related an experience of back-door access, poor service and relegation to second-class-citizenship. I was impressed by her tenacity in complaining. More of us could participate if more of us stood up for our own rights.

"There's not much anyone can do. They rent the space; they don't have the rights to put in an elevator. She says that she will think about how to make the space more of a par with the upstairs space in terms of decoration (did she honestly think that people with disabilities would be so grateful to get in the door that we'd be happy with the hallway?)"

Staying with these themes of society and expectations, The Right To Design has a thought-provoking post this month about prosthetic limbs. Are they more about society's need to normalize disabled people than about function? In short, do we need to 'look right' before our participation in society will be more acceptable? And what are the reactions when we refuse to fit in like this?

"Is it that people are more comfortable with plastic and metal - even though they clearly indicate a lost limb - than the actual flesh of an impaired body? Or that they want to see that the person is at least trying to repair/replace their disability - to make themselves more "normal"? Does the strangeness of a prosthetic limb somehow trump the taboos around physical difference or disability?"

Meanwhile, Carl tells us that participation can be boring when you're ordinary, while Teafeather continues with the theme of ordinary things by talking about participation in online forums. After all, as Carl points out, despite the supercrip stories the media likes to revel in, most of us are indeed ordinary:

"Many people mistakenly perceive my participation in everyday activities to be something out of the ordinary, when really, there isn't all that much people my age participate in other than going to university, drinking beer and starting work."

Diary of a Benefit Scrounger has contributed a beautiful prose poem, which captures the complexity and ambiguity of participation in a society that cuts benefits and demonises disabled people. I love the spirit of defiance that shines through it:

"One warm, summer afternoon, when the breeze feels like silk, I will take a motorbike ride with my husband, racing through hazel lined lanes across the rolling South Downs. I will gulp in pleasure and live a year in those few, adrenaline-fuelled hours. I will pull off my crash helmet, shaking my hair and laughing at life. I wonder if you'll remember how little my life normally gives me to laugh at?"

Thinking about a similar kind of paradox, Astrid is concerned about the double-bind of participation in society for disabled people:

"Disabilities create barriers to participation, yet as people with disabilities, we’re forced to participate in the non-disabled community as much as we possibly can... We shouldn't have to prove how oh so capable we are in order to be valuable members of society."

In societies where access and equality are very limited, campaigners have to work even harder towards equal participation for all. The editor of Women's Web, which is based in India, has contributed this interview with a mother of a child who has autism. She lives in Bangalore and campaigns for access to play spaces. And her campaign group is making a difference:

"5 years on, Kilikili’s achievements are many: 3 inclusive public parks, many partnerships with parents’ other organizations to transfer the knowledge gained, ‘inclusion events’ for children with disabilities to meet and interact with others and a ‘Buddies’ programme specifically for children with autism and developmental delays."

Elizabeth McClung and Cheryl have been thinking about participation in communities of disabled people, but in rather different ways. Elizabeth considers how disabled people are quite capable of excluding (other disabled) people from our communities. Cheryl, an ADAPT activist, begins by thinking about ways in which ADAPT is like a youth club where she feels like she belongs completely, and goes on to think about how she could engage other young people in the same kind of activism:

"I want to work for a CIL and teach 15 year olds about public policy. Get them pumped up, take them to the fun run, get them more pumped up, and then send them home to keep them away from the arrests. Although hill visits would be cool too. A 15 year old shaking Tom Harkin's hand, priceless."

Spaz Girl tells me she thinks her Able Privilege Checklist is off-topic, but it's full of gems about how easily non-disabled people take their access for granted, echoing many of this month's posts. My personal favourite from her list:

"You can go out in public and will not be accosted by a variety of tired, cheap car jokes such as 'Do you have a license for that thing?'"

I want to end with Sharon Waschler's excellent post over at After Gadget, which returns to the ambiguities and complications of participation in life - and activism, and many other things - when you're disabled. A lot of us will be able to identify with her difficult story of making a supreme, costly effort to stand up for disability rights, only to meet with a defensive reaction, or worse. But her reaction of "If not me, who?" is a reminder, for me, of why it's important to keep campaigning even when it's incredibly hard work:

"When you are silent in the face of oppressive language and behaviors, you participate in the oppression of all people. Yes, there is self-preservation and picking your battles, and there are also moral imperatives."

Happy 74th Disability Blog Carnival, all. I hope I haven't missed off anyone's entries, but it's been that kind of a week, so let me know if I have! See you at the next Blog Carnival - ETA: this will be over at A Writer in a Wheelchair on 25th March, and the topic is 'Milestones'. You can leave links to your entries in the comments there, or e-mail Emma at ejcrees 'at' googlemail 'dot' com. Enjoy.

"We all participate in weaving the social fabric; we should therefore all participate in patching the fabric when it develops holes." ~ Anne Weisberg