Some friends and I have been talking lately about the ways that people with learning disabilities, developmental disabilities and mental health issues have become excluded from the social justice organizations that we have been a part of. Even in grassroots collectives and unions that strive to be inclusive and where people know how to talk about disability, many people don’t know concretely what steps to take to make their organizing more inclusive of us. Here are some ideas to get you started.
(A couple notes on terminology: I use the term disabled people rather than people with disabilities because that’s how I prefer to refer to myself, and a growing number of people are referring to themselves that way. Here’s a good explanation of why. Neurodivergent is an umbrella term for people whose minds work differently than what is considered “normal” or socially acceptable. It often refers to people who have depression, anxiety or developmental or learning disabilities, though it can include other things as well. It is the opposite of neurotypical, which just means someone whose brain works “normally”.)
- Don’t expect everyone to do the same amount of work.
Too often people’s legitimacy as activists is judged by how many hours of work they put into their activism. Remember that we all have different capacities. Sometimes this is because we are required with to look after family members or work extra hours to pay the bills, but some of us need a lot of time just to take care of ourselves. Nobody should be excluded because of this reality.
Being open about boundaries is a good place to start; a group that has regular conversations about boundaries is more likely to respect them. Active, enthusiastic consent is a good rule to live by and not just for sex: when you ask someone to step up to a task, it’s important to make sure you are not pressuring them into doing something that is beyond their capacity or comfort level. Talking about boundaries means that people are more likely to say no to things in the short term, but it also means that they will be more sustainable as activists in the long term.
Thanks so much to Liz Kessler & Murky Green Waters blog for this awesome writing.