The second article in my weekly series for Cuddlist on Disability & Chronic Illness: Addressing Ableism.
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Contents also copied below.
Hi Cuddlist Community,
Today I wanted to start unpacking the concepts of ableism and accessibility.
For people who have never experienced disability or having a chronic illness or supported someone who does, accessibility is most likely something you’ve never had to think about. Part of living in an ableist society is that its taken for granted that you can go inside a building with stairs, walk down the street, go to the bathroom, read a sign or listen to the radio and understand what it says, etc. These are just some obvious examples, but there are layers of subtler things that can be barriers for those of us with disabilities and chronic illness.
Lack of access to nurturing touch for people with disabilities and chronic illness exists for many different reasons – social, physical, environmental, emotional – depending on the individual. As Cuddlists, it important for us to consider how we can make our work accessible to the people that want and need our services.
Three things we can consider to make our work more accessible:
• Is our space set up in a way to accommodate people with mobility issues? If not, can we arrange to see clients who can’t access our space in their home or at an accessible location?
• Is our space scent free? (many people with chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Lyme, and autoimmune diseases have multiple chemical sensitivities) If not, are we willing to change the detergents, body care products, cleaning supplies, etc. that we use to make our space as scent free as possible?
• Is our space flexible to meet different sensory needs – for example lights that can be dimmed or ability to reduce sound? If not, can we get creative in how to meet those needs as best we can?
Beyond considerations for making the physical environment as accommodating as possible, and more importantly in my opinion, is the work of addressing our own internalized ableism. This doesn’t mean that we all have to go out and become disability justice experts. It does mean noticing where we feel discomfort in our own relationship with the concepts of disability and chronic illness, digging into why that is, and overcoming those fears or other emotional reactions we may have.
Overcoming our internalized ableism allows us to move beyond seeing just the illness or disability and see and be with the person that they are. Even as someone with a chronic illness/disability, I have my own struggles with judgment of my limitations and how my bodymind don’t fit into the able-bodied cultural narrative. That judgment can consciously or unconsciously extend to other disabled/chronically ill people. It’s a continuing practice of coming back to compassion, empathy, and recognizing the humanity of all people no mater how differently abled they may be.
I recently came across the work of Mia Mingus, a writer, educator and community organizer for disability justice and transformative justice. I encourage you to check out these two articles on her blog:
Forced Intimacy: An Ableist Norm
” “Forced Intimacy” is a term I have been using for years to refer to the common, daily experience of disabled people being expected to share personal parts of ourselves to survive in an ableist world. This often takes the form of being expected to share (very) personal information with able bodied people to get basic access, but it also includes forced physical intimacy, especially for those of us who need physical help that often requires touching of our bodies.”
Access Intimacy: The Missing Link
“Access intimacy is that elusive, hard to describe feeling when someone else “gets” your access needs.”
These two articles offer a glimpse of the struggle of living in an ableist world and how it can feel to be truly seen, heard, and supported by others who get it. As a Cuddlist, I strive to offer access intimacy to my clients as well as appreciate my able-bodied clients that “get” my own access needs to be able to take care of myself to offer this work.
Thoughts? Questions? Leave them below in the comments!
Until next Tuesday, wishing you the best, my Cuddlist community.