The Disability Conversation Must Be Open To All (Even Non-Disabled)

As a writer who occasionally attempts to delve into the issues facing the disability community, the argument of being allowed to speak about something is very real.

Whether spoken or not, the frequent rule is that your opinion only counts if you’re a part of something or afflicted by it. If you aren’t such, you should be cautious about what you say and cautioned before even saying it.

Attempting to simplify the complicated is a tough task because within that complication is often a subconscious reason and chain of history that led to it in the first place.

Five years of writing about disability issues such as funding shortages, leadership, service providers and disabled people’s sexuality has, so far, been anything but simple. It’s taught me a hell of a lot, but it’s always been a struggle.

In fact, I can’t remember a single blog or article that was simple to write and never has there been one that was simply received by what is a very complicated community.

Disability rights advocates are only scratching the surface of what’s behind the areas mentioned above. Sometimes that feels as if it is deliberately so and I can’t help but wonder if the fear of misinformation getting out into the public leads to the constant in-fighting that can be found in online forums and amongst the various groups across the sector.

Don’t believe me? I could give you a hundred examples in this blog with ease. There are many who want to control the narrative, some are out in the open about it while others do it subconsciously. Many of us in disability advocacy land occasionally fall into the squabbles, myself included, and the most recent example sparked the inspiration to write about the truly fascinating question of who’s allowed to speak for whom.

This quickly led to the obvious reality that this is actually about far more than the disability sector and its diverse communities. Trying to categorize it into a single entity is wrong.

Censorship, trying to control the public message, and squabbles about who’s valid and who’s not is an issue that has been fast-tracked by the online world we find ourselves living in. Everything is one of two extremes, the middle-ground was lost a long time ago in many a Facebook group or Twitter thread.

So why not just stay off it then? I’ll tell you why, because it’s accessible for most people with technology, and it’s free to use. Take a look at your social circle and ask yourself how many people have a smartphone or access to the internet in some form, then see how many are on social media because it’s “just what you do these days”.

Something that is both socially recognized as the norm and is free to access (without a paid subscription) will always attract a lot of people. It’s got dynamites worth of potential, and even more risk.

The latter is where a big sticking point to the conversations I see in the disability community often meet an end.

What exactly are the conversations being had? Five years of listening and writing has confused me, because some conversations are new on the face of it, but the outcomes and mistakes are often regurgitated from years gone by. Many of them are certainly risk-averse.

The point being, as members of the disability community, we must ensure that the conversation is open to all and attempting to control outcomes will only lead to suppression. Nobody should be suppressed from this conversation, that includes those without disabilities or those that are defined as “not disabled enough” (yes, that happens to). Simply saying that us, the disabled, can be the only ones to push for our greater equality will result in more of the same.

This equality thing cannot be done against or without those non-disabled. I understand the wrongs of the past and how hurtful that is, and potentially, how much it still impacts your life now.

At the risk of going against the clear and obvious record of inequality for a moment, the conversation about disability has never been led or had exclusively by the non-disabled. Claiming the opposite is rubbish.

Yes, there needs to be more political representation of everything disability, yes supports should be flexible and open to all, and yes, please yes, there must be a greater emphasis on achieving outcomes rather than talking to them.

But let’s ensure that the disability conversation is open to all heading forward because to achieve equality, we’ll be doing it in a number of different ways that will require everyone, even those who don’t identify in a certain way, to be a part of the talking points.

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