Ah, allyhood. One of the big sticking points in a lot of movements is the notion of the ally; In LGBT discourse, this is a straight and cis person who wants to help the cause of LGBT rights, in the sphere of racism this is a white or locally-privileged-ethnicity person who does their best to fight racism, and in disability this is an abled person who fights for greater accessibility. Often, allies get heard more than the people in the communities themselves, so can end up doing more harm than good if they don’t know what to do.
So here’s my guide to being a good ally to the disabled community;
– It should always start with listen. Not only “Listen to the experiences of disabled people” but aso “Listen when disabled people tell you which things you’re doing are helpful and unhelpful”. If a lot of people have said that you’re patronising, you’re probably patronising. If a lot of people have said that you’re focusing on something unhelpful, you should probably shift your focus.
2) If you’re speaking for us when we’re not around, don’t go out on a limb.
– If you hear an abled person say “All depressives are selfish”, don’t go into depth about Your Depressive Friend and how they’re the most unselfish person you’ve ever met. Just say “No they’re not. Don’t be ignorant.” and refuse to be drawn. That sends the message to the other abled person that their views aren’t welcome, whilst also saving you from having to try to answer or speak for disabled people in our absence.
– If you get really drawn in, repeat things which are from public arenas and which have been said by disabled people. For example; “I can’t know this personally, but according to Percy at Bitey Zebra, who is depressed, being depressed can sap your energy as much as physical pain does, so sometimes he worries that he looks self-centred when really he’s just trying to keep himself from ending up causing more trouble in the long run.” Don’t repeat things that you were told in confidence, and don’t try to extrapolate on things that you’ve heard, since you might extrapolate wrongly.
– This does mean that you will have to read a lot of things written by disabled people, in order to know what is just one person’s opinion and what’s a prevailing social trend. If you’re really committe to being an ally, it won’t be a chore.
3) Recognise that there is no disability hivemind.
– What one person considers to be appropriate, someone else might not. It’s not your place to say “But my disabled friend says this is all right!” to another disabled person. Treat disabled people as individuals, don’t tell them that they have to find something offensive if they don’t, or that they have to approve of something. Disability activism is complicated, since there’s probably a bigger variation in how disabled people are affected by both their disabilities and disablism than there is in almost any other minority group. Someone with an intellectual disability will probably be more affected by certain kinds of ableism than someone with a physical disability, and someone with a mental illness will face different prejudices to both.
4) Don’t force disabled people to talk about disability.
– We get exhausted by talking about it all the time. If we’re doing something, don’t always try to turn it into a conversation about disability. if we’re at a restaurant, don’t bring up how good or bad the accessibility is unless we bring it up first. Don’t try to elucidate how every piece of disability news or legislation affects us, or what our opinions are on it. Sometimes, we’ve had enough thinking-about-disability in just navigating a situation, never mind in repeating the thought process out loud. Sometimes, we didn’t think about disability at all.
5) The majority of your activism will be unglamorous.
– You will not get articles published about disability in magazines. When you’re offered them, you’ll give the space to a disabled person. You won’t save the day in big debates, you’ll just quietly make sure that disabled people don’t get talked over (And that will at least partially be by shutting up). Most of what you’ll do is to gently correct people when they’re being disablist and there’s no disabled people there to do it.
And that’s it, I think. I don’t know if it even makes that much sense, but it’s my thoughts at the moment. Subject to change, and obviously just my thoughts, not everyone’s.