PSA: Don’t Touch Accessibility Devices

Accessibility Devices are, for all intents and purposes, a part of our bodies and should be treated as such.

DO NOT touch an accessibility device WITHOUT CONSENT. In case this is not clear, I mean the consent of the disabled person.

Do not touch a wheelchair without the consent of the person in it.

Do not touch a walker or a cane without the consent of the person using it.

Do not move a walker or cane out of the way, even if the person isn’t using it right now.

Do not push a wheelchair without consent, even if you are just trying to help. Even if you just want to make it easier for them to get up a hill.

Do not put a cane where the person who needs it can’t reach it. It is not funny.

Do not take a person’s prosthetic. It is not funny.

Do not push a person’s wheelchair out of your way, or to make them go faster. If you wouldn’t shove someone out of the way, then consider pushing someone in a chair as the equivalent.

Do not take a person’s hearing aid. It is not funny.

Do not try to make a person’s hearing aid produce feedback.

Do not push someone wearing a hearing aid into a pool, or spray them with water.

Do not touch a service dog. Doesn’t matter how cute it is. Doesn’t matter how small it is. If the dog is wearing his vest or currently working, DO NOT TOUCH THE DOG. (Or Any Other Service Animal)

Do not talk or stare at a service dog – dogs are social and if they are paying attention to you they are not paying attention to their job. They’re trained, but they’re still animals who CAN get distracted.

 Do not put a walker or a cane somewhere else, even if it is not currently being used.

DO NOT try to help by lifting their walker or the person themselves unless asked. If you offer, respect their no.

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PSA: Don’t Touch Accessibility Devices

Disability 101: Understanding the Social Model of Disability

Often times, the most difficult part of solving a problem, a social problem or others, is about framing it in the right way. If you are dealing with a situation, but you misidentify the source of the conflict or barrier, then any solution becomes impossible, or at least incomplete. The same is true of discussion of disability justice and issues of equality.

Many of the conflicts that arise between abled communities and mindsets, and disabled ones step from different framings of the problem. While many different constructs and models exist, the two mainly accepted ones are the Medical Model and the Social Model.

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Disability 101: Understanding the Social Model of Disability

Accessibility in public spaces.

I want to talk about accessibility in public spaces.

Think of this, that moment when my favorite restaurant reopens in a new location and I am super excited. Then I get there and look at the seating and are already starting to dread the seating process. Walking past all those booths knowing how small they are knowing I can’t fit in them. Bemoaning the fact of even having to try because of the people I am having lunch with. I try anyway to sit in said booth, they don’t work. I get to be fucking embarrassed and hate myself and frankly not even want to eat because fat people aren’t allowed to eat. The waitress alone is staring enough that I want to leave.

We go to a table instead, the one table that was accessible, since for some reason all the not booth seating is up some fucking stairs. Great. We sit at the table, those chairs are always so fucking crap. I am wishing I had brought my walker with me since I know it won’t randomly collapse on me at any moment. I am wishing I wasn’t here even more now. We sit we eat, I go back once, all the accessible seating aka the one table, is taken. I never went back and still haven’t to this day.

Existing as a disabled person on it’s own is a nightmare with accessibility, especially in public places. Existing as a fat disabled person, is a fucking turbo nightmare where everyone is also staring at you very obviously and sometimes sadly unsubtle. Even though you know they think they are gawking subtly which they aren’t. I see you, I see you every single time. As a person with PTSD and anxiety I am hyper aware of my surroundings at all times and I am constantly watching and I see you, I hear you, and it hurts.

Small local shops can be and are usually in my experience the worst when it comes to accessibility. Especially since I live in a small town. I definitely want to support local businesses, especially the local bookstore, the local comic shop, I want them to stay open and thrive. However when your space isn’t accessible I physically can not go to your establishment. Or when I do try I am not there very long and probably buy my one thing as quick as possible. When I can’t use my walker in your store that is a problem and relegates me to only going on much better pain days. Even if it’s a good pain day and I am just using my cane, I still take up a lot more space than other people. Not just because of being fat but needing space to use my cane which is on the side of me. Bumping into things, having stuff on the floor that my cane catches on makes me not want to come back.

I understand that I am the minority in this, but it still hurts. It really fucking hurts when I have lived in the same town my whole life, these are the shops I grew up with, the shops I love and want to support. However I just physically can’t most of the time, not anymore at least. Maybe if you had a bigger space and spent more money on room to spread things out and make them accessible then disabled people could shop there and you would make more money. Only this is reality and not how that works. Especially when many disabled people myself in particular are on a fixed income or are barely scraping buy as is. I know I can’t make up that deficit, so I just shop online. Anything I want delivered right to me, no fuss with walking, bumping into things, possibly hurting myself. No worries about anyone gawking at me making faces, saying derogatory things to me or about me.

Even in a big chain store up here like Barnes & Noble which has a very nice large store and is almost always fully accessible. Certain times of the year they cram so much stuff into that store I can’t even get around with my walker. So I either prepare in advance like around the end of the year and those holidays I remember to not bother. Sometimes I find out when I get to the store, and I just turn around and leave. Which is really fucking frustrating when you don’t leave the house much. When I do leave and then don’t actually get to do the things I want to it hurts. These are things that will help me feel better, give me a small bit of happiness, or even can make me feel accomplished. It sucks, it feels really bad and can even add to my feelings of worthlessness for “never doing anything”.

If you aren’t disabled, look around next time you are someplace, a store, a coffee shop, wherever. Think about accessibility, in public spaces, in the spaces around you. Think and look and critique. Listen to disabled people when we talk about this stuff. About how inaccessible places can be in public. ADA or not there are loopholes for businesses and establishments, and there are a lot of us who wouldn’t even know how to file a complaint and would probably not have the spoons too anyway.

Extra side tangent about other people in public spaces.

Other people can really be the worst part about being disabled. Oh and the worst part about being fat. When I am trying to get by and say excuse me and you look at my like I am a hydracorngaroo, well okay, I will just always take the long way everywhere since people can’t be bothered to let me by. The amount of times I am very obviously using an assistive device and people just run into me, my walker or are walking close enough to me they kick my cane, I could get seriously injured. People couldn’t care less, because they are doing a thing, they are probably in a hurry, and who cares just some fat disabled person. You know what I am are probably faking anyway cause fat people are just lazy. (Intense sarcasm note here just in case)

“Excuse me, I am sorry. Is my mere existence such a fucking affront to you?”

That is what I want to say to people, to stand up for myself. Instead I hopefully am not hurt and just leave and go back into my car where I can cry and or rage (possibly both) in peace. I just wish people would give things a tiny bit more thought, just for like 15 seconds think about what you are doing. I wouldn’t run shoulder first into anyone ever, frankly I am wondering why are you that close to me?! Knocking over people and running into people in general is shit. However doing this to a disabled person, could literally mean a trip to the hospital or a week of intense pain for me.

Like when one winter someone rammed their cart into me while I was walking to my car and I did fall, and I was so messed up for a week after. Their apologies meant nothing, their intentions meant nothing. I was in extra pain for over a week, I didn’t get to go to Therapy that week because I couldn’t walk even around my house let alone drive anywhere.

Think, look, be aware, take a few seconds and just look around and freaking be careful around people. So many people with invisible disabilities who don’t even use assistive devices can get hurt. So like just stop and look and pay the fuck attention when you are in public, please.

Accessibility in public spaces.

When your help isn’t helpful.

We know you want to help and be helpful. You don’t have to stop being helpful, but please ask first. Always ask first. Then help. If your help is wanted then help. If it is not, do not get angry at the person who refused the help. Why would you do that anyway? Secondly, go use that helping spirit and help someone else if you can.

When you encounter a disabled person and you want to help them. You need to always ask permission first. Especially when is comes to assistive devices. Assistive devices are a part of the person who uses them and you need to ask permission before moving them. You wouldn’t go up to an able bodied person and just grab them and start pushing them around. (Or if you would, uhm please don’t do that. That is not okay) This goes for someone in a wheelchair, a walker, ect. DO NOT just grab them and push them, ever. You have to ask permission first.

Consent is kind of really important. Especially when you are a stranger and you don’t know what a disabled person is dealing with. You could make things a whole lot worse with your unsolicited “help”. Say someone is taking a break and just sitting because they are dizzy. You just moving them could be dangerous, someone could get worse off, maybe get physically ill, even pass out. You don’t know, and when you don’t know don’t assume.
Ask permission to help someone.

Also if someone has an assistive device nearby. DO NOT move it. What if they need it and suddenly it’s gone. I know I like to keep my cane nearby at all times. That is not always convenient for other people. Oh and it falls a lot and makes a loud ass noise. However if I need it I need to be able to reach it. Especially if there is some kind of emergency and I gotta go quickly. Like to the restroom. Again if it needs to be moved, ask first. Maybe if we are in a restaurant we will ask to be moved somewhere where it won’t be in the way. Or sure maybe it can get folded up and stored a bit out of the way. Either way.
Ask First.

Now opening doors for people. Usually a pretty nice thing to do. Please be mindful of this though, if I am far away and you are just holding the door open for me, and then get aggravated because I am not moving fast enough? Please don’t even bother. Your help is annoying at best. I see you, I remember you.

Now something specific to look for when it comes to doors. Opening doors especially if someone is leaning into them as I always do, because it makes it easier on me when I am using my cane or walker. When you open that door out from under me, I could and have fallen  before, or even stumbled and hurt myself (and have before). This is not okay.

Service dogs are another big one.You do not touch or interact with a service dog unless you have permission. Period. If a service dog is wearing a vest, they are working. You should never go up and try to pet the dog or distract them in any way. This means they are not working and doing their job. Which can again hurt the disabled person. One exception to this is if the owner is unconscious or in trouble the dogs vest might have an information pocket. Then again calling for help is still probably your first and safest bet. As well as the paramedics or what have you are trained to deal with these things. Looking for medical bracelets as well stuff like that.

It just takes a simple ask “can I help you?”, “need help with the door?” or “need some help?”. Simple short phrases that can make you feel good for being so willing to help poor disabled me (or other people), and can help us in not getting hurt by your overbearing generosity. Yes your “help” can be harmful. So please ask permission first.

When your help isn’t helpful.

Dear Nintendo: Let My Son Play Pokemon (Guest Post)

The following is a guest post request from a mother who wants to play Pokemon Go with her child, but can’t because of some of the many ways it is inaccessible to people with disabilities. Her identity will be kept anonymous for reasons of safety and consideration. The following is an open letter to Nintendo. 

Hey Nintendo, some people have disabled children who would like to play Pokemon Go.

Even though the premise of your game is awesome, it could be improved upon with more accessibility.

As the parent of an autistic child (who is intentionally keeping things vague for the sake of this post because I’d rather my son disclose information about himself publicly whenever he personally feels it is appropriate to do so and can consent to it) who enjoys playing Pokemon with his mother, and as a mother who grew up playing Pokemon games of her own, the Pokemon franchise has always been one that has allowed us to bond and spend quality time together. I man the controls, and when my son indicates a preference in one or more Pokemon, I try to incorporate those into our team. (Once we attempted to bring the three legendary birds to the Elite Four in LeafGreen because he liked them a lot. That might have been when type disadvantage was best illustrated, bringing three Flying when the first Trainer specializes in Ice. Moving along…) Based on what I’d read about Go, I thought it would be one of the most awesome games ever to play with him when it came out.

And then it came out.

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Dear Nintendo: Let My Son Play Pokemon (Guest Post)

Pokemon Go? Not for me.

So as is everyone else on the entire planet. I was super excited about Pokemon Go. A whole new era of Pokemon catching, and on my phone? I was so excited. I downloaded the app, installed started it up. Oh it needs GPS, of course it does. Well living where there is no cell signal for the GPS to work, I decided to try it in town. I went to my local Barnes & Noble  before a doc appointment. Sweet it’s finally working.

Now I had read about the concept of it before, I had read and watched press stuff for it. I was so excited. Then it fully hit me while trying to actually play. This game is not for me. As a disabled person who is not able to walk long distances and uses assistive devices either a walker or a cane. I can’t just walk around for hundreds of yards to find Pokemon. When this finally hit me I was pretty devastated. I tried at the Doctors office and in that parking lot as well. But all the Pokemon were so far away. My heart sank.

If I had a motorized scooter that would be one thing. Frankly since I had to save money and get help paying for my walker there is probably no chance of me getting something more expensive anytime soon. I have a wheelchair that we got from Value Village, it is missing the foot rests and one arm rest, but I guess I could get asked to be pushed around. That just doesn’t sound very fun or comfortable (given the state of my current wheelchair). If I could wheel myself around that would be awesome. Since I can’t I am stuck.

It really hurts, this game I have loved since 6th grade, that I started playing on my Gameboy Color, that I collected cards with my friends with. That I have played for well over a decade. The newest version of this game is not for me. Frankly it’s not for many disabled people. Not only having physical disabilities as I do, and chronic pain, I also have mental disabilities, PTSD and anxiety to name a couple. This means even if I could roam around places where there are lots of people trying to catch these pokemanz. I would probably only be able to do it for a little while. My spoons would start getting eaten up fast (my energy and ability to be around people).

If I am having these issues, I know other people are too. Either because of physical limitations, safety, or social ones. Anyone with very bad anxiety, or other issues with crowded places, people, ect. We don’t get to play this game. It is very obvious after reading even more about how it works that you not only have to be able to walk/move long distances, but you also have to be able to be around people where you have the GPS available.

I can’t even go around my house, or the trails and woods around my house to catch Pokemon. A place where there is few to zero people, a place I feel safe. It seems I will be waiting for Pokemon Sun and Moon and just play the old fashioned way.

Frankly this is all I ever wanted out of a Pokemon game. Pokemon Snap (for the Nintendo64) was my first glimpse into this. Wandering around and trying to catch a glimpse of different Pokemon so you can get pictures of them. Pokemon Go was the next step! An ARG (Alternate Reality Game), where I can find Pokemon in my town, around my house! This was so exciting. Which is why it hurts so much to realize I can’t play this game. This game was made for able-bodied people or people with the money to have the assistive devices they need. It was made for neurotypical people who don’t have problems being around people and in crowded places.

Pokemon Go was not made for me, and it really fucking sucks.

Pokemon Go? Not for me.

It’s All in Your Head:

The false dichotomy between physical and mental illness

It used to be thought that different illnesses were the result of demons and evil spirits. In the bible for example there are instances of epilepsy that are treated as demonic possession. As physical explanations were found for different disorders, the supernatural explanations were abandoned in favor of scientific ones.When it comes to mental health disorders however, physical explanations are harder to grasp and find. Not because they don’t exist, but rather because a lot of brain related research is either not possible with our current technology, or must be undertaken with great care for ethical reasons.  As a result, our society has created a separation between physical illnesses and mental ones.

On some levels, this separation make sense. When we think of physical illness or disability, we think of some physically embodiment. Take Crohn’s for example: with the right equipment one can point to the inflammation and ulcers in my intestines as an explanation of why I am feeling the way I am feeling. With mental illness, however, a lot of times we are dealing with something a bit more intangible: emotions and thoughts.

This separation is a false one however, that actually creates a lot of misunderstanding and harm. Because we see mental illness as dealing with something intangible like emotion, there is a social perception that mental illness isn’t real. That it is “all in your head”.

The truth is that mental illness is as much a physical thing as any other illness or disability. The brain is as much a part of the body as a leg or intestines. Depression, anxiety, and other such conditions may manifest themselves in part as emotions and thoughts, but those are expressed symptoms of underlying conditions in the same way that pain is an expression of inflammation or injury.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that all perceptions are “in our head”. If you consider pain, for example, while our bodies processes the injury causing the pain at the point of injury, the actual experience that we call pain is processed in our brains. This doesn’t mean pain doesn’t exist. In fact, we know that pain not only exists, but it is necessary for our survival. We know this because of individuals with CIP (congenital insensitivity to pain), a condition where people cannot feel physical pain. People with CIP need to consistently measure their body temperature and be very careful because it is possible for them to injure themselves, like break a bone, without realizing it.

Every tactile experience, every visual one, every auditory one is processed “in our heads”. If you say that mental illness isn’t real because it is “in your head” you are essentially saying that every experience we have isn’t real. Our whole lives are lived in our heads.

There are physical symptoms of mental illness as well. Many people who have depression experience joint pain, as well as fatigue. Anxiety can cause your blood pressure to spike, can cause chest pains, nausea, acid reflux, and a whole host of other symptoms. There is absolutely a physical component, so treating it as if it is something separate ignores important aspects of mental illness.

Moreover, treating mental illness as separate from physical illness or disability, ignores the fact that physical disabilities and illnesses often occur in conjunction with certain mental illnesses. Specifically, many people with disabilities have more risk factors for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This can be the result of the imposed social isolation that many people with disabilities experience, or in some cases may be a result of their illness. For example, Crohn’s Disease, in addition to the pain and physical symptoms that can increase the risk of depression, the inflammation of the intestines can also lead to a lower absorption of Vitamin D which can result in depression.

Because physical and mental illness are treated as separate, those of us with disabilities are not given adequate access to mental health care. In an ideal world, every person with a chronic illness or disability would be given access to a mental health professional who would manage their mental health in conjunction with their physical health. The connection between the two would also make it easier to argue for social contact as an accessibility need.

The way the world is set up now, people with different types of disabilities experience social isolation as a matter of course. This can be as a result of symptoms, or often as a result of insufficient accessibility. Because mental health and physical health are seen as separate, the idea that disabled people are prevented from being able to socialize effectively due to barriers such as transportation or even just on-site accessibility, is not seen as a big deal. Government officials see closing down programs and businesses that encourage and enable disabled people to socialize as risk free. People feel the need to vandalize playparks that are set up to be accessible to disabled children.

The false dichotomy is actively harmful to all disabled people. It enables people to ignore the needs of the mentally and the physically ill. It is meant to divide and shame. It is meant to pit us in false competition with one another, in the hopes that it will distract us from the systemic ableism that is so ingrained in our society.

It’s All in Your Head:

Do You Have What It Takes to Party With Disabled Folk?

It’s a common experience among folks with disabilities. At some point, some well-meaning person will leave us out of events because “I figured you wouldn’t be able to go”. It’s presumably meant as a nice act, by taking away the need for us to say no, but in actuality all it does is make us feel even more left out than we already do. More than that, it ends up being condescending because it suggests that you know better than we do what we can and can’t do.

Living with a disability often results in social isolation, but the truth is that it doesn’t have to. What is ultimately the biggest barrier towards people with disabilities being able to socialize well is a lack of social imagination. When people consider parties or get-togethers, the thought is rarely as to how to make the event more inclusive to people with disabilities. Moreover, friends never seem to consider the possibility of suggesting low effort hangouts as well.

Instead of adding to the social isolation by excluding us and making us feel othered, instead here is a list of ideas to have disability friendly events as well as a list for fun disability friendly get-together ideas.

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Do You Have What It Takes to Party With Disabled Folk?