“Making Room for Difference: An Anarchist Response to Disability” - Mitzi Waltz

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Oct 21 2012 14:25
“Making Room for Difference: An Anarchist Response to Disability” - Mitzi Waltz

Just finished reading through this; found it interesting, still thinking it through a bit though. Any thoughts?

“Making Room for Difference: An Anarchist Response to Disability” - Mitzi Waltz

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Oct 21 2012 17:40

A tentative critique.

1. When describing the idea of these 'Circles of Support' it says "They [the members] act as friends" but yet earlier says "We may think it’s only natural that families, lovers, and friends should be someone’s carers, not us" as a criticism towards current attitudes towards disability.

2. By putting the disabled people at the centre and focus of these circles of support they are doing 3 things, some of which they openly criticise before or after this mention of putting disabled people at the centre of the circle.

First, it's a bit patronizing to have all these people around you which have come together just for you and because you need help as if you are powerless. Secondly, this seems to be defeating the notion of an anarchist way of doing things, where relationships are meant to be non hierarchical, if we are putting some one, no matter who, at the centre of something and as the focus of something, which can easily lead to them being put above some one. And lastly, this focus and general notion of forming especially for one person to help just them, seems to be re enforcing ideas of disability rather than difference and the exclusion and separation this entails.

None of this seems to sound like "a process that begins with accepting and valuing difference, proceeds through entering direct and equal relationships with disabled people"

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Oct 21 2012 18:12

hmm well I appreciate the effort, trying to write something about disability from an anarchist perspective.

However, it suffers from a lot of the failings of particularly American anarchism as a whole. Namely that instead of the working class it is focusing on the largely pointless and self-referential anarchist movement.

The best bit of it is the description of the social model of disability - however this isn't something unique to anarchism at all.

Some of the things in it are just totally wrong: like talking about how marginalised from society disabled people are. Now sorry but this is bollocks. Of course some people are, and there is a problem of how marginalised some disabled people are - but most of us are not thankfully. And most disabilities of course are invisible, so people wouldn't even necessarily know. Certainly, I'd bet that most disabled people are less marginalised from mainstream society than most American anarchists are!

And in terms of talking about things anarchists can do about disability, again it completely ignored the vast majority of problems working class disabled people have - in which in my view are principally unemployment and poverty - and instead looked at some activists. And seemed to say that it was up to anarchists to solve disabled people's problems, and that there was a problem in using services provided by the state - services which have been set up due to struggle in many cases. Which is deeply flawed, and is based on a misunderstanding of the state.

I mean London Underground is technically run by the state - does that mean that we shouldn't use it and that instead anarchists should set up their own underground rail network? Of course not.

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Oct 24 2012 09:47

I thought that the 'solution' to disability that the author proposed was dubious. She essentially says that 'disabled people'* ought to rely on the good will of charitable people to ensure the basics of their existence. As a disabled person (in the author's sense of the term) I personally find this a deeply scary idea, both in the context of this society and any possible future ones. Especially since this ideology is exactly what advocates of austerity are currently using as a justification for destroying the more reliable and well resourced (though equally patronising) mechanisms for supporting our existence administered by the state.

There are lots of things to say about the article, but I don't want to write a counter article. Basically, it doesn't have a decent theoretical understanding of disability, and it doesn't have a decent understanding of western capitalist society (where the author is located, I'm guessing).

Sorry for not presenting a proper systematic analysis of this article. My brain's a bit fuzzy at the moment (psychosis will do that for you).

* Her conception of who counts as a disabled person seems to be incredibly narrow and also patronising. It's also incredibly individualistic, basically locating disability in the bodies and minds of individuals largely ignoring the social relations that constitute society. For the author, despite her proclamations that we should see mental and physical diversity as natural and inevitable, the idea that some of those variations are societally pathological seems to to have remained.

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Oct 24 2012 11:50

Ed: that is spot-on.

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Oct 31 2012 09:17

Some disjointed thoughts on this. Posting on libcom on my phone is a fucking pain.

I thought this was an interesting attempt to talk about the support required by some people with disability, but I don't think we agree on much.

Generally I would prefer this kind of thing to be written by someone actually experiencing disability, as carers often have a very different perspective. I suspect her framing of disability comes very much from being a carer for someone she says will need some level of support all their life.

I don't think circles of support need to be patronising or hierarchical, but that very much depends on who they are initiated by, why and in what form. It also depends on the support the circle gets in terms of training and time out to talk about things and reflect. We're all carrying a whole bunch of socialised ideas about disability and support which would likely have a negative impact on the way we support people, even friends or family. Informal support is better than nothing but I don't think we should throw the concept of formal support (by which I mean care and support provided by people outside of friends and family) out altogether. A lot of the negative aspects of formal support are created by capitalism, not the support itself (and are disabling in themselves because, for instance, there might be time to do a task for you but not to support you to do it). Without capitalism earning from it or state administrating it I think that formal support will (and should) still exist.

The stuff about medical training is wrong - when she talks about hierarchy and protected knowledge she is describing professional identity. Professional identity is used to exclude people in current society but I don't think doctors are stupid enough to hang on to that in communism. But then, it looks like her post-revolutionary world won't have education or science so whatever.

By the way, Steven, do you have anything to back up your assertion that 'most' disabled people aren't isolated? Because that's really not my experience at all. Disability being invisible might make you less likely to experience ableist abuse in the street, but it doesn't stop you being isolated. For instance, acquired hearing impairment is 'invisible' in many cases, but people become progressively isolated as they fail to meet certain expectations in social situations and become 'hard work'. Many mental health issues can also mean becoming isolated as you don't always function the way people expect you to. Your disabilities might mean you aren't isolated, but please don't speak for everyone.

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Nov 3 2012 15:21
lzbl wrote:
By the way, Steven, do you have anything to back up your assertion that 'most' disabled people aren't isolated? Because that's really not my experience at all. Disability being invisible might make you less likely to experience ableist abuse in the street, but it doesn't stop you being isolated. For instance, acquired hearing impairment is 'invisible' in many cases, but people become progressively isolated as they fail to meet certain expectations in social situations and become 'hard work'. Many mental health issues can also mean becoming isolated as you don't always function the way people expect you to. Your disabilities might mean you aren't isolated, but please don't speak for everyone.

er I don't know where you got that from. Where do you claim I was "speaking for everyone"? In fact I was taking issue with the original article which does in fact speak "for everyone":

Quote:
Since people with disabilities are so segregated from mainstream society…

now I take offence at that to be honest. Especially coming from an American anarchist - many of whom are very "segregated from mainstream society". To me it also shows that the author has a crap understanding of what disability is.

In terms of my assertion, in response to the blanket statement that disabled people "are so segregated from mainstream society" I responded that most are not. In terms of backing up my assertion, well first of all what evidence do you have of the contrary?

I said in my post that it is a problem how marginalised many disabled people are. But I do not believe that all, or even most are "segregated from mainstream society". As evidence of that, well 50% of disabled people in the UK are in paid employment1. And I don't really think you could say that someone in paid employment is "segregated from mainstream society". So when you add that to the proportion of disabled people who would be out of work, proportionate to non-disabled people, that is "most" right there. And it's certainly is not everyone!

If we're going to talk about our personal experience as "evidence", then most of the disabled people I know, including my mum, ex-partners, co-workers, friends, family and clients are not "segregated from mainstream society", despite having to contend with huge obstacles and difficulties. Of course, I also know some disabled people who are very isolated, and this is tragic and should be fought against, however I do not believe that it is the case for the majority, and certainly isn't the case for all of us - contrary to the initial article.

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Nov 4 2012 17:20
Quote:
Some of the things in it are just totally wrong: like talking about how marginalised from society disabled people are. Now sorry but this is bollocks. Of course some people are, and there is a problem of how marginalised some disabled people are - but most of us are not thankfully.

By saying 'most of us', you imply that you can talk for most disabled people whilst making an assertion that, as I have said, bears very little relation to my personal or professional experience of disability.

Marginalisation and social isolation are huge problems for many people with disability. Saying 'most of us are not, thankfully' implies that this is not that case.

The idea that disabled people are a homogenous group is fallacious - so Mitzi may be wrong in her assertion, but the way to challenge that is to challenge the assumptions inherent in her framing of disability, not to say 'no we're not'. It is important to acknowledge that some forms of disability mean you are far, far more likely to be marginalised or experience social isolation than others - which you did. But as you then went on to say that 'most' disabled people aren't isolated, you might as well have not said it at all. Often you come across as being extremely dismissive of things that are beyond your realm of experience, which really doesn't help your arguments.

Anyway, back to experiencing isolation etc. This is related to medical and social models of disability - to experience disability through the lens medical model (which frames disability as an individual tragedy to be treated) is a pretty fucking isolating experience. This is prevalent in the way people deal with certain forms of illness and disability (I am thinking specifically of some mental health problems, dementia, severe learning disabilities etc). Although the social model is becoming a more popular way of thinking about disability, accessibility to a lot of things still seems to be stuck in 'disability=wheelchair' mode.

Isolation and marginalisation are kind of accepted facts when it comes to disability research - I only found one thing that said most people with disabilities are not socially isolated, and that is here, but it seemed to measure that by level of social interaction which is a disputed method for measuring isolation.

Here are some statistics and quotes about the isolation or marginalisation of people with/experiencing disability.

Quote:
Disabled people remain far less likely to be in employment. In 2012 46.3 per cent of disabled people are in employment compared to 76.2 per cent of non-disabled people

However, if you have a physical disability or chronic illness, you are far more likely to be employed than someone with a mental health issue or a learning disability. For instance, as little as 11.2% of people with 'Mental illness, phobia, panics, nervous disorders [excluding depression and anxiety]' were employed in the UK in 2011. But that's just the lowest number, right? The highest possible estimate for the same group and the same time frame is 17.2%. The only figures worse than this are for people with a severe or specific learning disability, of whom a maximum of 16.7% are employed.

You might also notice that the total number of disabled people in employment has fallen, which is a result of public sector cuts, the economic 'situation' and the fact that marginalised, excluded, oppressed and isolated people are far more likely to experience the effects of these cuts first. Before you ask me to prove that, which I'm sure you will because you are 'Mr Rational', after all, perhaps you should look at the cuts to disability benefit, support for disabled people in work, the push to make people claiming disability-related benefits go on workfare etc etc.

http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/docs/res/factsheets/b2-employment-rates-of-disable...

Quote:
Disabled people remain significantly less likely to participate in cultural, leisure and sporting activities than non-disabled people. Latest data shows disabled people are more likely to have attended a historic environment site, cinema, museum or gallery than in 2005/06. However disabled people are less likely to have participated in moderate intensity level sports or attended a library over the same period

Quote:
Around a fifth of disabled people report having difficulties related to their impairment or disability in accessing transpor

(which obviously then has an impact on accessing a job, a social life etc etc - and this doesn't talk about the percentage of people who can access transport but only via support)

Quote:
Disabled people are significantly less likely to live in households with access to the internet than non-disabled people. In 2010 58 per cent of disabled people lived in households with internet access, compared to 84 per cent of non-disabled people

(but research suggests that access to the internet has a significant positive effect on disabled people's experiences of isolation)

http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/disability-statistics-and-research/disability-fact...

Quote:
Unfortunately, social isolation is as much of a danger as economic marginalisation for people with disabilities. For example, one in two disabled people has never participated in leisure or sporting activities.

That's half of the disabled people in Europe.

Quote:
Even socialising is a challenge as disabled people are less likely to see their friends and family on a regular basis compared to the non-disabled.

http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/2010againstpoverty/about/topicofmo...

Quote:
Increasing difficulties in recognizing the spoken messages of others, having to ask for repetition too often, and still not being sure about having understood correctly, often lead to withdrawal from social activities, rejection of invitations to parties, and no more visits to theatres, cinemas, churches, lectures, etc. This, in turn, leads to reduced intellectual and cultural stimulation, and an increasingly passive and isolated social citizen.

Arlinger, S (2003) Negative consequences of uncorrected hearing loss--a review. International Journal of Audiology; Jul; 42: Suppl 2: 2S17-2S20

(I thought I would put that one in as it is from a large body of peer-reviewed research that supports my 'anecdote')

Quote:
Not everyone with experience of an impairment or long term health conditions will experience serious disadvantage during their lives. However, large numbers do experience profound social and economic exclusion – a result not of medical status but the environment, policies and attitudes they encounter.

http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/DRC/Changing_Britain...

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Nov 4 2012 20:35

When i was working as a careworker, i'd say a majority of the clients i worked with led fairly isolated lives to some degree or another. They also all had low income (and often a chunk of debt on top), They would have definitely counted as ''marginalised'' from society if the term hasany meaning.
Obviously i would never say they were a cross section of 'all disabled people'' but thats perhaps the point, in that as izbzl says ''disabled'' is a loose term and doesn't cover a homogenous group of people.

Didn't mind the article. Don;t really think it said much though, i mean for example circles of support just sounds like a buddy system of sorts or a care tree if less voluntarist. Which is fine, i've seen some really good buddy systems, but its nothing new particularly.

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Nov 5 2012 19:30
lzbl wrote:

By saying 'most of us', you imply that you can talk for most disabled people whilst making an assertion that, as I have said, bears very little relation to my personal or professional experience of disability.

I was responding to an article by a nondisabled person asserting that all disabled people were "so segregated from mainstream society". This was false. So I stated that most disabled people were not "so segregated" from mainstream society.

You then told me "don't speak for everyone", even though I wasn't, but the article was (which you seemed to feel was not deserving of comment, despite previously saying that you would prefer to have the views of someone who is actually disabled. Although it seems that this is not the case!).

You demanded evidence for my assertion, which I provided. If you can provide evidence to the contrary then I will of course reassess my statement.

Quote:
Marginalisation and social isolation are huge problems for many people with disability. Saying 'most of us are not, thankfully' implies that this is not that case.

er but if you look at the previous half of my sentence which you omit here then it implies that this is the case:

Steven. wrote:
Of course some people are, and there is a problem of how marginalised some disabled people are

Quote:
The idea that disabled people are a homogenous group is fallacious - so Mitzi may be wrong in her assertion, but the way to challenge that is to challenge the assumptions inherent in her framing of disability, not to say 'no we're not'.

I wasn't writing a detailed review of her article, I just rattled off a quick forum post summarising my views. I don't expect to be told how to give my opinions. I have limited time, and so sometimes I will write essay length denunciations of whatever, if I think it's worthwhile. With this piece I didn't, as it was just a stupid article on anarchist news (quite possibly the worst anarchist website in the world, with the exception of anarchopaedia). I'm sure I could go through a bunch of people's brief forum posts and claim that they have not fully evidenced their views or articulated them in the most effective way to win debating points but I don't think this would be useful.

Quote:
Often you come across as being extremely dismissive of things that are beyond your realm of experience, which really doesn't help your arguments.

okay well from this sentence I'm guessing that you have problems with me going beyond my glib comment above. I don't think it's worth going into this particularly, other than to say that really you don't know what my realm of experience is, so I disagree with you here. For example, I recall making a comment in the Solfed organiser training which you dismissed saying something like (and I am completely paraphrasing here) "everything is not like the public sector", but my comment was actually not based on my employment in the public sector. Most of my working life I have been an agency worker, and where I work there is a big mixture of permanent staff alongside ultra-precarious private sector and voluntary sector workers.

As for the next bit of your post, listing facts about disability, I don't dispute any of them. In fact, I was aware of most of them anyway. And of course I agree that it is an appalling state of affairs. I'm not sure why you are posting them here though, as they don't contradict anything I said.

Quote:
You might also notice that the total number of disabled people in employment has fallen, which is a result of public sector cuts, the economic 'situation' and the fact that marginalised, excluded, oppressed and isolated people are far more likely to experience the effects of these cuts first. Before you ask me to prove that, which I'm sure you will because you are 'Mr Rational', after all, perhaps you should look at the cuts to disability benefit, support for disabled people in work, the push to make people claiming disability-related benefits go on workfare etc etc.

I don't think that the patronising final comment here or the passive aggressive "Mr Rational" insult is particularly helpful here.

And I'm not really sure where the insult comes from really, as it was you who was demanding evidence from me for my comment above. As for being told to look into different subjects, that's pretty patronising, and I doubt I would get six "up" votes for telling you to look at cuts affecting women, then reeling off a bunch of facts and figures about women's oppression… (Edited to add: with regard to the "Mr Rational" insult, actually I think it's pretty misplaced here anyway, as my comment above wasn't a particularly well thought out rational argument but was my initial off-the-cuff reaction to being annoyed by the patronising article)

To be honest, this whole paragraph reads to me like you are completely misunderstand my position. Of course I know that disabled people (and women) are bearing the brunt of the cuts. The entire austerity programme is basically aimed at taking money from women, the disabled and the low paid to give it to the rich. Why would I demand evidence from you to demonstrate the bleeding obvious?!

At my work I put in huge amount of effort in trying to organise to defend disabled workers. This is of course in my own self-interest as was anything else. My employer, despite being a "lovely public sector" employer, employs only 3% of disabled staff. On top of that, disabled workers are 50% more likely to be made redundant than nondisabled workers (and we are having 1200 redundancies). And even worse the majority of put through sickness absence and underperformance procedures are disabled workers. Sometimes it is a bloody fight just to get managers to carry out even basic adjustments for disabled employees.

Especially as for many disabled workers, including myself, we know we will find it extremely difficult, or even impossible to find other jobs if we lose this one. This is a pretty terrifying prospect, although unfortunately one that I live with daily. Should that happen I do not doubt that many of us will end up in the "extremely isolated, marginalised" section of disabled people.

cantdocartwheels wrote:
When i was working as a careworker, i'd say a majority of the clients i worked with led fairly isolated lives to some degree or another. They also all had low income (and often a chunk of debt on top), They would have definitely counted as ''marginalised'' from society if the term hasany meaning.
Obviously i would never say they were a cross section of 'all disabled people'' but thats perhaps the point, in that as izbzl says ''disabled'' is a loose term and doesn't cover a homogenous group of people.

Exactly, cartwheels, that is the point, we are not a homogenous group. But that is exactly what the article said.

Also, as you point out your experience as a care worker is not one which would give you an overview of disability as a whole, because the vast majority of disabled people do not live in care homes.