This week I offer a pair of pieces that have grown from my experiences with the Occupy Movement.

At the start, I want to make it clear that I am completely behind the Occupy Movement and with all my heart hope it succeeds. I have never experienced such an open, engaged, and collaborative group of people while at a march or protest. I encourage you to find your local Occupy Event and go forth to participate. My instincts tell me that this is the beginning of something that will shape our lives for decades to come.
A couple of weeks ago, my journey began with a question: how are disability issues being framed in the context of Occupy Wallstreet? Googling didn’t yield anything interesting. Neither did poking around various websites. Independent news media didn’t seem to realize disability even had a place within the movement. I kept looking.
Meanwhile, a Declaration of Grievances was released and a sentence jumped out and smacked me.
“They[corporations] have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.”
I was floored that disability was not included in this sentence, until I thought about it. Among disabled people who can work, there is a sixty percent unemployment rate. I suppose when disabled people aren’t likely to be in most workplaces, they are forgotten when it comes to inequality and discrimination.
Unfortunately, disability is not a magical shield offering protection from the economic reality currently confronting most U.S. residents. We face foreclosures, lay-offs, loss of health insurance, increases in children’s college tuition, and salary cuts. In fact, about the only area where we have some protection is education for state vocational rehabilitation services assist with tuition and related expenses IF YOU QUALIFY.
then there are the economic realities specific to disability. The so-called “safety net to protect our vulnerable members” has holes through which you can drive a tank. Our benefits are being cut, cost of living increases are a distant memory, and qualifying for assistance has become harder than ever. Part of the 99% and part of this country, we are somehow still not part of the discourse.
When Occupy San Diego began to gain momentum, I started to look for signs that it was considering the needs of disabled participants. Finding none, I emailed a friend involved in the General Assembly and voiced my question. The GA had considered physical access to the occupation site and were open to other input, which of course I gave. From the changes I saw on the website as well as her feedback, I know my concerns were heard.
I went to the first march hopeful that while the national movement was possibly not including disability, at least my local part of the movement was being clueful. That attitude lasted through realizing bull horns obscure lip-reading. It survived the person with me and standing next to me being told, “She’s so brave for coming here.” It did not, however, last after the third time steps were a part of the march route.
I have yet to be able to get back to Occupy SD since it isn’t precisely something I can do on my own. My contact tells me they want to educate themselves on able-bodied privilege and I hope I can be a part of that process.
In the interim, I continue to seek out press coverage. And I continue to be frustrated. Inclusive organizing principals are touted, but disability is nowhere to be found. As people speak about the various movements that have come before and helped give birth to this one, they mention King and Stonewall and women’s liberation. They do not touch upon Ed Roberts, the independent living movement, or disability rights.
In fact, they do not even acknowledge the longest takeover of a federal building in U.S. history was carried out by 125 disabled people for 25 days in April of 1977. This is why The next post is a history lesson.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

6 thoughts on “Inclusion

  1. Hello, I thought you’d like to know there is an “Access” work group in Philly that is organizing around disabilities – seen and unseen. After their first meeting the “library” was moved to be accessible to people in wheelchairs. Occupy Philly also ensured one of our porta-potties was accessible for people with mobility concerns. I haven’t attended the group myself, but that is what I do know.

    Thanks for your post and educating me about the April 1977 action!

  2. Our solidarity statement in Pittsburgh is explicit about PWD being included, and that aqbleism won’t be tolerated. We also worked on making sure that our safety concerns/plans document had explicit info for PWD participating. I haven’t been down there to see how it’s turned out- I live two hours north and don’t drive, in addition to my disabilities- but I haven’t heard anything about ableism down there. (I have, unfortunately, heard problems about anti-semitism have had to be handled.)

  3. Thank you for letting me know. I’m so incredibly happy that what I could uncover is not even remotely the whole story.

    If you know of anything else, please share. I’m excited to discover more.

  4. As a person with a disability (invisible disability who has experienced prejudice from inside the disability community), person-first and disability rights are a high priority for me! Thanks for your reflections on lack of inclusion in the workplace leading to lack of perceived need to include in the Occupy movement. If you have short statements I can pass on, please direct message to @occupyhealthy (in Seattle).
    In solidarity,

  5. Robin,

    First, can I just say I love your handle of Soup Queen.

    Second, what kind of statements did you have in mind? Finally, the email address didn’t quite work (I think).

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