Resources on Disability and Ableism for Everyone (Disabled and Non-Disabled Alike)

We ask everyone who comes through our doors to actively participate in co-creating the most welcoming, inclusive, and socially aware environment in which to practice meditation and learn from our programs and teachers. This is our Radical Inclusivity practice.  

We live in an ableist society that invisibilizes disabled lives and assumes that everyone without a visible disability is nondisabled. It takes effort to be mindful of potential access needs. If we pursue business as usual, disability access problems happen! These resources are intended to raise awareness and facilitate constructive behavior change when it comes to providing access and to otherwise being inclusive of disabled people.  

Our hope is that these resources will support our internal and external mindfulness so that we can keep working towards making EBMC and all of our communities welcoming, respectful, and accessible to everyone.

We invite your comments and questions at Radical.Inclusivity@eastbaymeditation.org.

Tips for creating access in our community

Here are some of the practices that help us make our community accessible to everyone. Please note that these are practices that must be held to at all times, not just when we think there is a disabled person present. For example, it’s not enough to clear the aisles when a person in a wheelchair arrives; the aisles must already be clear. Similarly, it is not enough to ask a group, “Does anyone need me to use the mic?” We just always use the microphone so that everyone can hear without having to make a special request or being singled out. In this way, disabled people can access the space with the same ease as everyone else.

Please:

  • Keep all aisles and access routes free of obstruction.
  • Always come to EBMC completely fragrance-free—this means using laundry detergent, shampoo, soap, conditioner, styling products, deodorants, and all other personal care items that are fragrance free.
  • Always use the microphone, even if you think you have a loud voice.
  • Ask about access needs, not about a person’s disability.
  • Remember that the disability community is a multidimensional group, encompassing a wide range of life circumstances and intersectional identities.
  • If you have trouble understanding someone’s speech, be patient and politely ask them to repeat what they’ve said.  It can take time to understand, and taking this time builds trust.
  • If someone needs to use one of the stressless lounge chairs, please ask them if they would like help in clearing space for them, if you are able to help in this way.  If you are able to carry the chair for them, please ask them if they would like you to do this.

Refrain from:

  • Touching or petting a service animal
  • Giving “assistance” without being asked or asking
  • Using words like “cripple,” “crazy,” “nuts,” “wacko,” and other words that have been used to devalue and marginalize disabled people.  (However, some disabled people have reclaimed some of these words, and it is okay for them to use these words to describe themselves.)
  • Asking questions about a person’s body or assistive device or a specific behavior
  • Giving advice or suggestions for dietary, exercise, herbal, medical, therapeutic, or spiritual means to “help” with someone’s disability, energy, mental health, sleeping, pain management, or the like. (However, if someone explicitly asks for such advice or suggestions, it’s okay to give it.)
  • Telling a disabled person that you have a friend, cousin, co-worker, or the like with the same (perceived) disability.

Some of these practices are taken or adapted from SURJ’s Disability Home Manners, where more ideas can also be found.

What is ableism?

”Ableism is a system of oppression that favors able-bodiedness at any cost, frequently at the expense of people with disabilities. And I think ableism touches every aspect of life.” —Stacey Milbern
Ableism is the Bane of My Motherfuckin’ Existence—video of Patty Berne and Stacey Milbern (4:44 minutes)

“We’ve been sold the lie that disability is a Bad Thing.”
I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much—video of Stella Young (9:03 minutes)

“I don’t talk about accessibility because accessibility is the bare minimum. Inclusivity is our living wage.”
Not all disabilities are visible.—video of The Horizontals (11:18 minutes)

“I really like separating out impairment from disability.  So impairment as physical or neurological manifestation . . . and then disability is what society creates as barriers because of the impairment.”—Stacey Milbern
My Body Doesn’t Oppress Me, Society Does—video of Patty Berne and Stacey Milbern (5:08 minutes)

“There are those of you that do not think you’re affected by the onslaught of ableism. Let me suggest that you are directly connected to ableism because you benefit from it. Passively accepting the status quo of normalcy of able-bodiedness in mind and body means you reap [the] benefits of ableism. Ableism much like many tools based in oppression, ensures that only specific ideas, expertise, savvy, and knowledge are in the room whereby the room misses some pretty necessary incredible genius and vibrancy.”
Some of Us Cannot Wait & See: 5 Thoughts on Undoing Ableism & Isolation In Your Community Spaces by Kay Ulanday Barrett (6–11 minutes)

What are some of the ways that I might be harming disabled people without realizing it?

“The one thing I wish people would stop doing is assuming I need assistance without asking. From trying to help me lock up my bike to my food being served already cut up, it’s patronising, frustrating and can sometimes be embarrassing.”—Devarshi Lodhia
Seven things you should stop saying and doing to disabled people by The Guardian (3–6 minutes)

“What they’re saying, without really realizing it, is that I don’t fit their idea of what a mentally ill person looks like, and that being crazy is a shameful thing that I shouldn’t associate myself with.”
6 Backhanded ‘Compliments’ That Mentally Ill People Are Tired Of by Sam Dylan Finch (8–17 minutes)

“One of ableism’s most sinister characteristics is the portrayal, both conscious and unconscious, of able bodies as the preferred norm.”
What You’re Saying When You Say “I Don’t Need a Mic” by Erika A. Hewitt (3–6 minutes)

“Liberatory access calls upon us to create different values for accessibility than we have historically had. It demands that the responsibility for access shifts from being an individual responsibility to a collective responsibility.”
Access Intimacy, Interdependence and Disability Justice by Mia Mingus (16–32 minutes)

Can disabled people be ableist?

“People new to the concept of disability rights who are just starting to explore are often confused by the idea that people with disabilities can be ableist; surely, because we share lived experiences, we all get along, right?”
Another View of Ableism by s.e. smith (4–8 minutes)

“Have you ever noticed that when we spend a lot of time arguing that we disabled folk are equal to normies, we seem to expend even more energy arguing among ourselves just who is most disabled.”
Pyjama Girl and the Disability Hierarchy by Liz Main (3–7 minutes)

What is a better way?

“The United States Census Bureau reports that approximately 56.7 million Americans have a disability. This booklet is for anyone—with or without a disability—who wants to interact more effectively with people with disabilities.”
Disability Etiquette by United Spinal Association (20–40 minutes)

“As a disclaimer, I can only speak about my experience as a physically disabled person. In no way do I claim to speak for the entirety of the disabled community.”
10 Ways to Avoid Everyday Ableism by Erin Tatum (5–11 minutes)

“The most common thing I hear from strangers is, ‘But you don’t look disabled’ or ‘You don’t look sick.’…In my experience, strangers confront me every time I go out in public to validate my disability to them in some way—and this is a common experience.”
4 Ways to Be An Ally To People With Invisible Disabilities by Sarah Whitestone (5–10 minutes)

“Avoid the ‘What do you do?’ question. Recognize that not everyone can find accessible employment. This question often makes folks who are not employed feel left out. Many people deal with internalized classism & ableism [because] they do not work. . . . Folks on Disability are frequently surveillanced and punished when they try to find accessible employment. Just because folks are on Disability does not mean they’re lazy or unmotivated. It means the system is ridiculously complex and oppressive.”
How to be an Ally to Disabled & Neurodiverse Folks in Activist & Academic Communities by Access Culture (4–8 minutes)

“Bodily diversity and neurodiversity need flexible structures, allies, and partnerships.”
4 Texts that Get It Right About Invisible Disabilities by Linda Williams, Ph.D., and Monica Slabaugh (2–3 minutes)

“I am fortunate to have a large well-intentioned community, who are slowly learning about chronic illnesses through me. However, as we know from our work around unlearning racism, it is exhausting for folks in any target group to also be the educators. To potential allies I would say that having good intentions and a good heart is a good start, but it’s not enough. The next step is to inform yourself about the challenges that people in a particular group are facing, and then walk ahead of them, taking actions to make their way easier, like the lead goose in flight formation.”
Widening Our Circle: Being an Ally to People with Chronic Illnesses by Diana Lion (11–21 minutes)

“I’m talking about a kind of love that is fierce and revolutionary enough to ensure that no one is left out of our fam.”
Fragrance Free Femme of Colour Realness by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (13–26 minutes)

Note: This is a great article that also includes excellent resources and fragrance-free product reviews.

How is disability justice different from disability rights?

 “With disability justice, we want to move away from the ‘myth of independence,’ that everyone can and should be able to do everything on their own. I am not fighting for independence, as much of the disability rights movement rallies behind. I am fighting for an interdependence that embraces need and tells the truth: no one does it on their own and the myth of independence is just that, a myth.”

Changing the Framework: Disability Justice by Mia Mingus (5–9 minutes)
“And, like many movements, [the current disability rights movement] is contextualized within its era of emergence and left us with ‘cliff-hangers’: it is single issue identity based; its leadership has historically centered white experiences; its framework leaves out other forms of oppression and the ways in which privilege is leveraged at differing times and for various purposes; it centers people with mobility impairments, marginalizing other forms of impairment; and centers people who can achieve rights and access through a legal or rights-based framework. The political strategy of the disability rights movement relied on litigation and the establishment of a disability bureaucratic sector at the expense of developing a broad-based popular movement. While a concrete and radical move forward toward justice, the disability rights movement simultaneously invisibilized the lives of peoples who lived at intersecting junctures of oppression—disabled people of color, immigrants with disabilities, queers with disabilities, trans and gender non-conforming people with disabilities, people with disabilities who are houseless, people with disabilities who are incarcerated, people with disabilities who have had their ancestral lands stolen, amongst others. In response to this, in 2005, disabled activists of color, originally queer women of color incubated in progressive and radical movements that did not systematically address ableism—namely, myself, Mia Mingus, and Stacey Milbern, soon to be joined by Leroy Moore, Eli Clare and Sebastian Margaret . . . ultimately launched a framework we called Disability Justice.”
Disability Justice – a working draft by Patty Berne (8–17 minutes)

Where can I learn more?

Ableism is not a list of bad words. Language is *one* tool of an oppressive system. Being aware of language—for those of us who have the privilege of being able to change our language—can help us understand how pervasive ableism is. Ableism is systematic, institutional devaluing of bodies and minds deemed deviant, abnormal, defective, subhuman, less than. Ableism is *violence.*
Ableism/Language by Lydia X. Z. Brown (15–29 minutes)

“Our experiences as disabled, as neurodivergent, as ill, as mad are in fact part of the fabric of human diversity. They are part and parcel of what it means to be human.”
Neurodiversity and Disability Justice—video of Lydia X. Z. Brown (1 hour and 18 minutes)

“This section contains resources on ableism, police violence against folks with disabilities, accessibility and inclusion, and more. It is important to work so that social justice movements are inclusive and embracing of everyone’s whole being.
Disability Justice by POC Online Classroom (3–5 minutes)

“I share the following links and resources as an introduction to contemporary writings and analyses by influential voices within the Disability Justice movement & Critical Disability Studies.”
Disability Justice: Resources for Educators & Organizers by Krys Méndez Ramírez (3–6 minutes)