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Allyship for Women with Disabilities

Know the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an important guide. Article 27 deals with Work and employment, and Article 6 acknowledges that “women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard (States Parties) shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and “take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women…”

Provincial rights frameworks with reference to disability are available in most provinces.

On accessible conferences

Composing Access Project is a website of resources for making conferences more accessible to people with disabilities. Resources are divided into three sections: For Conference Organizers, Preparing Your Presentation, and During the Conference. The project is hosted by the Committee on Disability Issues in College Composition (CDICC) and the Computers & Composition Digital Press (CCDP).

An example of the resources on their site is the comic below, called Six Mentors of Microphone Avoidance. The comic challenges the reader to consider their conference practices that restrict the ability of people with hearing loss to fully access conference presentations. “Six Methods of Microphone Avoidance: Or, What Not to Say When Someone Asks You to Use a Mic" is a comic collaboratively conceived, designed, and illustrated by Margaret Price and Amanda J. Hedrick. The comic comes along with a text description (below) to make the image accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted.

The comic is a circle with six wedge-shaped panels.  In panel 1, a bearded person wearing glasses says, “I don’t see anyone deaf here” while audience members respond, “That’s … not how it works.” In panel 2, a person with curly hair wearing a dress says, “The cord doesn’t reach!”  In panel 3, a tall person with broad shoulders says, “I was raised in a military family. I’ve got a loud voice.” In panel 4, a speaker says, “A little phallic for my taste” while an audience member says in frustration, “Oh good–jokes.”  In panel 5, a balding person wearing a tie says, “Thanks, but I’m trying to quit! Ha ha!”  In panel 6, a long-haired person at a podium says, “You can all hear me, right?” while audience members say to one another, “What’d they say?” and “Did you catch that?”

How to be a better disability ally

Daphne Frias is a 22 year-old youth activist who has cerebral palsy, and uses a wheelchair to ambulate. She is a proud champion to the disabled community. Watch this video to hear Daphne giver her five biggest tips to being the best ally you can be.

This image gives 5 tips on how to be a better disability ally. 1- Don’t ignore people’s disabilities 2- Don’t be offended if they kindly refuse your help 3- Do not assume that all disable people know each other 4- Recognize that some disabilities are invisible 5- Be empathetic. These tips are from Daphne Frias, activist.

Disability is not just about accessibility & accommodations: Ableism in language

Have you ever said something like, “she turned a blind eye to the situation”? The inference is that blind and visually impaired people choose to ignore… Say “she ignored instead” which is clear and avoids microaggressions and microincivilities. “we need to be very intentional about not using ableist language – especially when talking about social justice.” Check your vocabulary: do you use these words to mean what they actually mean – lame, nuts, crazy, OCD, ADD, are you blind? Are you deaf?

Watch this video by Annie Segarra (known on YouTube as Annie Elainey) as resources are given to help leaders critique their language and use alternatives to ableist and demeaning language (a transcript is also available). 

The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines ableism as a belief system that includes negative attitudes, stereotypes and stigma toward people with psychosocial disabilities.  Ableism is…analogous to racism, sexism or ageism, [and] sees persons with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. 

For some offending words, please see the list generated by Lydia X. Z. Brown aka as Autistic Hoya. A list of alternatives to ableist slurs, descriptions, and metaphors is also given for those interested in unlearning the patterns of linguistic ableism in their own language.

Allies should also realize that language changes constantly, and some terms may no longer be seen as acceptable. Some words can be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the context.

Despite knowing that ableist language matters, much of the phrasing used in feminist discourse is, believe it or not, ableist. To see some examples, read this article by Everyday Feminism called How Mainstream Feminism Continues to Perpetuate Ableism (And How We Can Change That).

Invisible Disabilities

Not all disabilities are visible. One common thing individuals living with invisible disabilities hear is “But you don’t look disabled” or “You don’t look sick.” Having to constantly validate one’s disability is tiring and frustrating. This article 4 Ways to Be an Ally to People with Invisible Disabilities is a great place to start doing our part in combating ableism.

This image has the words “ Some disabilities look like this” accompanied by 7 representations of visible disabilities  (cane, wheelchair, walker etc.) and then the words “Some look like this” and there is an image of a person with no apparent disability.

Disability and Leadership

Tom Shakespeare, a world-renowned disability scholar, made a speech at the Global Disability Summit 2018; for leaders and potential leaders with disabilities. Take a look!

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