Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Is disabled accessibility a feminist issue?

The above question is another google search that led here even though I don't have any posts that address this specifically. So, I thought it was about time.


The Phoenix, Arizona chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) used to meet on the inaccessible second floor of a building. I don't know if they do any more. I'd called once, after driving by with my mother and finding that any bus ride to that location to attend a meeting would only end with me hanging out wistfully in the parking lot. The woman I'd mentioned this access problem to on the phone seemed at a loss to address the problem, and either uninterested or so overwhelmed by the issue that she really couldn't be bothered to consider it seriously. And that was the beginning and end of my relationship with Phoenix NOW, though I did help run a Tempe/ASU campus chapter for a year or two.

Wherever women gather to discuss or protest about civil rights and equality, disabled women should be able to be present and to communicate too. This includes blogs, by the way, though not all blogging formats are equally accessible to blind people.

Here are some other reasons the answer will always be "yes."

Wherever women are left to be the primary unpaid caregivers to disabled family members, their work should not be complicated by inaccessibility that isolates them and the loved ones they help or plummets them into abject poverty.

Wherever women with disabilities are poor because of discrimination and lack of access to gainful employment, disability access is a feminist issue.

Wherever primarily immigrant and minority women hold jobs in nursing homes as low-paid nursing assistants, the problems of the disabled will affect these other women and their livelihoods too.

Wherever backbreaking labor-heavy jobs do not provide adequate health care for the physical problems employment causes, disabled accessibility is a feminist issue.

Wherever minority children are more likely to be considered learning disabled or developmentally disabled and denied equal or adequate educations because of this, disabled accessibility is a feminist issue.

Wherever women or minorities are more likely to be considered mentally ill than men or white folks, disabled accessibility to mental health treatment (at the very least) is a feminist issue.

Wherever war rages and survivors are left with permanent disabilities, especially those places where disabled women are determined unmarriageable, unemployable or banished from their own homes, accessibility for the disabled is about women and feminist issues.

Wherever standards of fashion and beauty create inequalities that primarily impact women, accessibility for those whose bodies or minds are deemed abnormal, culturally unfashionable and ugly (or even dangerous) is a feminist issue.

Wherever race, ethnicity, sex or gender differences and variations are treated as bodily abnormalities or flaws to legitimize discrimination, disability is being invoked as a reason for prejudice and denying some people equal consideration as human beings.

Wherever the right to reproductive choices is limited and the politics of choosing includes prejudices about who is and is not worthy to parent, disabled accessibility to medical care, supportive doctors and reproductive freedom is a feminist issue.

Wherever women are, there will be some disabled women. Wherever feminism seeks to include all women in its agenda, the problems of disabled women will be a feminist issue.

Can you think of any more?


Anonymous said...

Anytime that women are categorized or 'boxed' in a way that is a detriment to the realization of their full potential...proof that Accessibilty needs to be a feminist issue...and (turning the above ?? on it's head) if not why, not...

Penny L. Richards said...

Where women are refused legal immigrant status on the basis of disability, or told that their children or husbands cannot become citizens on the basis of disability, or when they need to seek asylum status on the basis of their relationship to someone with a disability, it's a feminist issue:

Swarup said...

Four Indian Women Behind the bar due to Ms. Renuka Choudhary’s “Diwali Gift ( DV Act).
Few days Back one of SIF member told me Swarup , “ Till date Indina Women had been protected by their Near and Dear ones. Now after this AK47 ( Domestic Violence Act ) , they will be protected by so called Protection Officer , Lawyers, Police , Judges..etc”
But She also asked me, “ Who will Protect Indian Women from those so called Protection Officers, Lawyers, Police , Judges ..etc”
More at :

Laura said...

These are my thoughts, but I consider myself a novice at understanding disability issues, so I may be way off-base on any or all of them.

Where mental illness in women is underdiagnosed because the diagnostic criteria are based on masculine norms, access to diagnosis and treatment is a feminist issue.

Where women are pressured to terminate pregnancies because they might have disabled babies, accessibility is a feminist issue.

Where certain disabilities are fetishized by the sex industry, accessibility--access to visibility in society as people rather than objects--is a feminist issue.

Where disabled people are assumed to be asexual in a society that defines womanhood in terms of sexuality, accessibility is a feminist issue.

Where disabled people are expected to want to kill themselves, in the same world in which some societies have believed that the answer to widowhood, or a woman's loss of sexual "purity" (which resulted in those societies in poverty and disempowerment) was for the woman to kill herself, accessibility is a feminist issue.

Where disabled people are considered too unseemly to be seen in public, and feminists are outraged about the settings where women are obliged to keep themselves out of sight, accessibility is a feminist issue.

Laura said...

Also: Where the medicalization of disability puts doctors in control of disabled people's bodies, and the medicalization of pregnancy (or even "pre-pregnancy") puts doctors in control of women's bodies, accessibility is a feminist issue.

Anonymous said...

thank you all for giveing me a better perspective on this subject. it is something that i have never considered being abled bodied. but yet i have suffered fom post partum/situational depression (husband was serving overseas while i was pregnant and first 9 months of our youngest child). society goes the route to generalizeit.

The Goldfish said...

Where disabled women are considered inadequate as partners, mothers and daughters, not because of any emotional deficit, but because they cannot perform the practical tasks traditionally associated with those role. When the need to be looked after, as opposed to be looking after others, is seen to make one less of a woman. Where incapacity for work and unemployment is considered an emasculation for a man, but far less of a problem for a women. Then accessibility is a feminist issue.

Laura says:
Where mental illness in women is underdiagnosed because the diagnostic criteria are based on masculine norms, access to diagnosis and treatment is a feminist issue.

This may vary elsewhere, but in the UK the opposite is the case. Behaviour which is considered, if not normal, understandable as a stress reponse in men - excessive drinking or drug-taking, dangerous driving, financial abandon, violence towards inanimate objects etc - is considered to be completely unacceptable, and therefore pathological in women.

It is also the case, for example, that women are more likely to manifest illness in ways which are far more identifiable (culturally speaking) as "crazy"; self-harm for example, or disordered eating.

Men are more likely to be forcibly detained having been considered dangerous - especially black men. But women are much more likely to have their behaviour and experiences put down to mental ill health.

Most of the women with chronic physical illness that I know had their initial physical symptoms put down to stress or depression before getting a proper diagnosis. And a good number of the men I know with mental ill health had to go through all number of physical exams before a psychiatric origin was considered.

Amanda said...

i can't think of anything to add, but wanted to say that was a great post.

Jess said...

What an excellent post. I read here every day but haven't commented before, and I wanted to say how thought provoking I found this.

Ettina said...

Same struggle, different difference.
I wrote a blog entry that's relevant here.
Scroll down to 'making up for difference' in that link.
The issue is basically that so many groups are treated badly for the simple reason that society thinks that when two groups are different, one must be better. So many groups either say 'our difference doesn't matter' (eg 'colorblind') or 'there's advantages too' (eg Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer). And try to make out that they're so different from other discriminated groups (eg 'we're not retarded').

Laura said...

Goldfish--good points about diagnosis of mental illness; I overgeneralized. There are some specific mental health issues (ADHD, for example) that society is really bad at recognizing in women, but it certainly often goes the other way too.

Some other things that have come to mind:

Where "reproductive choice" rhetoric is co-opted to promote eugenic technologies, accessibility is a feminist issue.

Where rapists target mentally disabled women because they're perceived as unable to defend themselves, accessibility is a feminist issue.

Where society holds economic dependency in contempt, or attributes it to inadequate work ethics rather than systemic factors--thus denying the realities of many disabled people's and many women's lives with the same tactic--accessibility is a feminist issue.

Where scare tactics relying on sensationalized accounts of horrifying and/or pitiable disabled children are used to promote and defend forced sterilization of women who've had drug problems, accessibility is a feminist issue.

Andrea said...

I've been lurking for a while, but haven't posted yet. I just loved this entry, though, and had to say something.

I'm a type 1 diabetic, so not visibly disabled but my daily life is quite different from most, and my daughter has an undiagnosable genetic syndrome of some kind resulting in dwarfism. So that's where I'm coming from on this. We're not quite part of either the 'typical' community of people who are totally healthy and also look normal, or the disability community.

I also have a great aunt who was very small and who, during the height of the eugenics movement in N America, was sterilized as a child by the government b/c she was "too short" to have children. Damn straight that's a feminist issue--the right to have kids should be as much a part of the pro-choice movement as the right not to.

I recently completed a (very small, not-statistically-significant) study of mom blogs, and found that mom bloggers whose children were 'different' (especially if they were physically disabled or had T21/Down syndrome) were more than twice as likely to place in the bottom quartile of mom blogs when ranked by any traffic/visibility metric than mom bloggers whose children were completely healthy and 'normal.' Which makes sense to me, because as the parent of a child who is 'different,' there is a sense of isolation and invisibility at times. From talking to women whose children exhibit more obvious or visible differences or disabilities, I think that sense for them is more blatant.

I would say this is a feminist issue--the extreme isolation and invisibility of mothers in that situation (on the real or virtual fields) when they most need to know that they're not alone.

There are others, but I'll restrain myself, or I'll take up your whole comments section.