Disabled people caring for each other can be a radical act
The connections we form are ignored by those outside, so we're left to care for ourselves
This column is an opinion by Allie Pauld, a Montreal-based activist. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the disabled community is that we are passive recipients of care — that we are sucking resources to which we don't contribute.
This myth is convenient and self-serving for those who do not believe all people deserve equity, especially not those who struggle to thrive within capitalism. And it justifies rules around medical assistance in dying that makes us seem so expendable.
But disabled people — especially those of us who are Black, Indigenous or other people of colour — have for years been caring for each other.
We've been providing each other the care and support that the government insists on refusing us. Care that is essential for our survival and quality of life.
In a post Bill C-7 world, disabled people have shown the way we stay connected to our community. But we've also seen how much the able-bodied world is disconnected from us and our realities.
Online connections are very strong within the community, considering the limited mobility of many of its members. Disabled people have rallied and screamed their disapproval of C-7 and against COVID-19 preventive measures being dropped. Our fingers fire up on keyboards, our devices turning our spoken outrage into text when, over and over, we see members of the community have their mobility aids destroyed by massive corporations like airlines, not realizing that those tools are key to so many people's livelihoods.
Like a never-ending spider web, our connections cross borders. Many of us make it a point to stay connected and learn about each other. This is so our vision of disability and accommodations are not solely composed of our own lived experiences.
Where is the inclusion for human rights?
Our bodies and minds can feel different every day. This is not only due to our physical connection to our bodies, but the world's ever changing reactions to disability and disabled people, too. When one's body hurts less Monday than it did Sunday, they might feel more connected with themself and have fewer negative thoughts about their body. But there can also be a feeling of gratitude that their body still allowed them to shower or make food that Sunday.
One can feel connected through the pain one day, and sad or disconnected through the easier days. That disconnection can come from able-bodied people believing that disability should only be discussed in private, as it is a stance more common than most are willing to admit.
And even if there is some effort to include disabled people socially, that inclusion is so quickly dropped when it comes to human rights. By removing the requirement for imminent end of life when receiving medical assistance in dying, we have people living with disabilities choosing death when what they really wanted was home care or a safe place to live.
How can one's mind be at peace when their body is refused its basic needs, and vice versa?
The gap between the people with power and the people affected by C-7 is so vast, and claims of consultation with the community did little to bridge it. Is doing more so burdensome?
When the best option given by the government is assisted death, caring for each other becomes radical. It is radical simply by virtue of being performed by a group believed incapable of doing so. It is radical because it too often goes unnoticed.
This care can range from hygiene to mental health, from the physiologically essential to leisure. It's grocery shopping for a friend who cannot physically go to the store, or organizing a pizza night for our loved ones who are in deep need of laughter, warm carbs and community. Physically helping someone shower or finding the mental strength to do it for yourself.
Care is educating one another. Keeping each other updated on the state of our society so we can all grow into more loving and compassionate people, so that we are loving and compassionate enough to provide care to the next person. This is care which we would all perish without, yet it is rarely seen by those outside the community.
On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let's honour the care we provide to others. Let's honour the love, support and positivity we send into the world, even if it's often not reciprocated by those whose power to make change is greater than ours. Let's honour the radical care we perform through our connection to ourselves, other members of the community and outside of the community.
May this next year see our spider web grow into a bigger and more compassionate one, and may the masses be inspired by it. Let it encourage them to perform as much care within their own communities and beyond. May they learn how to care like us.
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