accessibility, privilege, survey, dialogue and other misc. thoughts
From: laura (
Date: Fri, 9 May 2008 19:02:54 -0700 (PDT)
It's personally hard for me to understand a big discussion about accessibility that is slanted by people who are able-bodied and don't necessarily understand the needs and questions being expressed by disabled members of the list. Interdependence is great, but should not be a throwback to a time when disabled people were denied access routinely or every right and option to be independent if they so choose. Interdependence is a different concept, one that I believe in wholeheartedly, not to be confused with things being inaccessible and therefore people having to do things for someone. Independence is a right of the disabled community and interdependence follows. Of course disabled people also offer great services to able-bodied people but perhaps they don't always get put in the equation. Unfortunately much of this conversation is being made by a "privileged" group who is not looking at it through the lens of privilege. Therefore instead of saying, perhaps I have some ablist assumptions, or class-based assumptions, or gender based assumptions based on my privilege, and perhaps I might want to examine that, it is as if we all share in the same exact reality. Would the list equally tolerate a discussion of racism that was racist in nature? I hope not.

Hopefully folks on this list can support folks who are disabled in speaking truthfully and expressing things clearly. Perhaps this is an opportunity to really listen to the experiences of those in co-housing who have disabilities and truly build community. I say that because I continue to receive emails from people in co-housing who have disabilities but will not communicate on the list and who feel very shut out. I think the able-bodied community might benefit from asking questions of the disabled people on the list. A great survey could be taken here and a lot more listening can occur.

I think it is relevant to pose a survey to the co-housing community for people with disabilities to answer--

1. What is your experience as a person who has a disability with co- housing?
2.  What positive experiences have you had around access?
3. What are some of the negative experiences you have had around access?
4.  What would your ideal be for living in a co-housing community?
5.  How do you balance the cost vs. exclusion issues?
6. What would you like able-bodied members of the co-housing community to know?
7.  What statements do you never want to hear again?
8.  What statements do you consider offensive or upsetting?
9. What are the reasons you have stayed in or dropped out of the community and how do you cope with the disability challenges of living in community? 10. What positive suggestions do you have for change in your community or for other communities starting out?

If you could find a way to compile a survey anonymously, you would have some rich data, and a greater understanding of the human side of the access issue.

anyway these are off the top of my head, but I think they form a basis for an invitation to dialogue and express a genuine interest of the needs of members of the community with disabilities. This also would be a useful exercise to do with any group around any aspect of diversity- race, class, gender, sexual preference, etc. In that way dialogue can ensue without so much offense being taken by members of a group that may be oppressed in relation to other members of the group.

I think a non-defensive understanding of privilege in the diversity sense is an excellent way to engage in the dialogue. Rather than telling disabled people what should work for them, I think it would be good to see what the actual experiences of your disabled participants are. They are holding a wealth of knowledge about this issue.

I find it sad that so many of them won't even participate openly in the list because of bad experiences. Food for thought.

On May 9, 2008, at 4:26 PM, John Faust wrote:

I don't think anyone would suggest the able-bodied are inherently
privileged. Privilege, as you point out, relates to how social systems do or do not advantage certain classes (e.g., special laws for the nobility). If
there is accessibility built into the community, then there are no
privileged classes in that regard. If the community has limited
accessibility, then the able-bodied are privileged by that deficiency
through no fault of their own.

I think the rather strong reactions expressed in this thread are to the comment: *So to worry about being exclusionary is not worth the energy*.
That was probably (incorrectly) interpreted as: *So to worry about
accommodating the disabled is not worth the energy*. Quite a few people clearly do think it is worth a lot of energy to accommodate the disabled
among us.

I think cost is a legitimate concern as Matt argues. In those cases, maybe interdependence is the only option. If it turns out to be financially or architecturally infeasible to incorporate accessibility, so be it. But, it
probably is worth a lot of energy to find out.

John Faust

On Fri, May 9, 2008 at 1:33 PM, Brian Bartholomew <bb [at]> wrote:

      A privilege -- etymologically "private law" or law relating to
      a specific individual -- is a special entitlement or immunity
      granted by a government or other authority to a restricted
      group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. A privilege
      can be revoked in some cases. In modern democracies, a
      privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By
      contrast, a right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held
      by all citizens or all human beings from birth. [...]

      In a broader sense, 'privilege' can refer to special powers or
      'de facto' immunities held as a consequence of political power
      or wealth. Privilege of this sort may be transmitted by birth
      into a privileged class or achieved through individual
      actions. Compare elite.

      One of the objectives of the French Revolution was the
      abolition of privilege. This meant the removal of separate
      laws for different social classes (nobility, clergy and
      ordinary people), instead subjecting everyone to the same
      common law. Privileges were abolished by the National
      Constituent Assembly on August 4, 1789.

As I read this definition, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a
privilege, and the full use of all four limbs is not a privilege.

Could it be that "privilege" is not an accurate term to describe being
able-bodied?  And since being able-bodied is not a privilege, the
social justice rage is misapplied?

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