So many yays and thank-yous to Kirsten Schultz for working so hard on this and reporting their progress every step of the way. Kirsten isn’t the only person to speak up about this, but they were one of the most vocal. Kirsten’s involvement is also notable because they’re not a guide dog (or any service dog) user, and, as far as I know, they aren’t visually impaired. Yay for cross-disability solidarity!
Here’s what Stonewall has apparently promised:
They’ve apologized and will be offering an ADA training for bars and clubs in the area. They are going to have the disability rights lawyer they’re working with go over a variety of accessibility issues with them.
They’re also going to make donations via their charity to a disability org.
This piece on disability and sexual assault was published in 2010, long before hashtag movements and mainstream coverage. It’s 2018, and, honestly, I don’t feel as if we’ve made any sort of significant cultural shift.
Each April, we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every year we learn about at least one more documentary, local or regional anti-violence organization, or awareness campaign aimed at stopping the nightmare of sexual assault and abuse, or at helping victims of violence pick up the pieces
We’re churning out “awareness” essays and videos until they’re foaming up around our ears, and I have to ask: “Is it making a difference?”
Is there any less sexualized violence?
Are disabled folks facing any less ableism (read: disbelief, dismissal, lack of accessible services) when they seek help after an assault?
What does it mean to empower people if the basic culture permitting sexualized violence hasn’t changed?
I’m a disabled woman with a lot of disabled friends, and I’m tired of feeling fear for them.
I’m a disabled woman with a lot of disabled friends, and I’m tired of my heart hurting because most of them have abuse lurking in their pasts – and for all the friends who’ve shared with me, there are (probably) just as many who haven’t.
I mine the Internet for pieces like the one linked below, and I feel overwhelmed by the sameness of it all. It feels like nothing is changing, except that we have more data to link to, more essays and opinion pieces to show us the variety of chaotic things that happen in a world that sees disability as a failing, or at least as an insurmountable difference, a world that is so broken around sexuality and sexual expression that I don’t know if we’ll ever succeed in turning the tide away from abuse of power. At least, maybe, the sheer numbers of stories supply the data disbelievers always ask for, the “proof” that sexualized violence is a problem, that disabled folks are at horrible risk of being assaulted…
We’re smack dab in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I look at all the data, trying to find the progress, and wind up just shaking my head.
At least we now give voice to sexual victimization being something that touches people of all genders, not just women.
In thirty-five states (and the District of Columbia), children can’t trust that their healthy, happy family will be able to stay together if one or both of their parents is disabled. That means that in almost three quarters of the U.S. the law allows for children to be removed from their parents based on parental disability alone, no evidence of abuse or neglect necessary.
How is this fair to children, let alone their parents?
There are at least 4.1 million disabled parents in the United States. Most sources for this statistic are clear that it’s likely an underestimation; there are probably many more disabled parents who just aren’t being counted.
I wasn’t at this event, but the White House’s live streaming technology is fantastic so I got to follow along. Here’s some of what I learned:
Most people are not aware that disabled parents’ civil rights are violated frequently.
A parent with a disability is simply that – a parent. every person enters parenthood equally unsure of what the future will bring or how to fully care for their children.
Disabled people are used to figuring out how they can make something happen – while the rest of the world is telling us we can’t do that thing. (Moral of the story? Disabled people are going to keep creating families.)
The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) does a lot to protect parents with disabilities, since it requires systems like social services and family court to provide accomodations for equl access. It’s these systems, governed by individual states, that are violating the civil rights of parents with disabilities by not upholding the federal laws.
People with disabilities sometimes stay in bad or dangerous relationships because they know they could lose custody of their children if they leave or divorce their partner. Disability can be used as a weapon in a custody hearing; in states where a parent’s disability can be used as the only reason for removing their children, a nondisabled parent can simply point out the disability of the other parent and win custody of the children. Ignorance about disability means that child welfare workers and family court personnel don’t make a routine out of investigating whether the disabled parent is abusing or neglecting the children in any way before deciding they shouldn’t get custody.
Disabled parents often learn the most from each other. Frequently disabled people will turn to professionals – therapists, doctors, social workers – when looking for information on starting a family; these professionals usually don’t have the knowledge to help or advise them.
There’s only been one panel archived so far. I’m really, really hoping the other panels were recorded and that they’ll be posted some time soon. There was a lot of important material that people need access to, a lot of voices getting a public platform for the first time.
Many people shared stories about ignorance and discrimination towards disabled parents. The fact that disabled parents were at the White House talking about their livs, and insisting on better treatment is exciting and amazing. It’s inspiring – as in inspiring to watch change being created, to hear voices of disabled people being given authority.
But, (and there’s usually a but, isn’t there?) I kept wondering about the voices we weren’t hearing.
Where were the voices of teen parents with disabilities, who will usually face double discrimination, assumed to be incompetent as parents based on their disability and their age?
Where were the voices of disabled parents living in poverty, who couldn’t have afforded to get to the forum, even if they’d wanted to? The unemployment rate for disabled people in the United States is twice that for nondisabled folks.
Where were the voices of disabled parents of colour, including First Nations folks?
According to Rocking the Cradle: “13.9 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native parents and 8.8 percent of African American parents have a disability.” Six percent of white parents are disabled.
The disabled parenting awareness and advocacy movement doesn’t reflect these statistics at all. The movement, as a whole, is very, very white.
As a white woman, and as a non-parent (that’s a word, yes?), I don’t have the authority to say if, or how, the needs and experiences of disabled parents of colour differ from those of disabled white parents. I know, from a personal conversation, that at least one black disabled mom thinks that important issues and stories from people of colour are being left out of these conversations. I also know that parenting and family, in general, can be complicated for many First Nations folks, because of the all-too-recent history of residential schooling. I know that “racism in the form of slavery and Jim Crow forms fully 83 percent” United States history and that this racism has huge and harsh effects on black children an their families. I know that being a member of more than one minority often makes people more vulnerable, which is why we need to actively make sure that people are given the opportunities to represent themselves, and why we need to remember that the stories we hear aren’t usually the only stories that need to be told.
What do we need to do to bring more voices, more perspectives, more experiences to the disability and parenting table? What do we need to do to give those folks’ experiences and voices equal weight once at that table?
The other missing voices at the White House forum were those of disabled parents’ children.
After all, this conversation is as much about children’s rights as it is about the right of disabled people to start and keep their families. As one panelist (and I wish I knew who it was, because she deserves to be publicly credited) said:
Children deserve to know that their families aren’t going to be ripped apart.
Maria graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
1. I know you’ve been performing with Sins Invalid for a long time. How did you get started with the group? Was working with Sins Invalid the first time you’d performed publicly about sex, intimate relationships, and disability?
Sins Invalid’s Leroy Moore found me through myspace and asked me to audition. He had come across some of my poetry and thought I’d be perfect for their show. As the natural procrastinator I tend to be, I, of course, did not respond right away, but Leroy can be persistent so I took my camera and recorded a few pieces for consideration, never in a million years imagining I would be chosen. But I was. I guess the rest is history. Although Sins was my first time performing in a big theater, I had been writing about sex and disability and love and relationships for a while. Sins Invalid is one of my most treasured experiences as a performer and as an advocate/activist on positive crip sexuality.
2. When did you first start calling yourself the Goddess ON Wheels? What does the name mean to you? Can you talk a little about how your art and activism connect?
My definition of a goddess refers to a woman who focuses on self-love, believes in herself and her personal power and is willing to share it with others. I truly do believe there is a Goddess within every woman, but we only realize it upon discovering our own beauty and our own strength.
My Goddess persona evolved in my early twenties when while working in the domestic violence field, I got to see firsthand just how strong and powerful women really are. Embracing my own Goddess persona helped me to help other women to also see their own Goddess reflection.
I am always both artist and activist. I feel the two are very interconnected and feed off of each other. I think the combined energy of both, art and activism, is what fuels the passion I bring on stage. I love to perform.
When I’m on stage, I feel like I’m in my element….I feel like I’m home.
3. What would you most like disabled people to know about sex, sexuality, and intimate relationships?
I want people with disabilities to know:
1) Our bodies belong to us.
2) We are worthy of being loved, and we have everything we need to give and receive love
And 3) like one of my poems points out: confidence is sexier than the body.
4. What would you most like nondisable people to know about disabled people’s experiences of sex, sexuality, or intimate relationships?
I want nondisabled people to realize that people with disabilities are simply people and that our needs for sexual affection are no different. I want them to know we are as hot and hungry as everybody else as it relates to sensuality. This is, perhaps, a continued message throughout my poetry. I feel that we must constantly force our crip truths on the nondisabled world otherwise we will buried by their ignorance and discarded as unsexy and asexual.
5. Whose work (artistic, activist, or otherwise) do you turn to over and over again for education or inspiration?
I am a huge Frida Kahlo fan and consider myself to be her poetic reincarnation. Although she seemed to have lived an unhappy life, the gutsy honesty of her paintings speak my truths and inspire me. Few even realize Frida was a disabled woman of color whose outspoken sexuality was scandalous during her time. I seem to be as shameless as Frida was as it relates to love and sex and the expressions of my muse. Last July, I released a beautiful poetry collection dedicated to my relationship with Frida – Dressing Skeletons: A Poetic Tribute To Frida Kahlo.
6. What are you working on right now? What’s coming up for you in the next year? Where can people see you perform or read your work?
The year ahead promises great opportunity to share my various projects.
I just released a massive anthology of very intimate poetry focusing on sex and disability. Poetic Confessions Volume I is available from >Amazon and CreateSpace.
Volume II is being edited as we speak.
I am very excited about these and hope to bring empowerment and sexy energy to those who read this work. One of my goals for this year also involves producing a recorded version of these collections. More information on other projects and to see some of my performances, people can visit my website www.goddessonwheels.com.
An Open Letter to Ken Jennings:
A year ago, you tweeted “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.”
Yes, that was a year ago, about a million years in cyber time.
Let’s revisit this anyway.
There’s some important stuff here.
We still have ableism, and we still have loads of wrong-headed beliefs about disabled people’s sexualities. The difference is that more and more people are speaking out than ever before.
Like this lovely person:
Now, isn’t that hot?
Okay, maybe you don’t find it hot. You’re allowed. We all have different measures of hotness, though most of us don’t dismiss an entire group out of hand.
The main reason I’m writing you this letter is that you are, overall, a pretty clever guy, and your fame is built on your cleverness. Your fans depend on you to always have the right answer. So, it only serves everybody to unpack how not-clever this tweet was.
I figure that with what I assume to be your immense love of knowledge, you’d want to know the truth of things.
The truth, sir, is that the buzzer wont’ stop ringing; that’s how factually off-base you were here.
Basics first: You said you don’t think there’s anything quite so sad as a hot person in a wheelchair.
Personally, I think seeing hungry children or abandoned puppies or countries ravaged by war is much sadder than seeing anyone in a wheelchair, but okay, if you find that the saddest, you’re allowed. You might want to rethink that, though, especially since you already acknowledged that the Internet didn’t agree with this joke.
I’m also really shocked at your lack of imagination. You really think people in wheelchairs, no matter how hot (or not) you think they are, can’t or don’t have sex? Really? *raises eyebrows*
Maybe you’re thinking that what you said isn’t such a big deal.
After all, it’s not the hungry children, abandoned puppies, or war-torn countries I mentioned earlier.
You didn’t physically harm someone or swindle them out of their life savings.
A lot of times when people are afraid of something, they get defensive. And, you know what they say: The best defense is a good offense.
Actually, the best defense or offense is education and knowledge.
Nothing helps quite like the truth of things.
People with disabilities–these are real people you’re talking about. I know: I am one of them. I’m visibly disabled, though not a wheelchair user. People with disabilities are frequently seen as childlike, incapable, often even subhuman. Denying our sexuality is just one more way to deny our humanity. Denying our sexualities leads to pressing problems like thinking that disabled people don’t need sex ed, or that we don’t need sexual healthcare.
You were talking about people in wheelchairs, but I’m left wondering: Where does it stop? Do hot blind people make you sad? How about hot people using crutches or a walker? What about hot people who have more than one disability? How does it work if a person’s disability is invisible? If they’re hot, and you only find out about the disability later, is that sad too?
Business Insider called your tweet insensitive. I think it goes way beyond that. When talking about negative comments about disability and disabled people, words like sensitivity, compassion, and caring get thrown around a lot. I’d like to see more people talking about respect and knowledge.
It’s not primarily sensitivity you lack here—frankly, I don’t care all that much about your moral compass–(though your decency does leave something to be desired) but plain old-fashioned know-how. Sorry if that’s painful to read, but that’s just how it is. Okay, I’ll stop telling you you’re wrong.
Or, maybe the problem here is that you can’t imagine how someone who uses a wheelchair could possibly have sex? So little imagination, Ken! Really, I’d expect more creativity from a trivia buff/expert in obscure knowledge.
Look, I don’t care if you don’t find folks in wheelchairs hot, but you have a public responsibility not to share misinformation.
So, let’s have some basic sex ed, shall we? (Wouldn’t it be fun if game shows had categories on sex?)
Also, a person’s being in a wheelchair actually doesn’t tell you much about their physical abilities. It doesn’t tell you how they can move their bodies, which parts of their bodies they can feel, and it certainly doesn’t tell you what they like to do in bed. Some people who use wheelchairs are able to walk short distances, or are able to use their legs if they’re not standing up. It’s not always the case that people either walk or not-walk. And seriously, is being able to walk necessary for sex, anyway?
This leads us to another issue. It’s not our business to assume what a disabled person is able to do, and it’s not our business to ask, either.
The simple fact is: People with disabilities are sexy, with and without their mobility or other assistive devices.
Okay, caveat time: Not everyone is sexy in the same way, and we’re not all going to find the same things sexy. I wouldn’t want you to tell me who I should and shouldn’t enjoy or be attracted to, so I’m certainly not going to dictate that for you.
Let’s just say it this way: A wheelchair (or cane, or crutches, or oxygen mask) doesn’t take away anyone’s hotness.
Using these assistive devices also doesn’t make people think about sex or romance any less than they would otherwise.
You know, Ken, there’s a funny irony here. Ending up in a wheelchair, of any of the experiences that makes someone a minority in our society, is the experience most likely to happen to you. No, that’s not a threat. It’s reality. And, if it’s not something that lands you in a wheelchair, it could be any number of physical, psychological, or mental impairments.
Your skin colour, ethnicity, or country-of-origin aren’t going to change, so you’re not likely to experience any racial or ethnic discrimination you’ve not experienced before. You’re unlikely to have to live below the poverty-line (unless you make some incredibly bad investments) so being the victim of class snobbery or financial discrimination probably isn’t in your future.
You’re well-known for your smarts, but that wouldn’t much help you if you did become visibly disabled. I promise you people would treat you a lot differently. “Isn’t it sad what happened to Ken? He used to be so smart/capable/accomplished/successful/other positive attribute.” People who didn’t know you from Adam, who saw you on the street would be admiring, condescending, overly helpful or actively not helpful enough… They wouldn’t take the time to talk to you to find out how much trivia you know, or, if they did, they’d treat you like a clever child or smart puppy.
Does this sound bleak? I don’t mean it to. There are lots of awesome people who don’t see disability as such a big deal, who see the whole person, not just the disability.
Sadly, you’re not one of them.
Clearly, you weren’t interested in actively engaging with people to find out why they were so upset. You were comfortable with the Internet not agreeing with you.
That was your choice.
There were other ways to handle this, ways that show growth, learning, and humility.
General rule of thumb: Only people in wheelchairs get to make wheelchair jokes. The rest of us? We get to laugh along with them, but we don’t even get to repeat what we’ve heard, because they’re not our jokes to tell.
I’d like to invite you to explore the resource page here at Ready, Sexy, Able.