As I said in this post, I’m not a person of color, and in no way do I wish to appropriate my experience to that of black folks. Nor do I wish to co-opt it and use it as mine. I am speaking as a white person, (woman, if you must), and I therefore will never know what the world is like as a person of color. As a black activist said recently, “White skin is armor.” That is true, and in that way, I am safe in privilege.
That said, I’d like to take this post to talk about reparations. This is the idea that people of color, who have endured slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, etc, deserve compensation from white people because of the hell they’ve faced in our society. I’m on board with this, by the way. There’s something to be said for equity rather than equality, and we’ve thus far left a lot to be desired in terms of equitableness. Here’s a great article on reparations, much better researched then this little blog.
I’d like to suggest the concept of reparations with disabled people as well. For the daily harassment, the job discrimination, the indignity, the burden of having to educate and find solutions to problems that we did not ourselves create. Reparations seem to be in order.
As a younger person, I would have never gone for this. I wore my pride like a shield, and wielded it like a whip. No one was going to give me “special favors” for being blind. I did not apply for scholarships for visually impaired folks; I scoffed at the suggestion that I do anything differently or take an “easy” way to compensate for my blindness. At amusement parks, people would offer me special passes to go ahead in line. To my (still) great shame, I’m certain my high school geometry teacher gave me a “pity grade”, because he was too busy teaching to the few “smart kids” who grasped concepts quicker than the rest of us.
Now I see things differently. I still don’t think I should have gotten that grade, but rather than thinking I should have gotten a worse one, I think my teacher should have worked tirelessly to help me understand in a nonvisual way. Today, I’d go to those same amusement parks and take the front of the line. If someone’s uplifting the voices and presence of disabled folks by offering scholarships for school or skill learning, send me an application. If someone offers me a “short cut”, I’ll cut. The rest of the world is hard enough for someone who isn’t kept in mind when “innovation” strikes; I’ll take the compensation. Call it a favor if you must, but I call it justice.
Recently, I started a group on Meetup. It turned out that the calendar for organizing meetups was completely inaccessible, and I could not set up an event without sighted assistance. I did that for a few months, but it just wasn’t practical. In the meantime, I was emailing with Meetup support, who were minimally responsive at best. They gave me some suggestions without actually testing them first to see if they would work; they also sent me a link to Apple’s accessibility page, because, obviously, I never would have thought of that. I told them I’d tested the calendar with three different screenreaders and also with the mobile app, using that very same Apple accessibility.
I should also mention that Meetup is a paid service. I was paying 20 dollars a month for a service I couldn’t even use. At a certain point, I’d had enough of the incompetent replies, the seeming lack of interest in doing anything regarding accessibility, and I canceled my membership. I also asked for a complete refund of the months I’d paid and had not been able to use the service. Five years ago, two years ago, even, I never would have dared. I would have felt too embarrassed, too prideful. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to have to “go through the trouble.” Now, I felt it was absolute least they could do.
Luckily, they did refund me, and I told them that if they ever wanted to make accessibility a priority, I would be happy to help. I doubt anything will come of that, but I hope, at the very least, I may have planted a tiny seed.
I have felt so angry with the world this past year, and I finally think I may have found a productive way to channel my anger, through reparations. Through asking for, insisting upon, even gently demanding, compensation for my trouble and for a world not made for me. Through an insistence on reparations, I can stand my ground without giving into my anger. I can attempt to shift the feeling of being a victim to a feeling of being empowered. I’ll save the anger for when I really, really need it.