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Transcript of Video on Ableism in Atheism

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http://youtu.be/CJG5ACIjBrU

How to Increase Accessibility in the Freethought Community

[Slide titles in bold.]

How to Increase Accessibility in the Freethought Community
Every single person in the freethought community needs access to it. That seems like a simple concept – if you can’t get here or follow along, you can’t participate. There are plenty of people who would like to participate more, but encounter barriers to doing so. Fortunately, we have the tools of compassion and critical thinking, humanism and skepticism, to guide us.

Response: Accommodation
I would like to open with a few individual responses to my survey on ableism and atheism, which I will explore in more detail later. In this first one, a mother says: I asked Minnesota Camp Quest for accommodation for my son’s food allergies and asthma a couple years ago, including my attendance at camp as a health aide, his carrying epi-pen and inhaler, a place in the kitchen to heat up pre-made meals, campers washing their hands after eating and a place for a minifridge.  He was denied access.  I was severely disappointed.  There just aren’t that many places for atheist kids to feel comfortable.

Response: Inclusion
When I’ve said that I have mental health issues in the past, a number of people I know in supposedly “rationalist”, atheist circles have taken that as a license to disregard anything I might say on any particular subject. It’s as if they’ll accept my agreement that the existence of a god or gods is highly unlikely, and that Christianity and Islam are irrational, but my depression excludes me from having opinions on anything else.

Response: Skepticism
Rationality/skepticism are very important to me in fighting my mental illness. I had to learn to rigorously check claims like “everyone hates me” and not just take it on intuition or faith.

Response: Atheist PR
The atheist community, I think, needs to do more outreach to the disabled. Far too many of us are preyed upon by people of faith, promising that we will be healed if we just believe, or that “god’s plan” is such and such (usually something along the lines of “for women to get married and have a family”). So, please, more outreach to the disabled and mentally ill.

Presuppositions:
Skepticism gives us a unique approach to the issue of disability and accessibility. Humanity created god and the scientific method. We use human reason, not divine revelation, for understanding. Humans are basically social animals. Some of us like getting together at Skepticamp and hanging out with like-minded people to learn new skeptical things. We who are here love seeing more of us here, and are interested in making that happen. That’s what “accessibility” means.

What about other groups? & Aren’t Christians worse?
Why am I focusing on increasing accessibility to the freethought community, and not just to life in general? Well the obvious answer would be that I’m here right now giving a talk I wrote for this particular audience. But more to the point, I don’t know whether we perform better or worse than Christians do in our society at accessibility,because when I looked, I couldn’t find any such comparison study. There is almost nothing online about skepticism and disability, which I found to be a huge gaping hole in our collective dialog. I hope we can begin to fill this hole, starting with my talk (and of course JT Eberhard’s talk on his own mental illness at Skepticon 2011).

The Perfect Human Body?
Just so we know how most of our creationist society views disability. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis says there is a one perfect human form, which is the likeness of YHWH, and any deviation from that perfect human form is a flaw. The greater deviations become disabilities, all of which are the result of man’s sinful nature.

Perfection According to the Creation Museum:
Apparently perfection includes being lilly-white and looking like a Vidal Sassoon commercial. Let’s move on to something more realistic, shall we?

The Perfect Human Body?
Our knowledge of the human body as discovered through the scientific method paints a much different picture of what constitutes a perfect human body. Note that I sad “a” and not “the”. According to natural selection, an organism is successful when it can survive its environment long enough to produce offspring, which can survive its environment long enough to produce its own offspring. Each generation is slightly different than the previous, and a few of those changes are successful enough to make it to the next generation. Which traits count toward success depends entirely on the environment itself, which is also constantly changing. Thus, “a” perfect human body cannot exist, because a static environment does not exist.

The Onion
Study: Dolphins not so intelligent on land.
A dolphin performs poorly in a University of Florida land-based locomotion test.

What “counts” as a Disability:
Since ability and disability are entirely dependent on how our bodies fit with the current environment, we sometimes have difficulty deciding exactly what is a disability. Using myself as an example: I’m not disabled as long as I’m adapting myself to my environment with my Electromagnetic Radiation Refraction Lenses of Science! Otherwise known as glasses. But if I take them off, I run into things and trip over things and take on all sorts of physical risks. And what about my ADHD? It isn’t interfering with employment or academic performance, for the most part. But it does put a tremendous strain on my personal relationships. Also I tend to get distracted at the worst possible times – like traveling high speeds in a 3 ton death machine. And if I attempted to do that without glasses… look out!

What “counts” as a Disability:
Then there are different classifications we give based on different functions we expect from different people. If I couldn’t dress or feed myself, I’d be disabled. But an infant has a much different threshold for what it takes for us to consider hir to have a disability. Then there’s Stephen Hawking with his super brain powers, but lacking so many physical abilities. Contrast that with people who lack the mental abilities to live independently, even though they are physically capable. And what about disabilities that can become super-abilities through science?

Science: 1 God: 0
Will we one day reach the point where our transhumanism renders the distinctions between ability, disability, and super-ability meaningless? I hope so, but we’re not there yet; we’re here and now.

Ways WE can include more people
There are things we can do today to help increase accessibility to the freethought community. Just as Patches O’Houlihan taught the Average Joes to play Dodgeball through his 5 Ds (dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge), so too can we “average Joes” do our part when we listen to people with disabilities, research the community, discuss the issues, enact changes, and listen to people with disabilities.

Let's win the future!

If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.

“Nothing about us without us”
It’s not just for the lulz that I listed “listen” twice, because it’s actually the most important step. As the saying goes “nothing about us without us”.

Internet Survey
In light of that fact, and because I could find nobody else had ever done so before, I conducted an internet survey of barriers to accessibility to the freethought community, 4 of the answers I read at the beginning of this talk. I passed it along to various leaders of community organizations across the nation and generally tried to spread it around as best we could. Of course, it’s not a scientific study, so it can’t give us controlled statistics. It can, however, give us a lot of information that we previously lacked.

Seems Legit
I left most of the responses as fill-in-the-blanks so as to avoid leading questions like this one from One News Now. Question: “What’s your response to verbal attacks against Kirk Cameron for defending traditional marriage?” 3 possible answers: One: “Obviously, tolerance is a one-way street.” Two: “More Christians should follow his example.” or Three: “Thank you, Kirk, for speaking the truth.” I’m sure they received nothing but impartial responses to this survey.

Ableism in Atheism Survey
Here are the questions asked in my survey, with fill-in-the-blank responses.

  • Do you consider yourself to be a person with a disability? If so, what sort?
  • Have you (or do you personally know someone who has) felt out-of-place or limited your involvement with an atheist community because of disability-related situations? If so, please describe.
  • What steps could atheist communities take to become more inclusive?
  • Any other thoughts about ableism and atheism?


Mmm… Pie… (135 slices)
I received 135 anonymous responses as of creating this presentation. According to the US Census, 10 percent of people age 18 to 64 have disabilities, making this no small issue. As can be expected, more people with disabilities than without responded to my survey. The good news is many of them are getting along just fine. The other good news is that those who aren’t left some amazingly detailed responses for us. There were a wide variety of physical and mental disabilities represented, with many responders having more than one disability.

Responses
Responses fell under 4 general categories.

  • Accommodation: Removing barriers to meetings
  • Inclusion: Creating welcoming spaces
  • Skepticism: Applying critical thought
  • Atheist Public Relations: Looking good!


Accommodation
One of the most important messages I got from many of those surveyed was that people want their requests for accommodation taken seriously, especially when it’s a case of serious risk to personal well being. For example, this person is at risk of seizure if people ignore the request for no flash photography.

Accommodation
It’s important to remember that not all disabilities are visible. As this response says: “ADA-compliant facilities would also be nice; going out is hard enough without being entry challenged because I don’t “look disabled.” This case in particular highlights how service animals are often used for people with epilepsy or other such invisible disabilities, disabilities which are not apparent at first glance.

Accommodation
Another common request was for a greater variety of meeting venues, so that people with different needs can have a greater variety of options to choose from, that way there’s something for everybody. This person points out: “Some of the venues chosen for atheist meetups are not really sensory-friendly. For example, bars are VERY hard for people with Asperger’s and Autism because of the large amount of noise and people. (and sometimes smoke)” By the way, refraining from touching or hugging people with sensory needs is another way we can be accommodating.

Accommodation
“For awhile there was a group I was interested in that only met in smoky bars. Thankfully many places are now smoke-free and the St. Louis Skeptics Society tends to meet in lung-friendly locations.” Props to the SSSL for making that improvement, even if not consciously. This is something I’ll go into more detail on later, but when needs are met, people are happy and even eager to brag about how terrific their group is.

Accommodation
Here is a response making special request for alcohol-free venues. Many recovering alcoholics would love to attend skeptical events without having to take such a risk.

Accommodation
And here’s another request for variety and diversity in options, this time for special dietary needs. Don’t feel like mind-reading is required here – most responders emphasized that they were willing to voice their needs, as long as people are willing to listen and make an honest effort to include them.

Accommodation
Here is an example of how poverty can exacerbate disability, which is compounded by the fact that only 1/3 of people with disabilities are employed (Cornell University’s http://www.disabilitystatistics.org), ½ that of their non-disabled counterparts. This response is actually rather typical: “I cannot drive and there are very few buses that are wheelchair accessible out to my suburb. Plus the bus stops aren’t very close to where I live and I am pretty exhausted by the time I get on the bus. Meatspace meetups are often at restaurants that don’t cater for special diets and/or have no wheelchair access. I just gave up trying to attend.” One possible solution to a situation like this would be for leaders to ask group members themselves for venue ideas, instead of operating on an educated guess.

Accommodation
Also, the internet has become a terrific accessibility tool in and of itself. When we host discussions online and make the websites clean and simple to navigate, we help tie people into the community who would otherwise find themselves isolated.

Accessibility Concerns are for Everyone
So internet, transportation, health concerns, etc. I will point out that these are things we all navigate daily, though to less extremes than some of our responders. If any one of us experiences trouble in even one of these areas, it becomes an accessibility issue. Thus positive changes for the few can grow to benefit everybody.

Inclusion
My next response grouping focuses on fostering an attitude of inclusion. Accommodations won’t do much good if our actions create a hostile environment. Then we’re just undoing all our good efforts. This person reminds us that hosting an event at an accessible location is the first half, and that treating individuals with dignity and respect is the other. “look in their eyes when you talk with them.  Don’t show pity, because that’s sure as hell not what they’re looking for – and when people do that, it makes it even more difficult than ever to force oneself to come to meetups.”

Inclusion
Inclusion is about interacting with the content of a person, not the packaging. This could be a wheelchair as mentioned before, or it can be the appearance of bad spelling, as in this case. This brother with dyslexia was nit-picked so much for his spelling that he just stopped trying to interact online. People wouldn’t look past the packaging to the content of what he had to say.

Inclusion
There were a lot (and I mean a LOT) of responses about how perpetuating negative stereotypes of mental illnesses hurts skeptics. This response was typical: “Sometimes I feel like the willingness to call people who hold opposing or irrational views “crazy” or “mentally ill” (or the even harsher words) makes it seem like I can’t be honest about my own struggles with mental illness, or that my mental illness invalidates my positions.”

Inclusion
Multiple responses emphasized that “Ableist slurs such as crazy, stupid, idiotic, various other things suffixed with -wit, crippled etc. are common. Comparisons to mental illness, aneurotypicality, and lack of intelligence are also common.” People with disabilities and those supportive to them hear these slurs and get the message that they’re not welcome as members of the group.

Inclusion
Reports of armchair diagnosis were also common. This is simply bad skepticism. A limited interaction with someone on the internet or a handful of meetups is not enough data for the average untrained person to compile a valid medical diagnosis. Stereotyping and prejudice are not the result of critical thinking but the absence of it.

Venn
There are skeptics among us, “crazy atheists”, who are managing their mental illnesses with critical thinking. They do not appreciate being automatically clumped in with dangerous and religious people, nor do they appreciate the knee-jerk labeling of all dangerous and religious people as “crazy”. There are more accurate words we can use to describe dangerous religious people instead, which I trust that the powers of creativity and critical thought will lead you toward.

Venn diagram showing slightly overlapping circles titled "crazy", "religious", and "dangerous".

Skepticism
And really, skepticism has so much to offer all of us, with all of our disabilities and abilities. As this person puts so well: “With no gods to blame or to rely on, all we have are each other. It seems quite natural that humanism should promote people being of equal worth and having equal rights regardless of disability.”

Skepticism
We can use the tools of critical thinking, no matter who we are or what our background. This response says: “The way I see it, all of our brains are lying assholes. We are often wrong not because we’re mentally handicapped. We’re wrong because WE’RE PEOPLE.”

Skepticism
And another chimes in: “The skeptics movement is all about combating misinformation, and there is a lot of misinformation about disabilities out there.” If there were one thing I wish I had the time and resources to dig into more, it would be to see just how many lives are positively changed by skepticism. And I get excited thinking about how many more we could reach out to.

Atheist PR
Which brings me to the implications for public relations and outreach.This person is right in pointing out that it is good publicity. As proof that rational inquiry and critical thinking are the best tools to help people live their lives, we need to show them that we are already doing it better than any prayer or naturopathy or “the Secret” law-of-attraction BS can do. That involves recognizing that ableism is real, that we are where it begins, and that we are where it can end.

Atheist PR
We need to foster a culture of accessibility. This person urges: “Make it known that the group wants to accommodate everyone as much as they can and sincerely want to know if people need meet-ups to be different than how they are currently. Of course, consider the input and modify as necessary. Avoid “we can’t” in favor of “I’m not sure how, but let’s look into how we could do this.” We’re human. We won’t always be perfect, but it’s important to show that we care, and that we’re willing to meet people where they are.

Atheist PR
The result: happy skeptics! People like this one, who sing the praises of their group. “MASH Fort Bragg is great, they are understanding of my limitations & inclusive. I am able to participate in those activities that don’t wear me out or expose me to sunlight. A reminder to folks that the disabled can & should be able to take part in our atheist movement.” And do you know what happens when our hard work and compassion pays off in the form of a plethora of happy skeptics?

Let’s Win the Future!
We win the future!
I am happy to answer any questions and take any suggestions you may have.

Please browse the rest of this blog for more info.

Andy Semler - SkeptiCamp Saint Louis 2012 - the Skeptical Society of St Louis

Ableism in Atheism Anonymous #71

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Do you consider yourself to be a person with a disability?

Physical, I had to have my left hand amputated as a result of a workplace accident.

Have you (or do you personally know someone who has) felt out-of-place or limited your involvement with an atheist community because of disability-related situations?

No.

What steps could atheist communities take to become more inclusive?

social pressure to try and limit amputee jokes

Response #71 from the Ableism in Atheism survey.

Written by The Nerd

July 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Ableism, Atheism

Tagged with , , ,

Ableism in Atheism Anonymous #69

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Do you consider yourself to be a person with a disability?

No.

Have you (or do you personally know someone who has) felt out-of-place or limited your involvement with an atheist community because of disability-related situations?

No.

What steps could atheist communities take to become more inclusive?

The atheist community I belong to (Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, find ’em on Facebook) enforces a policy of no racist/homophobic/degrading language, which recently included a big deal about a guy using the word “retarded” in one of his comments. A nice precedent was set for the community about the use of words of that nature, and I think people forget about little details. Sometimes, it just takes the first step of saying “THAT comment was unacceptable,” instead of laughing.

Any other thoughts about ableism and atheism?

I found the survey via http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd/2012/02/27/ableism-in-atheism/

An interesting article and something I hadn’t thought about before.

Response #69 from the Ableism in Atheism survey.

Note: Thank you to all the groups (including IAF) who are taking a stand. 🙂

Written by The Nerd

July 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm

An Example of Ableism in Atheism

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Cartoon of poorly-dressed man vs well-dressed man, described below.

Image: comparing a “crazy person” talking about alien mind control with a “moral pillar of society” talking about Christianity, both validating their beliefs with faith over evidence.
Text: This isn’t the truth. You wish it were, but it’s not. Stop deluding yourself. You know the “crazy person” [as depicted] lives in poverty to the point he can’t afford a sandwich, let alone proper healthcare. “The crazy person” lives in fear of the police and faces brutal treatment from most because they think he’s “lazy” and just doesn’t want to work. He’s treated like scum. “The Moral Pillar of Society” is just some jackass who wants to feel superior, just like the jackass who uses the misunderstood medical conditions of those who can’t defend themselves as an insult against those he doesn’t like and/or agree with.

(via Schizophrenic Queen on Facebook)

Written by The Nerd

July 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Ableism in Atheism Anonymous #68

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Do you consider yourself to be a person with a disability?

I have a genetic mutation that requires medication to maintain normal blood chemistry. I will be on this medication indefinitely, and cannot consume alcohol while on it. I do not consider this condition/mutation/medication to be a disability. However, the atheist social culture is very much centered on alcohol consumption. So, when the typical atheist “day” is over, I feel unable to participate in the “social” aspect afterwards.

Have you (or do you personally know someone who has) felt out-of-place or limited your involvement with an atheist community because of disability-related situations?

Aside from the description offered above, the only other thing that has made me personally uncomfortable is the assumption that younger atheists make that all relationships are open. It’s really emotionally disturbing when my committed, exclusive partner and I are propositioned by people who know we are together. It shows a fundamental lack of respect to both of us to assume (rather than ask) that we are in an open relationship and just skip ahead to the propositioning step. I find nothing wrong with open relationships, but if someone is interested in me or my partner, the polite thing to do is to first ask privately if we are in an open relationship, rather than just assume we are, and proceed to ask for sex. It’s just disrespectful.

What steps could atheist communities take to become more inclusive?

Offer a sober environment as an alternative to alcohol centered social activities. Oftentimes, the only social activity provided is in a bar, or a house party at which most people drink to excess. An alternative that would allow non-drinkers to participate without feeling awkward or obliged to explain their sobriety would be nice.

Response #68 from the Ableism in Atheism survey.

Written by The Nerd

July 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Ableism in Atheism Anonymous #64

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Do you consider yourself to be a person with a disability?

Neurological; both physical and mental. Multiple sclerosis caused many disabilities of various sorts.  I have mobility problems, symptoms of movement disorders, occasional proprioception problems and uncommonly have trouble speaking, which may include slurring, dysprosody (rhythm and tone are off), and even expressive aphasia. Cognitively, I have a poor memory when unprompted, sensation can overwhelm me, I have great difficulty making decisions… and much more. I have frontotemporal dementia (but not Pick’s) that’s usual but not always mild. Among other things, it imparts some autistic-like symptoms. In a separate category, MS also gave me both heat intolerance and poor thermoregulation. When I get hot, I do very poorly and I’m more likely to get heat-related illnesses and to do worse if I have them.

Have you (or do you personally know someone who has) felt out-of-place or limited your involvement with an atheist community because of disability-related situations?

(Note: I’ve yet to be involved in person. The closest group is more than an hour away.)
I feel excluded online whenever I see a person use cognitive problems as insults or as a reason to discredit someone’s words. “Retard” or “-tard”, brain damaged or demented — those especially bother me.

I have also felt excluded by places that commonly demand citations. I have an unusual portion of source amnesia and do not always have the mental resources to search out a cite. While I understand that would make the claims suspect, that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. I hate being treated as if that’s so and I hate being told I’m rude or lazy because I may try to put out enough information for the reader to find the cite if I can’t. There’s a difference between lazy and incapable.

I feel excluded when there are implications, even jokes, that disability means old age. “Aging=disability” is common, invalid, and has real consequences, even ones that have hurt me. When I first asked for a wheelchair rental, the neurologist initially refused, saying, “You’re too young for a wheelchair!” My age didn’t mean my legs could hold me up and after much insisting, I got a wheelchair. Yes, my doctor would have me limited to bed and wherever I could crawl rather than prescribe a mobility device to help me only because I was “too young”. Aging=disability is not a joke, it’s a misconception that makes problems for all ages.

I feel excluded whenever there are talks about dementia, about losing mental faculties — often enough, disability in general. “Dementia is worse than death,” I’ve heard. “Dead, but breathing.” I’m part of an online atheist community where people have said they’d kill themselves if they… found themselves losing their mental faculties, were going blind, had to use a wheelchair regularly. In multiple communities, I’ve seen people say life isn’t worth living if… disability — disabilities I have. (To be fair, I’ve heard this outside of atheist communities, too.) This tells me their base position is that people like me (which includes me, though they claim otherwise), shouldn’t be alive. Outside of personal confrontation, it’d be hard to make me feel less included than that.

What steps could atheist communities take to become more inclusive?

I’ve yet to attend in-person events, but I have some standards I’d hope they meet:
Large events (conferences, concerts, etc) should be in ADA-compliant facilities. Preferably, they should have the accessibility (building, interpretation for the deaf, any possible Braille as perhaps for programs, etc) to be checked out and approved (if not set up) by someone who needs the accommodation. Nothing about us without us; it’s best to ask someone with a disability what they need rather than presume.
Local meetings… if they don’t meet at accessible locations, I hope they’d be willing to upon request. If there has been such a request, they should meet at accessible locations as many of the meetings as they can manage. Again, get the person’s input. Make it known that the group wants to accommodate everyone as much as they can and sincerely want to know if people need meet-ups to be different than how they are currently. Of course, consider the input and modify as necessary. Avoid “we can’t” in favor of “I’m not sure how, but let’s look into how we could do this.”

Online, avoid talk of disability-as-insult, as disability as a reason to dismiss someone. Condemn such talk when someone does it just as the community does (or should do) with misogyny and homophobia. A comment policy that condemns that wouldn’t be a bad idea, however misogyny and homophobia would be treated.

Give people with disabilities space to be the best they can be and accept them as they are. Give people with cognitive problems the benefit of the doubt, at least if it’s evident they’re trying. Skepticism requires significant effort and some say “really being” or “proving” you’re an atheist or humanist requires much (reading N-many off a list of books, for example). While I don’t think much of having strict standards for determining who’s “really” in a group, groups that do should leave leeway for those who genuinely don’t have the ability. (If taken strictly, though there are humanists in this state that can officiate marriages, I would be unable to meet their standards because I can’t read the books and can’t manage finances myself, for example.) We should not refuse anyone on account of disability, whatever the disability is.

I’d prefer there be no talk of “Life [under X disabled condition] isn’t worth living”, but if that cannot be eliminated, I want community leaders (because little-ol’-me was ignored) to engage with the idea of when-if at any time-life isn’t worth living, when death is (dementia=death?), etc, making sure to mention counter-examples. When there’s a person in a wheelchair in the community (and online “community” can be most everyone) and someone says that if they had to be in a wheelchair, they’d kill themselves, it should be treated as if a white man announced that if he woke in the morning to find his skin turned brown, he’d kill himself. It should be recognized the person is saying the person with the disability (or with more melatonin) has a life that isn’t worth living, isn’t even worth trying to live. Whenever there is such talk, there should be (at least reference to) a serious discussion about it. The “solution” shouldn’t be to tell the person with the disability (or darker skin), “Oh, no, I wasn’t talking about _you_. You’re fine, I like _you_.” That’s very “I’m not ______-ist, I have a ____ friend.”

Any other thoughts about ableism and atheism?

I think disability, atheist, and skepticism can go well together and think atheists could do good in fighting for disability rights. Atheists don’t think disability is punishment (there’s no one do the punishing, in any case). With no gods to blame or to rely on, all we have are each other.

I wish people in the atheist community (and outside of it, true) would recognize their ableism and then get over it. I know it can be scary to think about disability. Such change is almost always unwanted, but a disability can be acquired in a split-second. People need to understand that (more) disability doesn’t mean they’re a different person or that life isn’t worth living, worth trying to adjust — it’s just different. Also, we need to understand that we can’t really know what goes on between another’s ears, so we shouldn’t presume. If we do presume and presume incorrectly, we should recognize that’s our issue rather than the other person’s. I know online there are a lot of trolls, but presuming a bit of good faith can be helpful.

I know the community could be a force for good. To me, it seems quite natural that humanism should promote people being of equal worth and having equal rights regardless of disability. Surely humanists should naturally promote universal access. Surely they should defend or protest when people with disabilities are ruled against in court. Surely they should be part of the force trying to get resources for disabled victims of domestic violence. Surely they should speak up in protest whenever a family “care-giver” kills their charge, their “loved one”, and the glurge reporters all talk about the poor, loving care-giver and how sad it was they had to deal with such a burden, etc, rather than that the killer is horrible for murdering someone they said they loved. Most ground-floor residences still aren’t built wheelchair accessible. Women with disabilities are victims of assault, rape, and murder much more often than their non-disabled peers. (Men, too, but I’m not sure about rape.) A few years ago, a newborn was taken from two Colorado parents without any investigation into their ability to care of the child; they were presumed unfit just because they were blind. I know no group can take on every cause, but these things are is going on now.

Unfortunately… I’ve yet to find an atheist group that recognizes their ableism. I’ve been told ableist comments were “just joking”, told to get a sense of humor, told to get over it, told to leave for a while and not bring it up again. I’ve been brushed off with “I didn’t mean it that way” with no investigation into what they really meant, what other ways they could’ve said, and why they used the words they did. I’ve been told disability is awful and death is better… but they like me and aren’t talking about me. Death is better than disability yet I am very much disabled and if I’m ever bothered by suicidal thoughts, the same people try to talk me out of it. They don’t see the discrepancies and are unwilling to investigate. Where is skepticism there?

Atheists need to recognize their ableism as a serious issue, one to be discussed, understood, resolved, and inclusion something to work toward. These talks… they need to include people with various disabilities. I think many atheists feel like they are inclusive of everybody when they’re not. I know Crommunist talks about racism in ways that people who think they aren’t racist realize they really are. Ableism is harder–first because many people haven’t heard of the word, second because ableism is so deep in the culture as to be invisible. The denial and defensive response needs to end; understanding and working on it needs to begin. I suppose it could turn into series of fights like misogyny is, but I hope against that. I think there’s yet to be much recognition of this discrimination.

Disability rights is a human rights issue that has the possibility of affecting literally everyone. (I think such activism could be good publicity, too; what self-proclaimed “moral” group would disagree with helping people with disabilities?) I think it’s worth fighting for, and, to think smaller, I think every person is deserving of respect. But to do any of this, atheists need to recognize ableism as real, as ubiquitous, and as a problem that needs resolving.

Response #64 from the Ableism in Atheism survey.

Note: I am grateful to each and every response, but I want to make a special thank you to this person for hir heartfelt response.

Ableism in Atheism Anonymous #63

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Do you consider yourself to be a person with a disability?

Depression/anxiety, also executive function learning disability, and a mild non verbal learning disability

Have you (or do you personally know someone who has) felt out-of-place or limited your involvement with an atheist community because of disability-related situations?

No

What steps could atheist communities take to become more inclusive?

Things like only meeting at ADA complient places would help, but the best thing I can think if is making ableism more of a priority. Have talks about it, and it’s origins, and how to combat it. The skeptics movement is all about combating misinformation, and there is a lot of misinformation about disabilities out there. Without educating people about what ableism is first, I’m not sure how helpful merely banning ableist language would be, but calling people out when it comes up would definitely help, the same way atheists, even straight ones call out homophobic behavior. Things like making blogs compatible with programs blind/visually impaired would help, considerig how much of our community is online. Same with text for pictures/videos, and transcripts or interpreters for conferences.

Response #63 from the Ableism in Atheism survey.

Written by The Nerd

July 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm