Wellness, Ableism, and Equity Literacy

Disability is a form of diversity, not a synonym for unhealthy.

Source: Ableism is the wellness issue we’re not addressing | Well+Good

Wellness is oblivious to its pervasive ableism.

The idea of wellness centers around being the best we absolutely could be by embracing healthy lifestyles and habits, but makes one big assumption: we are all able-bodied, and most issues are solvable through healthy eating, exercise, and potentially even expensive products. Baked into this is a healthy dose of ableism-preconceived notions and stereotypes towards people with disabilities. Whenever I look at trends surrounding food choices, exercise, or products, the people speaking about them or benefitting are overwhelmingly able-bodied.

For wellness to be fully inclusive, it needs to feature bodies that don’t look and move the way an “ideal” standard might. Most importantly, we need to be part of the industry’s conversations as a demographic that gets told we are unwell, but lives the healthiest lifestyles we can given limitations from our brains and bodies. To dismantle the ableism problem in wellness, this means a large industry needs to begin featuring and consulting people with chronic illnesses, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and physical disabilities as well—because being alive, capable of self-acceptance, and being our best selves should truly be for everybody.

Source: Ableism is the wellness issue we’re not addressing | Well+Good

Representation and NAUWU principles matter and make things better. I’ve dabbled with Apple Fitness+ within the limits of my chronic conditions. I appreciate the disability representation and diversity I’ve seen on screen so far. More, please.

To be effective, wellness needs to get equity literate, get structural, and design for real life.

Beyond their community health activism and their work to establish organizational wellness practices and spaces, the revolutionary groups of the ’60s and ’70s also understood that political education, fighting in the streets, and engendering reforms and services for their communities were inherently therapeutic and empowering. “Part of being a healthy human being is reclaiming your dignity,” says Dr. Bassett. “To stand and fight is an act of self-preservation and an act of reclaiming one’s health.”

The group of teens and young 20-somethings conducted several operations that helped lead to reforms. In Chicago, members followed the model laid out by the Black Panthers and tackled food insecurity with grocery giveaways and a free breakfast program. Additionally, the Young Lords established a free clinic that included a dental program as well as education on health and nutrition. In New York City, it initiated free food programs, provided political education with its Palante newspaper and weekly radio show on WBAI, and recruited members to escort children to school safely. Moreover, they organized famously gutsy actions that served the community with preventative care and forced an otherwise negligent government to take notice and start heeding the needs of marginalized communities.

Source: Historically, ‘Radical’ Groups Have Often Positively Impacted the State of Wellness and Health in the U.S. | Well+Good

Via:

Strategic Essentialism and Employee Resource Groups

However, antisubordination activists have engaged in a form of strategic essentialism as a means of resistance (Spivak, 1989). Mimicking conventional strategies of nonsubordinated power holders, strategic essentialism is a move by members of a subordinated category to simplify group identity and counter normative expectations.

Source: DisCrit—Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education (Disability, Culture, and Equity Series) (p. 205). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.

Strategic Essentialism “…refers to a political tactic in which minority groups, nationalities, or ethnic groups mobilize on the basis of shared gendered, cultural, or political identity to represent themselves. While strong differences may exist between members of these groups, and amongst themselves they engage in continuous debates, it is sometimes advantageous for them to temporarily “essentialize” themselves and to bring forward their group identity in a simplified way to achieve certain goals…

Strategic essentialism is new vocabulary for me. I picked it up recently in my disability studies reading and am still learning how to apply it. I’m particularly interested in how it applies to running an Employee Resource Group.

This first thing that came to mind as I read the paragraph above from DisCrit is John Elder Robison’s piece that talks about using “neurodivergent” instead of diagnostic labels to build coalition.

When schools and workplaces move from autism programs to neurodiversity programs, they include every person with a cognitive difference, not just autistic people. The tent gets bigger, and it has room for all.

Whether your goal is competitive advantage or human service, you should be able to meet your goals better under a Neurodiversity at Work banner, as opposed to an Autism at Work one. In both cases the supports needed are similar, but the neurodivergent population is substantially larger than the “only autistic” population so your chances of success are magnified.

While labels like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or PDD-NOS may be useful for therapists and childhood educators, the community-sourced alternative “neurodivergent” is probably better suited for colleges and workplaces. In those spaces, medical labels carry stigma that leads to conscious and unconscious marginalization. Expectations are always lower for people with disability diagnoses.

Neurodiversity is a new concept but the underlying reality has been part of human society forever. In the modern era work and school programs designed for the average person have excluded those whose cognitive styles fall outside that narrow midrange. Despite that, workplaces – including colleges – already contain plenty of neurodiversity so a primary program goal should be the better support of those people. Neurodiversity at School and at Work is not just about bringing new people into the fold.

The newest Neurodiversity initiatives recognize this fact.

By embracing the neurodiversity model instead of autism, employers can move toward a more inclusive welcoming environment.

Source: The Next Step for Neurodiversity | Psychology Today

I like to solve for the infinity, foreground complexity as the baseline, design for the edges, and design for pluralism. Sometimes, doing that requires coalition built on strategic essentialism.

…creating coalitions can subvert dominant hierarchies and transform the status quo.

Source: DisCrit—Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education (Disability, Culture, and Equity Series) (p. 205). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.

Individuals, however, do not experience identity as a fractured reality. If we start instead with this understanding of intersectionality informed by DisCrit, the multivariant nature of experience may be a place for coalition.

Source: DisCrit—Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education (Disability, Culture, and Equity Series) (p. 212). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.

I’m very glad to see the neurodiversity and queer ERGs at my workplace addressing gatekeeping, being broadly inclusive, and working together. This seems like healthy essentialism on which coalition and community can grow.

Community is magic.

Community is power.

Community is resistance.

Source: Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the 21st Century

Dr. Gebru, NAUWU, and DEI

Big news in DEI (Diversity Equity Inclusion) circles is the firing of renowned ethicist Dr. Timnit Gebru by Google.

Read the entire email from Dr. Gebru for a taste of what DEI workers are up against. I’ll highlight this line:

Silencing marginalized voices like this is the opposite of the NAUWU principles which we discussed.

Source: The withering email that got an ethical AI researcher fired at Google – Platformer

I’m always glad to see NAUWU mentioned. NAUWU = “nothing about us without us”, a fundament of autism and disability advocacy as well as the participatory research and narrative medicine movements. Educators, healthcare workers, and tech workers must respect and implement NAUWU to do ethical work.

From a book I’m reading right now:

DisCrit empathizes with John Powell’s words, “I feel like I’ve been spoken for and I feel like I’ve been spoken about, but rarely do I feel like I’ve been spoken to” (cited in Dalton, 1987). A similar mantra in dis/ability rights circles, “Nothing about us, without us” (Charlton, 2000, p. 3), also speaks to this tenet. DisCrit, therefore, seeks to disrupt the tradition of ignoring the voices of traditionally marginalized groups and instead privileges insider voices (Matsuda, 1987).

Source: DisCrit-Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education (Disability, Culture, and Equity Series) (p. 21). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.

See also:

I first heard the expression “Nothing About Us Without Us” in South Africa in 1993. Michael Masutha and William Rowland, two leaders ofDisabled People South Africa, separately invoked the slo- gan, which they had heard used by someone from Eastern Europe at an international disability rights conference. The slogan’s power derives from its location of the source of many types of (disability) oppression and its simultaneous opposition to such oppression in the context of control and voice.

“Nothing About Us Without Us” resonates with the philosophy and history of the disability rights movement (DRM), a movement that has embarked on a belated mission parallel to other liberation movements. As Ed Roberts, one of the leading figures of the international DRM, has said, “If we have learned one thing from the civil rights movement in the U.S., it’s that when others speak for you, you lose” (Driedger 1989:28). In this sense, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and “Power to the People” can be recognized as precedents for “Nothing About Us With- out Us.” The DRM’s demand for control is the essential theme that runs through all its work, regardless of political-economic or cultural differences. Control has universal appeal for DRM activists because the needs of people with disabilities and the potential for meeting these needs are everywhere conditioned by a dependency born of powerless- ness, poverty, degradation, and institutionalization. This dependency, saturated with paternalism, begins with the onset of disability and con- tinues until death. The condition of dependency is presently typical for hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

Source: NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US: Disability Oppression and Empowerment