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Disabled yet privileged, and why it's important to say so

Mustard yellow background with a dark brown illustrated loveheart. Layered over the heart is cream handwritten text that reads: "activism much be intersectional".

As many of us share about our experience of chronic illness and disability online, we do so from our own viewpoint. Yet we also cannot think of our own experiences as existing in a vacuum. They are not universal, and it's important we make that clear.

If you're a white, slim and cis person like me, we hold privilege. We cannot ignore that because we are disabled. And yet that's often what happens.

Privilege doesn't mean your life has been easy, it doesn't mean you can't have experienced horrible things and it doesn't imply you've always been treated fairly. Just because you're marginalised in some ways, it doesn't mean you're not privileged in others.

We have to get comfortable talking about our privileges and how they've impacted our experiences, because we have to keep taking action against the prejudices other people are facing that we are not. My experiences have not been easy. But they could have been much harder, harsher and more dangerous. They are for so many others, in so many ways.

I've been belittled, mistreated and endangered in medical spaces as a young woman. But I wasn't facing racism and/or transphobia on top of that, for example. Many are facing multiple layers of prejudice. So many barriers exist.

That's uncomfortable, yes. It's uncomfortable knowing others are up against so much. It's uncomfortable but it should be. It's not uncomfortable because it belittles my struggles, or dismisses what I've gone through. It's uncomfortable because it's wrong and shouldn't be happening.

You can be both oppressed and oppressor. Consciously or not. You can struggle with some things while benefitting from others.

Disability and chronic illness can impact anyone, anywhere. When sharing our own story, we have to keep in mind that not everyone is having the same experiences. That doesn't mean you're not allowed to share or complain or call out the injustices you're facing. It simply means we have to also be calling out the injustices others are facing.

It matters.

There are many mass disabling events happening around the world, many disability justice issues. We can't only be fighting against the ones we think directly affect us. Discussing intersections of marginalisation and acknowledging privilege doesn't take anything away from particular causes. Recognising others need care doesn't mean no one thinks you do.

Disability and chronic illness spaces often have massive inequality problems. Too many are for privileged white people, by privileged white people. And I'm saying that as a privileged white person. So many are exclusionary in so many ways.

That categorically isn't good enough. It never has been. Never will be.

I work in the sector of health and disability. We focus on access and inclusion. And yet there are major gaps in what this sector is talking about and tackling. It's important we're constantly thinking critically about the spaces we find ourselves in, and the content we ourselves are putting out there. What are we talking about? How are we talking about them? What are we being silent on?

Are we using gendered language unnecessarily? Are we neglecting to talk about the fact our experiences as white people are not universal? Are we raising awareness of prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people in healthcare? Are we talking about the lack of diversity in medical training and textbooks?

Are we committed to harm reduction in terms of Covid mitigation? Are we taking precautions, and advocating for them on a large scale? Are we acknowledging Covid as an access and inclusion issue as well as a public health disaster?

Are we making sure we're educating ourselves on what is happening to people in different parts of the world? Are we talking about the devastating health implications of living under violent occupation? Hospitals in Palestine are being obliterated. Medical supplies made unavailable. Disease is spreading rapidly. And it's all on purpose. What are we doing to challenge that?

Are we talking about fatphobia and the negative health implications of weight stigma? Are we acknowledging the barriers unhoused or incarcerated people face accessing healthcare? Are we considering how racism is prevalent in our healthcare systems? Are we challenging the ways that finances and education impact a persons access to care and support? Are we advocating for health information to be accessible for people with different disabilities and communication needs than our own?

There is always more to learn, more to be done, change to be made.

You don't have to be struggling the most to be struggling, but you also don't have to have an easy life to be privileged. And it's important we recognise that. What are we hoping to help change? Who are we changing it for?

What are we fighting for, really?


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