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Disability Justice Psychoeducation

New to thinking critically about Disability Justice? Thankfully, this disabled social worker, educator, and artist draws on years of experience as an Accessibility Advisor at Canada's largest university to introduce others to the 10 principles of Disability Justice that Sins Invalid champions!

Ableism Can Often Manifest as Access Hostility

When I still worked to support disabled students in Accessibility Services at Canada's largest university, I did not yet have the language of Access Hostility to describe the ableism that was often weaponized by professors and administrators against disabled staff and students. Years ago, I created my University Ableism Bingo artwork, which was first featured in the 2020 Pandemic: A Feminist Response exhibition. Since then, it has been published in the 2020 CRIP COLLAB zine and the 2022 Owning Our Stories journal. That hermit crab essay was also a part of Inclusion Canada's 2022 This is Ableism campaign

I have long loved Mia Mingus' concept of Access Intimacy, as I have used it in my anti-oppressive practice of social work for decades. In a 2021 essayA.A. Vincent stated, "The opposite of access intimacy is ​“access hostility.” Disability studies professor Ellen Samuels, citing Mingus, describes access hostility as ​“access grudgingly granted w/​resentment, disbelief, demands for repeated explanations, proposals of alternate arrangements that never work. It can be even more toxic than access denied…[Access hos-tility] makes you doubt yourself, defend yourself, justify yourself over and over until access becomes pointless because it’s clear you are not wanted or welcome. It happens to every sick and disabled person.”

Although Migraine Disorder has wreaked havoc on my functioning since I was 16 years old when I first began undergraduate studies at York University, it would take debilitating back pain when I lost access to weekly chiropractic treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic decades later for me to finally accept that I have long been disabled. Given my own circuitous journey to reckoning with my disabled identity despite supporting disabled clients as a social worker since 2010, I have worked hard to champion the work of the Disability Justice movement for the survival of BIPOC communities. I first assigned Mia Mingus' Access Intimacy blog post as a reading in my Sustainable Resistance for BIPOC Folx arts programming in 2020 to set the tone for how I wanted participants to feel comfortable to show up in the space, then referenced it in my 2022 published essay about reconciling my need for reliance on cannabis to manage sleep, and it now inspires my Access Hostility Bingo card.

I am grateful for Disability Studies Professor Ellen Samuels' social media post about Access Hostility, but I am even more thankful for A.A. Vincent's contextualization of how that experience gets worse when also navigating racism, queerantagonism, etc. as I know as a fat brown queer disabled immigrant woman and settler on Turtle Island. It is why the first box in this Access Hostility Bingo card uses Vincent's example from their published essay, i.e. "Well, you don't look disabled to me. You went to graduate school and have a Master's - how could you be disabled?" Those of us who navigate multiple experiences of oppression based on the bodies we inhabit personally understand the need for more privileged folx to invest in the Disability Justice movement, as our lives still literally depend on it. 

Given how many of us have internalized negative representations of disability, especially when also marginalized in other aspects of our identity, it can be difficult to articulate our disability-related challenges. Unfortunately, even when we manage to reckon with our internalized ableism enough to request the accommodations we need to function in school, workplaces, etc., we can be met with access hostility, as I know from constructive dismissal from "an equity office." Since facilitating my 1st 9-session BIPOC Disability Justice (Un)Learning Journeys workshop series thanks to Workman Arts, in collaboration with Scarborough Arts, with support from the Slaight Family Foundation, I wanted to share my Access Hostility Bingo hermit crab essay, which I hope will be used widely as a psychoeducational tool so that multiply marginalized disabled folx can recognize when ableism manifests as access hostility from those who claim to care about accessibility, while gaslighting us.

This hermit crab essay uses the container of a bingo card, in which, each square holds a problematic response to the valid access needs of disabled folx. It is inspired by the work of Mia Mingus, Sins Invalid, Ellen Samuels, A.A. Vincent, and other BIPOC disabled folx. This bingo card is in the style of my first exhibition art, University Ableism Bingo, which was featured in Pandemic: A Feminist Response.

We Have Always Deserved Access

Although some organizations are at least beginning to ask about access needs now when offering services, I have been disappointed by how power continues to dictate whose access needs get prioritized, even in spaces that claim to be by disabled folx for disabled folx. Unfortunately, without thinking critically about oppression, the access needs of the most marginalized of us are unlikely to get met, i.e. those of us who are disabled, and also oppressed in terms of class, race, sexual orientation, body size, etc. It is why I encouraged BIPOC Disability Justice (Un)Learning Journeys workshop participants to explore their own access needs in the Collective Access session, and their insights reinforce my belief that arts programming can help us to unpack how best to commit to investment in the Disability Justice movement.

Collaborative Hermit Crab Essay Jamboard from Collective Access Workshop: On a black background, white text asks, "What are your access needs?" at the top. Below, are words on pink, green, yellow, and orange sticky notes.
Collaborative Hermit Crab Essay Jamboard from Collective Access Workshop: On a black background, white text asks, "What are your access needs?" at the top. Below, are words on pink, green, yellow, and orange sticky notes.

My Disability Justice To-Be-Read List:

Testimonials from Past Workshop Participants

"I thoroughly enjoyed the workshops very much! I only experienced the 3 last sessions, but they were really enlightening. My friend attended the last workshop and enjoyed it as well. I'm so grateful to Krystal for creating such an intentional, safe community space" - Asia T. 

"Krystal is a highly thoughtful facilitator. Her approach to engaging participants is creative, caring, and inclusive. I hope the deeply meaningful discussions she invites participants into were recorded somewhere in history so they may serve as ancestral guides/references to those who come after her." - Nandini P.

"Through her workshops (and in life), Krystal has gifted me such exquisite language, craft, care to navigate my way as a disabled, recovering model minority. She is so skilled at holding space, cultivating access intimacy, and practicing disability justice in real-time. I come away with a new-found confidence in myself. Thank you, Krystal <3." - Matthew I.

LURNN with Me!

Against a white background, black text states Learning, Unlearning, & Relearning with Nuance & Narratives, with LURNN highlighted vertically in green.
Against a white background, black text states Learning, Unlearning, & Relearning with Nuance & Narratives, with LURNN highlighted vertically in green.

I first taught Justice and the Poor: Issues of Race, Class, and Gender in 2012 in the Social Welfare and Social Development program at Nipissing University, so I am not new to educating others on the depths of oppression. 

Unfortunately, my experiences, initially, as a Wellness Counsellor and Coordinator, and subsequently, as an Accessibility Advisor, at Canada's largest university left me with serious doubts that credentials necessarily resulted in more ethical behaviour, especially when lacking in lived experience of surviving oppression. 

It is why I have offered free virtual community arts programming since 2020 to unpack the impacts of white supremacy, colonialism, xenophobia, queerantagonism, ableism, etc. through facilitation of such workshops as:

- Sustainable Resistance for BIPOC Folx (Summer 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Summer 2022, & Winter 2023, for Scarborough Arts)

- Writing for Social Change (Fall 2021, for the Saskatchewan Writers' Guild)

- Adapting Like a Hermit Crab to Survive Multiple Experiences of Marginalization (Fall 2022, for Workman Arts, in collaboration with Scarborough Arts, with support from the Slaight Family Foundation)

- BIPOC Disability Justice (Un)Learning Journeys (Fall 2023, for Workman Arts, in collaboration with Scarborough Arts, with support from the Slaight Family Foundation)

- Navigating Grief in BIPOC Solidarity (upcoming for Workman Arts, in collaboration with Scarborough Arts, with support from the Slaight Family Foundation)

If you want to learn how to support my Disability Justice work, sign up for my LURNN newsletter, launching in 2024!