The Tyranny of Disability Etiquette One-Pagers

Editor’s Note: We welcome back our white-ally writer Carrie Basas. This week Carrie shares more about disabilities and how to think more critically about disabilities justice. She also uses an orca gif for fun so keep on reading.

By Carrie Basas


Art by Sarah Epperson from Amplifier

According to my recent internet search, one-pagers contain about 500 words. To meet the growing needs of gleeful consumers of one-pagers, I will also limit this post to 500 words. Consider it your anti-one-pager one-pager.

In facilitating conversations about disability, I am often asked for that quick fix focused on etiquette. The request goes something like this: “I don’t want to mess it up. Just tell me what to say or do.” In that moment, I want to encourage the person to do better and not push them away with my rants about living with the discomfort and embracing failing as learning. Yet, I also don’t want them to exit the conversation thinking that my life experience or anyone else’s could be reduced to a handy checklist to be followed by a Disability Woke badge in the mail: You will never have your ableism questioned again. Join yearly for just $19.99. We won’t be donating that money to a telethon, by the way.

But here is what I will give you as you try to talk to your kids, coworkers, or anyone about disability:

  1. Run away from any post or list that claims it has the right language, the not-screw-it-up shield– especially if that source comes from a non-disabled person.
  2. Run towards a person with a disability, not too scarily, and learn from them. Don’t ask intrusive questions. Don’t spill your story about a recent skiing accident and how everyone was nice to you when you had those crutches. It’s not the same. Befriend people you like who also have disabilities. We are cool and often have some sweet parking options.
  3. Learn about the differences between people-first and identity-first language. For those of us who identify as disabled by society, we cringe at euphemisms– so whatever you do, no “special needs” or “differently abled.” Dancing around disability discrimination is your own special need.
  4. Remember that we don’t exist to hand out badges. In fact, if you run into my lovable cranky crips (reclaiming the word “cripple”), we might tell you to move your car away from the crosswalk, observe the four-feet social interaction space rule (and adjust for cultural and individual needs), and not require eye contact. By the way, we often exist to be beautiful, sexy beasts. World rocked; now, recover.
  5. Question why most disability organizations are run by non-disabled people. Why is that appropriate or desirable? Is that a reflection of internalized ableism or assumptions about the (in)competence of disabled people? I want to see racial justice organizations run by BIPOCs, so it angers me when our disability community organizations are not led by disabled people, particularly disabled BIPOC.
  6. Ask yourself why some issues, such as disability, might be getting less time than,
    nodding yes GIF

    Orca nodding gif

    say, discussions about orcas, among justice-minded people. Love an orca, for sure, but also send that love our way.

  7. Surprise: I was not born with an innate ability to understand disability and work towards disability justice. I was born with disabilities and from that experience, I keep doing the work to understand the experiences of others and recognize that disability isn’t a monolithic community. I fail. You will, too. Good– you make me proud for trying.
  8. Accessibility isn’t the end goal. Belonging is. Ramp that and caption that, but look around and ask who we count as experts and why we are okay with missing voices.

571 words. Sometimes, I don’t comply with the rules and neither should you.

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