My semester started a couple of weeks ago, and in the next few days I have two different First Meetings for activism groups that I run at my school. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to foster a sense of “group unity” and make the organizations as accessible as possible for a group of people with highly variable dis/abilities, commitments, and social justice knowledge bases.
So to start off the year (way after everyone I follow on tumblr has apparently started theirs), I came up with a bunch of alterations to traditional icebreakers and activities that are meant to be more inclusive, fun, and widely accessible. They can always be further improved or tailored to your own group’s needs, though. (And yeah, this is mostly for my own records—because I know I will otherwise forget these).
One person volunteers to start off with a ball/baton/whatever. They introduce themselves and give as many (or as few) of these details as desired:
- [chosen] name
- relationship to the group, if applicable (“leadership,” “ally,” “first-timer,” etc)
- preferred pronouns (“the pronouns that you want people to use when referring to you, like she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs, and so on”)
- and the super-power they would least like to have.
It’s a good idea to write down these four things on the board (if you have one), for everyone’s reference, and to specify that not everyone has to answer all of them, or even introduce themselves at all. Once the first person has gone, they throw the ball/whatever to another member who raises their hand for it, and then that person shares. If you don’t have something small that can be thrown, then you can just “call on” people.
This way, anyone who really doesn’t want to share can get away with not speaking, and people who need time to rehearse their answers can wait until the end of the activity to share. Having the questions written down and visible can also prompt people who would otherwise forget them. Asking for PGPs, and giving a quick explanation of what they are, will also establish that you are/intend to be trans* friendly, even if some trans* members don’t feel comfortable sharing their correct pronouns yet. You still have to be aware that not everyone can throw, though, and probably deal with it on a case by case basis.
2. “The game with the questions and the hat”
Everyone gets out a scrap of paper and writes down one question that they would like to ask the group. The question shouldn’t be too personal or too abstract; things like “do you speak any other languages” or “if you could befriend one historical figure, who would it be?” are way better than “how would you define feminism” or “what’s your sexual orientation?” Then, the fold up their question and put it in a hat in the front of the room. The hat is passed around, and each person takes out one slip of paper and answers the question on it.
To accommodate people with speech/social anxiety/processing issues, it’s good to pass around the hat first, and then get people to answer their question on a volunteer basis, instead of “going around the circle.” Once again, people who need a lot of time to prepare themselves can go last, or even opt not to share at all.
For small groups or large amounts of time to kill, each person can ask and answer multiple questions.
3. “A cold wind blows”
I have no idea why that phrase is involved, but apparently it’s important. Everyone gets together in a circle, with one person standing in the middle. The person thinks of some “common ground” that they might have with other people in the group, and then says “a cold wind blows for everyone who [blank].” For example, “a cold wind blows for everyone who is vegan.” If that applies to you, then you have the option of moving into the circle and trying to take one of the spots vacated by the other people who’re moving. The last person standing is responsible for staying in the middle of the circle, and coming up with the next “a cold wind blows…”
If the person in the middle isn’t able to move to one of the open spots fast enough, though, you should offer to “switch out” with them and come into the middle yourself.
4. “Concentric circles”
Make two circles with an equal number of people in each so that one is surrounding the other. The people in the outwards circle should face inwards towards the people in the inwards circle, who should face back outwards. Then set a topic (like “equality” or “gender”) and give everyone a set amount of time to discuss that topic with the person they are facing in the other circle. Once the time is up, everyone in the inner circle moves one place to the right, and another discussion begins. Before the activity starts, make sure to specify that the inner circle will be doing the moving, so that people can choose which circle (once again, if any) accordingly.
Anyway, yay! I’ve lead or participated in all of these particular icebreakers before, and they really are my favorites. Hopefully these changes will make them a little more friendly to people with various disabilities—because usually those are shafted or actively stigmatized by “group bonding” exercises that so often demand things like “run as fast as possible” or “let’s start with you and work our way around the circle.”
I like that you frame these as optional. I often have troubles seeing the points of icebreakers…
I don’t know what the “medical definition” or the “educational definition” of a mild disability is, but I bet I could come up with the “real life” definition.
Having a mild disability means:
- People telling you that you need help when you’re trying to be independent.
- People telling you to be independent when you need help.
- People saying “you can do anything you put your mind to” and knowing they just lied to you
- Being “disabled enough” to have it affect you in everyday life and not “disabled enough” to get the help that the government is supposed to provide to people with disabilities.
- Not qualifying for the services that could make independence possible just based on street address.
- HALF THE WORLD IGNORES YOUR DISABILITY, AND THE OTHER HALF WON’T LET YOU FORGET ABOUT IT.
- The half that ignore your disability and try to help you with motivation alone are likely those closest to you.
- Being told “you have to work with us, but we can’t help you”.
- Being “held down” and told when to get up.
- Being told that if you want to be treated your age, act your age; and then basically having a parent try to hold your hand.
- Missing a lot of experiences in life and having to deal with being reminded of it and told that it was a mistake.
- Feeling like everybody else thinks they know what’s best for you and having to carefully consider whose advice to take.
- Knowing that “impossible” will and should always be in my vocabulary.
- Being or becoming extensively aware of the implicit discrimination that is everywhere.
- Becoming aware of explicit discrimination way too early in life
- Sometimes serving as a mediator between the people who know the situation all too well and those who have absolutely no idea what life with disability is like.
- Seeing the AB world try their hardest to do a little more than “help” you become friends with other people with disabilities (this isn’t always a bad thing).
- Hearing that you should try your best to be “normal”.
- Asking “Isn’t everybody ‘different’?” When somebody says “you’re not disabled, you’re just different.”
- BELIEVING THAT THE “LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD” STORY IS NOTHING BUT A DREAM..
- Knowing that even plainly visible disabilities can be hidden easily, and even more easily ignored.
- Above all, having a mild disability means knowing that there is an awkward moment coming soon, every time you meet somebody.
The last one. So MUCH the last one. Egads…
Oh hey, look, Clint, you’ve made the rounds. But yeah, I love this. Also, shouldn’t your tag be “sorryidon’thavethespoonstousethespazbar”? :P
also known as, when did people on the Internet get so nice? seriously, read these comments. I feel like the world has turned upside down in the past two weeks.
ohmylord amanda, i’m not even done reading your post but it’s fucking BRILLIANT. i kind of want to take pieces to quote on tumblr but i’ll probably just end up taking the whole thing.
Everyone can start with themselves and draw on their own experiences. For example, as a man I need to listen to the stories of women. Not with my own arguments going on in my head, “Yes, but, yes, but…” Instead, I need to listen to what it feels like to be a women who fears for her own safety when getting out of a car alone in an underground parking garage. I need to really listen to that. I need to really hear that story rather than beating myself up with guilt or shame because men historically have dominated women in our society. I need to listen to that story in a way that overlaps with my own experience with fear as a person with disabilities. When a woman listens to my story about airline agents being overly condescending to me, rather than her feeling guilty and saying, “Oh my God, I’ve done things like that to people with disabilities,” I would like her to listen to that story and remember a time when a car salesman or a auto mechanic was condescending to her: “Yes dear, you wouldn’t understand that.” Relating people’s stories to your own experience is part of developing that depth of thought and reflection.
—Norman Kunc, The Stairs Don’t Go Anywhere
Norman Kunc is a genius and very high on the list of people that I need to meet. AND he’s a fellow mildie palsy person <3 (Sorry, I get a little squee-y with the palsy power).
Sums up why I want to be a special ed teacher, why I’m an activist…..pretty much everything. Thanks, Kassiane!
“If diversity rejects the idea of a normal ethnicity, it has no problem with the notion of the normal in a medical sense, which means, of course, it has no problem with branding some bodies and minds normal and some abnormal. As long as disability is seen in this medical sense, it will therefore be considered abnormal and outside the healthy, energetic bodies routinely depicted in celebrations of diversity.”
Lennard Davis, in “Why is Disability Missing from the Discourse on Diversity?” (via allies-person)
Good God, I haven’t had an anxiety spike like this in a while….
Urgh. I am so disheartened by all of this.
And all of the allistic commentators complaining about those mean angry autistic people who dare to say that people with disabilities should be centered in disability-related discussions. Such a radical idea, I know.
I have to say that even given that, it actually went better than I thought it did. I think some people’s minds got changed, or at least a lot of people were thinking hard? So that’s pretty neat.
But yeah, a lot of the things people are saying about how it could have been better are making me sad. Like all the parents saying how they’re not commenting or how they know a bunch of other parents aren’t commenting because they’re afraid of how mean the disabled people will be to them.
I guess that’s a problem, but at the same time — there are plenty of parents being nasty to us, and we’re still commenting. Disabled people who write stuff on the internet are used to people saying very mean, very personal things to them, so we’re able to hang on through an online debate. But I feel like these parents have never had their ideas challenged like this before, and now they’re storming off in a huff.
And that’s privilege!
So it is over, then? Not another week?
Did you read this?
It wasn’t set up as a dialogue.
It’s making me very, very leery of TPGA. And kind of hurt and disappointed on your behalf?
“It’s a small, very vocal group.” SO IT’S FINE NOT TO LISTEN TO THEM.
Not to mention that um, we’re not that small.
Notice that no one is saying the PARENTS are a “small, very vocal group”.
Was going to go on this whole rant about not having functional skills and feeling like a fraud and being so sick of these “let’s play pretend!” disability simulations because this is not a simulation for ME, it’s my fricking LIFE.
But. Now I’m having a sudden identity crisis. I won’t go into more details because, well, ideas and things are still fermenting in my head and people I know read my tumblr and I don’t wanna have to explain anything before the ideas and things are fully formed.
So. We interrupt your regularly scheduled rant for internal musings on identity and things.
you know, when rrh and I talked by email he sort of (very unenthusiastically) apologized for doing the whole YOU’RE SO MILDLY DISABLED thing to Zoe, Julia, and me. I basically spilled my guts at him, I linked him to the page from the passing project where people talk about wanting to hurt themselves or become injured to opt out of “invisible disability.” (I have to make a new version of the passing project at some point because there is so much I left out, particularly in this area, because about three times more people talked about this kind of thing than I had room for.)
I tried to say, hey, I might be jealous of someone with limited speech because they get assumed to need support, while I’m presumed to either not need support or to be able to ask for it! But that is just a feeling coming out of my own shitty circumstances and it’s not VALID. And it’s really hurtful! So it’s not something I need to go around announcing, especially as a way to silence someone with limited speech.
so rrh was like…okay. That makes sense. I was jealous too.
yeah, no. here rrh was again yesterday, saying that people who can “live independently and self-advocate” (even though he’s talking to someone who doesn’t live independently, well never mind, SHE HAS A BLOG, obviously the most important ADL) have “privilege.”
now, the truth is I don’t really want to argue with this. I have privilege over, like, another lesbian who gets regularly perceived as a lesbian by strangers. for example I’m moving to Cincinnati which I’m told is kind of conservative/homophobic in some places, but for me, that doesn’t matter at all because no one on the street is going to assume that I’m gay. whereas someone who looks “more lesbian” has to think about this stuff when they think about where they’re going to live.
it’s complicated because passing can be tough, and especially in terms of disability, passing can lead to all these real problems of not getting support. being treated like I don’t have a disability, or seeing other people treated that way, actually sickens me, it’s just really horrible. so I’m not sure I’d use the word privilege when it comes to disability? but I’m not sure I wouldn’t either. what I do know is if I was talking to rrh’s daughter about disability, I’d be aware that we have way different stigma experiences because she’s more “visibly” disabled, and that would probably be something I was thinking about just as much as I’d be thinking about how best to listen to/communicate with someone who has more limited speech and uses AAC.
but no one is talking to rrh’s daughter! we’re talking to rrh. so please someone explain how this is relevant.
different experience of stigma DOES matter, but I don’t think it means such a clear-cut, huge different in privilege that any non-disabled person needs to be telling disabled people about it over and over. or like going on his Twitter (seriously is he a high school girl??) and posting about how we’re “ignoring our privilege.” what does that even mean? what would not ignoring our privilege look like? do we have to start every post/comment we make with a little checklist of our privilege over rrh’s daughter (as far as we can tell, since we’ve never met her, and like I said these things are far from clear-cut)?
now, here’s what I think. rrh, despite being aware of what privilege means from a social justice standpoint, isn’t actually using it that way. rrh just means that he thinks we have it easier than his daughter. which, as I said, is totally fine, people play those little games in their head and resent other people all the time for having what they think are easier lives. it’s when you decide that those feelings/games actually represent FACTS or are somehow political that…you become a huge fail.
imagine if I thought it was relevant whenever I argued with someone to be like, “You’re straight! You’re a man! You’re better-looking than I am! You’re from England, I wish I was from England, so you’re PRIVILEGED! Your parents sound like more fun than my parents are! STOP IGNORING YOUR PRIVILEGE.” now obviously in some ways this person is more privileged than me and in other, non-privilege-related ways they may also have a more fun life than I do, but like, this isn’t related to what we’re saying! also what if their parents aren’t more fun than mine are or they don’t feel like they are? aren’t I just making them feel upset and playing this weird game with them for no reason?
not only is rrh saying all these kind of nasty and insensitive things about how great he thinks other disabled people have it, but he actually seems angry that we either choose not to respond or point out he is being ridiculous? like, he’s personally offended?
this really hurts because I am personally offended by being told I have it great and I very sincerely and unguardedly tried to explain this to him. and he was kind of like “I guess I don’t know as many diverse pwds as I should” or some other half-apology. but I would say it’s not just that he doesn’t know a lot of diverse pwds, but that his understanding of disability is really simple and flat.
his daughter is disabled and has a hard time, so therefore she has it the worst. even though she’s on the unified sports team for the most independent kids. even though she can walk and run. even though she can use AAC and can use some speech. even though she doesn’t look different like a lot of kids with brain formation conditions (like microcephaly and lissencephaly) do and therefore experiences less stigma in that area. keep in mind there’s no way I’d ever want to have this kind of contest with anyone, but there are plenty of ways that ANYONE has it better than someone else. his daughter is really disabled, he knows that because he knows her, so therefore he categorizes her disability as real/severe/significant and the rest of us who he disagrees with, or who have abilities he wishes his daughter had, are in the only other category he knows of, which basically amounts to “not real.”
what if we were all really disabled?
what if we all just looked different from each other, some people looked like conventionally cute kids and other people had different-shaped faces and heads or different facial features; what if some people could talk and some people could talk a little and some people could talk sometimes and some people could only say one word or no words; what if some of us could live on our own and some could but ended up hungry and unwashed and some people would die if they lived on their own; and what if some of us could stand up for ourselves in school and fight back if someone hurt us and some of us could write in a blog and some of us could give a speech and some of us were seen as fucking geniuses/miracles because we “made a full recovery,” but didn’t even have the “self-advocacy” to say no to unwanted sex because we were too scared or well-trained; and what if a lot of us had all these predictions made about us when we were kids, he will never type on a keyboard, she will never drive, she will never go to college, he will use a wheelchair, she will have seizures, he will never live on his own, and to some extent it doesn’t MATTER what we went on to do anyway because we still were kids who were talked about that way and when you make decisions about a kid you don’t know what they will do, if someone tells you that stuff about the kid, you accept it—so we live with that anyway. What if all of these people were disabled?
I worry, precisely because rrh’s daughter is even at 11 gaining skills that were not predicted and is very conventionally normal-looking, that someday people will try and tell her she is not really disabled. and he has set himself up to be totally blindsided by that because he used to say that to other people, and he doesn’t understand why it is wrong.
thank you for saying everything i wanted to say about that. when i read the “independent and living on their own blah blah blah” line i was like “……oh no he didn’t!”
also when he made the argument that you know, no one is ever going to know what his daughter’s life is like, not even us self-advocate people, because she has a totally individualized experience blah blah blah (can you tell I’m not in the mood for this sort of stuff today?) I was like “um. well. yes. no one ever really knows what someone else’s life is like. but there are certain things that are universal to having a disability, such as, oh, i don’t know, being made to feel that WE’RE NOT FULLY HUMAN or even HAVING ASSUMPTIONS MADE ABOUT US AND OUR ABILITIES BY PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW US (oh wait, he did that already) so in some respects we DO understand Schuyler’s life better than he ever could. we DON’T have able privilege, and yeah, there are certain things that are “better” and “worse” about having different disabilities, being able to do certain things, but we all know what it’s like to be discriminated against, regardless of if our disabilities are physical, mental, cognitive in nature or if we’re considered “mild”, “moderate”, or “severe” (which all mean exactly nothing), or if our disabilities are visible, invisible, or somewhere in between. we are united by the experience of having a disability and being very Other in our society. he doesn’t know what that’s like (i’m guessing, who knows, he could have a disability that he hasn’t revealed to us), and unless he becomes disabled himself someday (which might very well happen) he never will.
……imagine what it’s doing to people who are sensitive to animation, like people who have seizures triggered by repeated movements, etc.
I mean, REALLY, Pottermore? You could’ve at least given us a “Pause animation” button. I’m surprised I’m not seeing this point all over my dashboard…..