This post was written by alumni Donna Mullings.
It has been over a month since I took part in the Voices of Experience Career Panel + Networking Series on October 22. As I reflect on the discussions that emerged, the butterflies in my stomach return. I acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of the all the panellists who eagerly took part in the discussion on employment and disabled people. At the forefront of the conversation, the echoes of ‘overcoming’, ‘competition’, ‘suck it up’ and ‘making ableness comfortable’ left me feeling deflated. Nonetheless, I recognize how processes of disablement operate through ableist dogma has become deeply entrenched in the everyday systematic and micro practices of disabled people engaging in the hostile employment arena. It’s all very troubling for me, especially as I sat and watched, our words, our propaganda penetrated the audio, visual and alimentary canals of the audience. We passed on a particular form of hegemonic ableist discourse, and the next generation of disabled job seekers seemingly soaked it up. Although I was deeply troubled and deeply unsettled by the conversation, I knew it all too well. As a black woman, I have been in collusion with the dominant discourse of race most of my life, and for the past 15 years, as a disabled person seeking employment; I have also been in collusion with the prevailing ableist doctrine.
Employment for disabled people is complex given our current political, economic, and social, neo-liberal, post-capitalist era. Despite the compounding issues, I think back to the information I wanted as a job seeker. A theoretical analysis of employment would not have met my needs. I wanted to hear about strategic approaches to successful gain employment. I wanted to hear that I also have equal employment opportunities afforded to me, despite the function of my body. At the end of the day, most people who sell their labour power in sort of employment arrangement want to be compensated with a livable wage. In our existing political economy the money we make from employment, for most, is related to the determinants of health. Where we live, the type of food we buy and our ability to fruitfully and effectively engage the social, political, and economic spheres of life depends on whether or not our basic necessities of life are met.
Heather Willis, the Moderator of the Career Panel grounded the topic of employment in the social model discourse. I was elated by this contextualization and wondered if the panellists and audience members recognize the significance of the framework. As the conversation went on it was clear that the social model discourse was pushed to the side. It was evident as the subject matters of locationality and positionality was taken up in relation to ableness; rather than discussed as fluid categories often used as coerced navigation tools used every day to survive. I wondered if these discussion points were relegated as seemingly insignificant because they have become routine and ingrained in the everyday lives of disabled people; simply not thought of. For example, as a black woman, existing in non-typical cultural spaces requires a particular type of behavior and conformity dictated by the dominant culture. My sudden added state of disability, in this contextual space was challenging; yet, I had developed skills that now seem intrinsic given my race and gender locationality. These behaviors have become deeply embedded and built-in to my survival; yet; unless prodded, I don’t think about why I use them. Lynx Sainte-Marie one of the panellist voiced that we do not want to blame or shame individuals who cannot show-up in various ableist and competitive ways in the employment arena. I am not too sure if that point resonated with anyone listening to the overarching ableist propaganda that spewed from the mouths of panellists who remained in the conversation.
How do we engage in particular forms of dialogue to evoke deeper understanding of who we are and where we are in this current era to garner deeper understanding of why we do what we do?
**The Voices of Experience event was live streamed and archived. It is available on RyeCast. Please note the video is not yet captioned.