Tag Archives: inclusion

When inclusion excludes

In theory, inclusion should be the default setting, but in practice often when you choose to include one person you can find you are excluding another. Here are some examples.

If you include someone who has acted abusively, you exclude their victim, who may feel they have no choice but to quietly leave.

If you include someone who takes up a lot of time, energy or other resources, you may exclude people who needed a share of that, but who are less overtly demanding.

If you include people who are always massively late, you may frustrate, demoralise and ultimately lose the people who turned up in good time and good faith.

If you include someone who is vocally intolerant and bigoted, you may well exclude people who find that behaviour unbearable.

If you include people who are exploitative and there for what they can get you exclude people who cannot afford to be treated as a resource in that way. This includes issues of emotional labour.

What happens all too often is that people who make the most fuss, who are most demanding and most able to assert themselves get what they want out of situations. It is the people who are willing to be emotionally manipulative who will demand a place for themselves even when they manifestly do not deserve one. It is easy to end up excluding quieter and less demanding people who vote with their feet when faced with things they can’t bear. Those exclusions may be invisible – it seems like they’ve just given up or gone away, not that they have been driven away.

What we include, what we tolerate, and who we allow informs who we don’t get to keep. It can be easy to lose sight of that. A community is the sum of its members, and when we prioritise the ones who are most demanding, the cost may not be immediately apparent.

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Disability and loss of power

Disability is a loss of power. At the most obvious level, it is the loss of scope to do what is considered normal in the way the majority are able to do it. That in turn often creates a loss of opportunity. For many people, disability means poverty, it means a massive disadvantage in terms of economic power. It can also mean a loss of social power, as a result of being excluded or ignored. It can mean people feeling entitled to act in positions of power over you – speaking for you, telling you what’s best for you, what you need, what you are allowed and how much the healthier consensus folk are willing to budge to accommodate you.

What makes this extra difficult is that it can’t all be fixed. There are some disabilities that will keep you powerless and outside of things no matter how good the infrastructure is. If your problems are extreme and continuous, the loss of power can be absolute. There are times when we may need people to speak for us and to make decisions for us – for myself, if I’m deep in a panic attack, I often need other people to do things for me in the short term. To speak and act for me until I can speak and act for myself again. And then to give me that power back. To be unable for a while does not mean being unable forever, and if we don’t recognise how shifting these experiences can be, we take more power from people.

If we’re interested in inclusivity, then the power issues need considering. How do we give more power to a person who has lost power in this way? Listening is important. Being willing to hear what changes would help rather than being unwilling to inconvenience ourselves. The power to not be inconvenienced by change is a power held by people for whom everything is working just fine already. The experience of being exiled because nothing will change is a loss of power.

Speed is often a problem. Simply allowing people more time to respond, to deal with things and so forth can make a lot of odds. Many disabilities impact on people’s energy levels, their personal power and scope to get things done. Making a person move at a pace that they can’t move at further takes power from them.

We need to be alert to economic powerlessness, or the things we are doing become hobbies for the comfortable, and we can have no real communities. Poverty is not always visible or self announcing. Those who are not in poverty can have real trouble imagining what poverty means. Again, the people with the power are often in a position to ignore the problems of the people with no power, and to put their convenience ahead of inclusion.

If you have the power to exclude people by not trying to accommodate them, you have the power in a situation. Too often, people struggling for the means to participate are treated as though they have all the power, as though rights afforded to them mean a loss of power for everyone else. Accommodating someone is not a loss of power. Giving someone else the means to participate is not a loss of power to the majority, and it should not function to exclude anyone else. Too often, those who have power mistake being asked to empower others for being disempowered, and that’s not what’s going on.

It is so important to look properly at who has power and who does not. It is so important to know what kind of power we have and how that power impacts on others.


All Ages Communities

Being in the school system tends to culture us into associating with people who are within a year of our own age. For a lot of people, this habit continues through life, creating generation gaps and a lack of social cohesion. There are assumptions about what different ages and life stages mean. As a consequence, most social activity is either child free, or revolves around amusing the kids. Teenagers are expected to go off and do their own thing. Older people aren’t even present, much of the time.

Some events and locations will try to get round this by providing crèches and amusements for the younger folk, freeing up their parents to do the things. This of course still means dividing people by age.

All of this is very much on my mind because I’ve just come back from Lincoln’s Asylum – the biggest steampunk gathering in the country. It’s an all ages activity, in the sense that people of all ages can actively participate (some of the evening things are 18+ but given how many things are totally  accessible to younger folk, this isn’t a problem).  Kids really get into it, with costumes, and enthusiasm for many of the events.

What really affected me, was talking to older women who were not steampunks, but who were eyeing up attendees at the event. One woman said to me, “This is amazing, I’m 60 and there are people here who are older than me, and they’re dressed up and clearly having a fantastic time.” Of course Victorian based attire looks great on older folk in a way that modern clothing doesn’t. The assumptions about what older people can and should wear, in all other contexts, are both dull and restrictive, but steampunk elders can be as punked, glamorous, outrageous, playful and innovative as anybody else.

In most contexts for women, there’s a lot of pressure to appear young (while not falling into the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ trap). We’re supposed to be sexy if we look young enough, and to cover up if we don’t. But not too sexy, so as to avoid the ‘slut’ trap. When we are older, we are to hide sags, wrinkles, grey hair etc as best we can. We are not to celebrate our aging. I love that in steampunk spaces none of this applies. The results are varied, wild, unpredictable and deeply inclusive of all kinds of ways of being female. There’s also an abundance of space to play with gender representation and identity as well, which is incredibly liberating.

It seems mad to me that we so often have so much age-based segregation within our societies. Communities gain breadth, depth and long term stability when they can accommodate people at all life stages. It’s a very different thing being in a space you know will always have room for you, rather than being conscious of an obligation to grow out of it at some point. It’s good to be in a space that genuinely makes everyone who wants to be there welcome, so long as they uphold the one rule – be splendid. I love what happens when the default is inclusion, and look forward to the scope for getting older disgracefully.

I suspect that no matter how old I get, I will always be a filthy urchin at heart, so I‘m going to need the spaces that won’t try and shoehorn me into a twin set and a sensible haircut.


Life on the margins

8pm on a Friday night. My hands are too sore for crafting or music. I’m too tired to concentrate on reading. The rest of my body is too stiff to even consider going out anywhere, and even assuming I could push through that, the flatlining of my brain makes me dreadful company. Who can I ask to spend time with me when I’m like this? And so I sit in weary silence and look at the rain, and fail to flag up even to the people I’m living with that I’m sad and sore and lonely. This is not unusual for the end of the week.

What worries me is the knowledge that I’m a pretty minor case. Most of my issues are intermittent, meaning I get good days. I get patches when I can pull my attention together enough to be sociable, and when I have enough energy to go out and do the sorts of fun things that other people do. Many people are in this sort of state full time, always in too much pain, always short of energy, always depressed and otherwise struggling to engage. All the things I can’t do much of the time because they start too late, or are too tough for other reasons… there are people who never have an option on those things. And I know how much of a fight it can be getting people to accommodate me, over things like not being able to do late meetings. ‘Normal’ wins most of the time, and the preferences of the many tend to make it seem ok not to bother with fitting me in. Rare are the places where I’m so essential that setting something up to accommodate me seems worthwhile. Again, it’s not just going to be me who experiences this.

I know when it comes to issues around depression and exhaustion that there are a lot of people who go quiet. They don’t mention there was a problem until it’s dealt with, often. There can be lots of reasons – pride and the desire to hang on to what little dignity remains, not having the energy to even start the conversation. Knowing that things probably won’t be fettled to accommodate you. I wish I knew how to step up to that, to better express that if a hand goes up I might spot the difference between waving and drowning, and I’m certainly going to try.

Physical barriers (stairs and no lifts) are not the only reasons people can find themselves excluded. It’s terribly easy to exclude anyone who does not conform to a standard of mobility (bodily mobility and car access) affluence (can you even afford to get there? Can you turn up to that place wearing the kind of clothes you own?) energy levels (because 8pm is just not a good time to start things for some people). Having young children, and not having on-demand child care can push some people out. Events that become male dominated because women don’t feel ok to turn up because they don’t feel safe in that part of town at that time of night. Places you can’t get to on public transport.

Of course it’s impossible to run everything to accommodate every possible need. But it’s nice when just now and then there’s a bit of flexibility to accommodate the known needs of people who have said they would like to turn up, but have issues. There’s a kind of tyranny in normality that means if you can’t fit with what’s on offer, and you don’t expect to be heard, you just shut up and go away and don’t get involved. Which is a lonely sort of outcome, and means that places of activity can have a very narrow selection of people involved in them.

I find it really funny when groups of people who claim to be tolerant and inclusive (and I can think of several) can’t find any flexibility at all to deal with the fact that I just can’t handle late evening meetings. I’m sure if they thought I was ‘properly’ disabled, they’d go to more effort to fit me in, but I’m just a sore, tired woman who can’t handle late nights, and somehow that makes it ok to just go ahead and have the meetings without me. Those who suffer invisibly – the mentally unwell, those in pain – are easily dismissed, because the problem isn’t visible, so the exclusion isn’t so visible, and depressed people tend not to be very good at standing up for themselves. The less obviously someone suffers, the easier it is not to bother with it, because no one can see you letting them down, and apparently that makes it ok, in some circles.