Blogging Against Disablism Day: on being a disabled blogger

by Amy Clare // 1 May 2010, 00:00

Tags: blogging, disability, disabled, health

Though my guest blogging month is over, I'm doing this extra guest post purely for the occasion of Blogging Against Disablism Day.

As my contribution to today, I’d like to highlight just how challenging it can be for disabled people to blog at all, never mind blog against disablism. Blogging is usually an add-on activity, something healthy, able-bodied people can do in addition to their day jobs, social lives and hobbies; for disabled people, simply living life can be difficult enough, and blogging about it is a challenge at best and impossible at worst. I hope this post will help to fight unintentional disablism in the blogosphere, which can result from a simple lack of understanding about disabled bloggers’ lives.

Disability is often oversimplified and misunderstood; it encompasses not just those disabilities which are well-known (such as blindness or wheelchair use) but also a myriad of chronic medical conditions characterised by a wide variety of debilitating symptoms. My own disability consists of two long-term conditions which, combined, cause many symptoms; this disability is very often invisible in real life, and, like every disability, it is always invisible on the internet.

There are multiple ways in which having a disability can affect a person’s ability to blog. Firstly, for those with physical conditions, actually sitting at a computer typing can be a struggle - there is no such thing as pain-free computing for many people, including myself. In fact there aren’t many disabilities which don’t present an obstacle to computer use, or which don’t require some kind of specialist equipment (often expensive) to enable it.

Most long-term medical conditions also involve chronic fatigue, which is exacerbated by nearly all activities. The fatigue is qualitatively different from ‘normal’ tiredness and is only slightly lessened, not eliminated, by sleep or rest. The spoon theory describes how this works in a very eloquent way. Any activity, including blogging, is likely to physically tire a disabled or chronically ill person much faster than it would an able-bodied, healthy person. Moreover, the consequences of ‘pushing through’ this tiredness can be very serious for symptoms.

Debilitating fatigue, like disability itself, is not always physical; many chronically ill people are familiar with the dreaded ‘brain fog’, characterised by feeling sleepy, being unable to concentrate or make decisions, having memory lapses, and so on. The activities involved in blogging - reading and researching, thinking around a topic and formulating arguments, writing and editing, formatting and publishing, moderating comments, thinking up and writing replies - all require attention and concentration, and keeping the brain fog sufficiently at bay to do these things is always a challenge, and sometimes impossible. Mental exhaustion is always looming, and can come on very suddenly, with consequences often more unpleasant than their physical counterparts.

Faced with such difficulties, disabled or chronically ill would-be bloggers may have to ask themselves a few questions before they start, such as:


  • Do I have the mental and physical capability, ‘spoons’ or energy reserves to attempt this activity at all right now?

  • Do I have all the gadgets/equipment I need to help me do it (for example specialist software, ergonomic chair and/or desk)? Do I need another person to help? What about medication?

  • What will have to be sacrificed so I have the energy and capability to do it (for example, going out, chatting to friends online, chores, hobbies)?

  • When can I schedule necessary rest breaks? Will I be letting people down if I have to stop and rest?

  • What if I accidentally overdo it and end up severely exacerbating my symptoms?

  • What if I find out that I can’t cope with this activity? How will I deal with the frustration of not being able to do yet another thing I want to do?

  • How much time will I have to set aside after the activity is finished, so that I can rest and recover fully?

These are just some potential issues; there are undoubtedly many more.


I definitely found my guest-blogging month a physical and mental struggle, but I consider myself quite lucky, compared to those people whose voices the blogosphere will never hear due to the severity of their symptoms. Were it not for The F Word giving me a guest slot, my voice would go unheard too, as taking on board a blog of my own is beyond my capabilities; hopefully they can do the same for other disabled feminists.

I mentioned above that every disability is invisible on the internet - meaning, blog posts do not come with a report detailing all the difficulties its author experienced while writing and moderating it. Fighting disablism in the blogosphere, then, necessitates awareness, in the mind of the able-bodied reader or fellow blogger, that the post they are reading may have come from a disabled writer, that this writer may have any number of the problems described above, and that ultimately, a person’s disability may require more attention than the internet does.

Comments From You

AngelRachelt // Posted 01 May 2010 at 00:30

Surely one of the beauties of blogging is that the author can invest as much time/energy/devotion (spoons) as he or she likes? So, theoretically it could be easier to find a voice over the internet, because of the flexibility of the medium and because of the absence of visual cues which causes readers to make assumptions about the author? What do you think Amy?
I fully accept that to be a successful blogger or possibly feel like one has a voice, one may need readers. And it is difficult to acquire readers if blogging isn't regular.

Kate // Posted 01 May 2010 at 00:37

Thanks for this great post! I have an invisible chronic disability too and I really associate with what you've written. It's brilliant that you were able to write it.

MsChin // Posted 01 May 2010 at 08:32

Excellent points and I salute you for raising tham so effectively, but there are other barriers too. For example, many disabled people live in poverty and/or are older people. The costs of computer equipment & assistive devices and getting training in how to use them are huge barriers as is the cost & availablity of internet access (some rural areas still do not have even have broadband).
And many (most?) websites are not disability-friendly, including this one. Where are the accessibility functions if I need to see this page in larger font (but don't know about the Ctrl+ function) or need to change the colour of the background and/or font, so the site is visible to me?
And how do people with non-visible disabilities, for example learning disabilities or head injuries, participate in the fast-moving blogs like Comment is Free, which move on before they have had chance to formulate what they want to say?
To be inclusive, we perhaps have to listen to what disabled people say and always keep in mind that there is a wide range of disabilities.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 01 May 2010 at 08:43

Great post, thank you! Very true.

Amy Clare // Posted 01 May 2010 at 10:53

AngelRachelt:

Thanks for your comment!

I'll assume that your comment applies to those people who are able to do at least some blogging. The internet isn't really as flexible as you might think: as you say, if you have a blog, and you want readers, you do have to update it fairly regularly. If weeks or months go by without a post, people will quickly move on, unless they're particularly loyal. A blog also requires attention, such as moderating comments (which can be switched off, but this may also put readers off), which also takes up time and energy, and means more work at the computer. It is often far better than some other more 'traditional' forms of communication but I think we need to stop seeing the internet - revolutionary though it is - as providing a voice for everyone, because it doesn't.

The absence of visual cues can actually be a hindrance, as readers will assume the blogger is able-bodied (as this is the default). The invisibility of many disabilities in real life causes a lot of problems for people with these disabilities, and these problems can translate online - people may make insensitive comments, they may get impatient and not understand why the blog isn't being updated, their comment hasn't appeared, the author isn't replying to them etc...

I can understand the attraction of the anonymity element of blogging, the feeling that no-one knows you're disabled so no-one will judge you on it - but at the same time this can be dangerous, because a) it perpetuates the idea that blogger = able bodied, and b) it means people will treat you as though you're able-bodied, and expect things which you might not be able to do.

If we wouldn't hide our gender or our race online, then why hide our ability?

MsChin:

Those are some great points and I agree whole heartedly! As for the accessibility of The F Word itself, this is something that the permanent collective will no doubt discuss now you have brought it up.

MsChin // Posted 01 May 2010 at 19:43

Thanks for taking a new look at the F-Word website, Amy!

I care very much that some voices are missing from feminist activism, particularly those of the disabled. When we're discussing rape prosecutions, for example, it never occurs to us that women with learning disabilities or women with enduring mental health problems are less likely to get justice because of their disability: perhaps they are deemed 'unreliable witnesses' or the crown prosecution (usually rightly) decides to spare the woman the ordeal of cross-examination in the witness box. If we demand more convictions for rape & sexual offences, we need to consider disabled women's views as well.

Kaz // Posted 02 May 2010 at 16:52

Thank you for this post! It really spoke to me, as a disabled blogger who has a lot of difficulty with some aspects of it because of the disability. Because of social anxiety, weird communication issues I can't really pin down, brain fog (at least, I get something very similar to what you described due to autism), autistic interest patterns, and other issues months can go by without me being able to put together a post, to say nothing of the mess that trying to answer comments can be... and I admit I've spent some time looking at some of the frequently-updating disability blogs and gone "they can do it! why can't I?" So this was something of a necessary wake-up call for me, that not being able to post regularly because of disability is perfectly okay, even if other people with "worse" issues than mine (and how are you even going to judge that?) can do it.

mornington // Posted 03 May 2010 at 17:16

Thank you for this.

The internet is a wonderful thing for me - it means I don't have to waste precious energy traveling to the university library & lugging journals around, it allows me to communicate although I can't leave my house... but sometimes it is bloody difficult to keep up with daily life *and* the internet, let alone actually blog about it as well.

Mercy // Posted 03 May 2010 at 20:40

Blogs don't have to be updated frequently: this is a myth started by social media/SEO gurus who spend all their working day on-line and assume everyone else does too. The only blogs I have seen updated daily are ones written by a team of bloggers or ones written by people who spend their entire working day on-line.

Consistency helps so that people get a feel for how often you update your blog and if your blog has an RSS Feed (if you use a blog package like WordPress or Google's blogger your blog will have an RSS feed automatically), readers can see when you've updated without having to visit your blog. Encourage readers to use the RSS feed and mention on your 'About' page that you won't be updating frequently (you don't have to say why). I use RSS feeds to keep up to date with many blogs that aren't updated frequently and some of these may even go a few months without update. Manage your readers' expectations and they'll stick with you.

Interesting the point about justice has been raised. Clare Allen in The Guardian has raised the point that people who have been hospitalised with a mental health problem, even if they are no longer in hospital and the mental health problem has stabilised and/or is under control, are prevented from doing jury service. Just yet another barrier...

Josh Vander Vies // Posted 04 May 2010 at 19:15

This is a great article Amy, and you make excellent points.

Because of all the potential issues you highlight, I think a blog can be a great equaliser for a disabled person. Although an internet voice takes work to build, I would argue that blogs provide unprecedented access to the public, for the disabled.

We often hear that disabled people are shut up at home and ignored. If they have a blog - who cares: they won't be ignored for long!

I wonder what we can do to encourage more disabled people to blog? A co-operative blog is a great suggestion in your article, and I think that individual blogs are also essential to building a strong disabled internet voice.

I am a Canadian Paralympian and have been working on my own blog for over three months now. As I tackle sport and disability topics, I think it is also important that I remember to hold myself to high standards of content and post frequency. We also need to remember that disabled people, like all people, need to push themselves and take risks - to chase success.

AngelRachel // Posted 04 May 2010 at 19:41

Thanks for responding Amy. I agree with some of what you say, but I don't think it's necessary to make identity explicit. You use the examples of race and gender and those aren't universally made explicit, people choose all sorts of identifites online. I, for instance, make my gender explicit within my blog, but don't disclose my sexual orientation or disability status. Mainly because it isn't relevant a lot of the time.

I've worked in disability rights for about seven years and do think the internet is a great step forward. Don't get me wrong - I work in marketing and have endless conversations about how online solutions can't be used in isolation to ensure disabled people aren't excluded, but I think the opportunities are huge. A friend of mine is a disabled researcher and she has great joy about not going to the library and having to carry a dozen books home!

I wrote my masters dissertation on the benefits of social networking for disabled people and think blogging is one way of generating social capital. As technology moves on, and hopefully the current govt's commitment to broadband for everyone is sustained, and more people will be able to take part online.

Most of all though, I'm glad to see disabled voices on the F Word website. So many mainstream feminist websites are now recognising the need to hear these voices. I would love to see more of the debates that disabled women have, on these websites. Let's discuss mental health service users not being able to serve on juries, what about the fact we're not allowed to serve in parliament either? Let's talk about the fact that more men than women get rehabilitation after spinal injury - because they shout louder. What about the women that are denied contraception because they have a learning disability? Or the women lose their jobs because they have breast cancer?

I really want to see more discussion about disability affects women and the women's movement. Much like we've seen black and minority ethnic women's discourse included in the agenda.

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