Blogging Against Disablism Day: on being a disabled blogger
by Amy Clare // 1 May 2010, 00:00
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?
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.