Monday, May 10, 2010

normalising ableism (ahaha, like it's not already)

I like this article (it's from 2005); it's got some really lovely ideas, about creating your own paths, and educating and design through what people choose and it's a nice 'think outside the box' sort of article.

I just wish it didn't start with this:
In the park where we play, there are nicely laid out concrete paths, leading from the swings to the picnic tables, from the castle to the soccer field, from the water fountain to the bridge, from here to there, from A to B.

And then there are the real paths, the dirt ones, the ones that shoot out from the concrete to connect where people really go, to memorialize the real actions of children playing, to acknowledge the real patterns of living, of human purpose, of some honest destination.
Because those are the "real" paths, the ones you can only get to if you're temporarily able-bodied, if you, I don't know, can walk up over an uneven surface okay. And those are the "honest" destinations, the ones you can only get to, again, if you're temporarily able-bodied, and don't need that path to access those places because of, for example, wheels.

I mean, screw you if you need a path, obviously. If you're blind, or use a wheelchair, or a walking aide, or something. I don't know.

I'm not super experienced at talking about disablism/ablism, and I can suck sometimes at spotting it, so I apologise if this seems out of line! But mostly I am just sad that we're so focussed on 'everyone is equal until we use ourselves to BREAK FREE' that it means cool posts about thinking start out with something that so clearly says, 'we use ourselves to BREAK FREE except you nonTABs who don't exist.'


  1. Absolutely. I was just thinking this morning how a lot of "Be natural and free" ideas have this subtext that if you need "unnatural" aid then you're part of The Evil System (I was thinking about simplistic anti-pharmaceutical rhetoric, but I think the same basic principle applies) And the thing is, if you actually follow the philosophy they espouse and consider how people actually want to use the space rather than dictating it's usage top-down then accessibility should naturally come up as part of the conversation.

    Also I vaguely recall reading that there's mathematical equations that describe "desire lines" pretty accurately :)

  2. I live in Western Victoria and I remember this kind of thing when the Otway Fly (an awesome, highly accessible path through the treetops in ancient bushland) was built. People complained that majestic, untouched nature was being made accessible - because of course the bush tracks (and logging tracks and fire tracks) that you go to on foot or in your 4WD are untouched and just there naturally or something.

  3. yep, i thought the same when i read that article. i was looking up articles on desire lines, and there were also a good number of stupid sexist remarks, too. grr.

  4. @alias_sqbr - yeah, it's really something I'm now noticing a lot because I totally bought into the simple life/clean life rhetoric and now I'm kind of like "...WAIT A MINUTE."

    @lilacsigil - ahaha, how predictable, too.

    @nixwilliams - i got the link from yoooooouuu. i am...sort of morbidly interested to know in what way the remarks were sexist? (also ixnay on the upid-stay)

  5. oh, it's kind of interesting. like you point out, there's this whole idea that desire lines are a sign of sticking it to the system: they're non conformist, they're about going your own way (although really, the number of people it takes to make a marked track suggests otherwise). but also that they're practical, and thus rejecting the way we're forced to walk further to get to certain places. and you know who makes these trails? MEN MEN MEN MEN MANLY MEN and BOYS, although (iirc) women and girls are happy to use them once established. therefore, women and girls are being set up as impractical as opposed to practical, conformist as opposed to rebellious, followers as opposed to leaders (where practical, rebellious and leaders are deemed the positive side of the binary).

    however, it makes me think: i also feel like writing a bit about how following set paths also shows a willingness to be flexible or participate in something not of your own making - like, my choice to walk in a wide arc instead of taking the shortcut might mean a willingness to look at a building or garden in the way that the designer asks for us to look at it, it might be a choice to spend more time walking and enjoying my environment, it might be a decision not to erode the soil . . . or, like you say, it might actually be practical in and of itself.

    (p.s. 'stupid' is a bad word? sorry, had no idea, meant no offence.)

  6. p.p.s. oh, of course - as a word used to shame and bully people with learning difficulties, etc. i get it.