Did Disabilism Lead to Death?

Shawn Gallaher died in a fire. He was locked in his apartment and couldn’t escape. Why? Because he is disabled and the building’s attendant care workers would frequently fail to leave the door in a way that he could come and go.

His death was probably preventable. If his attendants had followed his instructions to leave the door open, he may well have survived.

It also seems like he may have been being punished for being a drug user. Drug users should still be able to have visitors and come and go from their apartments as they please. Landlords and attendant care worker should not decide whether someone gets to leave their apartment. If he weren’t disabled, they wouldn’t have been able to restrict his access the way his friends say happened.

The CBC says: “It is not clear why Gallaher was allowed to be locked in, though friends admit he had a drug problem and had been letting dealers into the building.” I think it is important to notice the two really disturbing things happening here. Firstly, removing someone’s access into and out of their apartment is not an appropriate way to deal with addiction issues – it is abusive. Secondly, it is a violation of housing legislation to simply lock someone into or out of their unit or to decide what guests tenants are or are not allowed to have.

Imagine a non-disabled person being locked in their apartment on purpose and then dying in a fire. There would probably be a lot of media coverage and everyone would know it was wrong.

What would justice for Shawn Gallaher look like?

For the CBC story, click here.

Ford, Fatness and Disablism

While this post predates the crack scandal, I want to encourage people to read it and also to think about how crack is being used in the same way that fatness was previously. While people are scandalized by Ford’s crack use, no one cares about his racism and homophobia that also came out in the video (although, arguably these aren’t news because we all knew this about him). Crack users are often made out to be convenient scapegoats and the Left is using some really troubling tactics when they go after Ford for his drug use much in the same way it did his weight. Again, Ford is an oppressive, rich, asshole who has to go but those things are independent of his being fat and a crack smoker.

I have been incredibly frustrated for a while about the trite, lazy attacks on Rob Ford because he is fat. There are so many good reasons to attack Rob Ford: his austerity measures, his fucked up neo-liberal ideology, his attacks on marginalized communities (p.s. this does not include cyclists), his jerk of a brother, his love of the rich and hatred of the poor, his despicable calls to make Toronto refugee free, his love of cops, his anti-unionism or his overall threat to the few good things that we have in this city (parks, libraries, daycare, graffiti, public housing, youth programs and lunch programs, etc.); rather, I am writing it about his body. That people focus on his body really pisses me off.

A recent Huffington Post article “Why Rob Ford’s Weight Is a Political Issue” by Ben Johnson argues that Ford’s size is relevant to critiques of his politics. In this post, I argue that this position is sizist, disablist and dangerous.

Fatness is a disability
Fatness is medicalized and fat people experience oppression based on the fact that their bodies do not meet normative cultural standards. Like most disabilities, fatness has not always been a disability but it is now. (There are many resources that deal specifically with sizism [see Big Fat Blog] but for the purposes of this article, I will discuss the issue of fatness and sizism within the broader context of disablism).

Blame and Shame
Johnson says that “it would be impossible not to assign Ford at least some of the blame for getting that big.” There is a presumption that fatness is self induced and, therefore, both the individual’s “fault” as well as a justification for the oppression of fat people.

It is not fat people’s ‘fault’ they are fat. This is an individualizing perspective that negates both the fact that fatness is a social construct as are the barriers fat people face. What is considered fat is arbitrary and shifts with cultural norms. A few hundred years ago, fatness was considered the ideal. This ideal did not shift with shifting medical information; rather, it shifted with social pressures.

There is nothing shameful about being fat – about being disabled. What is shameful is a society that judges certain kinds of bodies because they do not meet arbitrary and oppressive standards of desirability and productivity.

Even if blame could be assigned to individuals, it is irrelevant to their social positioning once they are disabled. Say you are driving too fast, flip your car and get a spinal chord injury. This was a predictable possible outcome. So, now you are a paraplegic. Are you less disabled because the accident was your fault?

The Slippery Slope
Questioning someone’s ability to make decisions, hold political office and have personal restraint because that person is fat is disablism.

The argument that Ford is unfit to govern because he is at risk for a number of health conditions is a dangerous one. It endangers not only disabled people but many other groups of people. Johnson says that Health Canada names obesity as a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Health Canada also lists age as a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. So, by Johnson’s argument, we should really make sure not to have men over 45 or women who are postmenopausal or over 55 be mayor. It is just too risky to have them in office.

Family history is also a primary cause for heart disease and stroke. Imagine what it would mean to implement a system of genetic screening into the determination of mayor. This argument has eugenic implications.

There have been others who argue that women can’t lead because PMS makes them too emotional (and post menopausal women are already out because of that heart disease and stroke thing). So, women shouldn’t be able to take office.

These kinds of arguments open the door to argue that any group of marginalized people can’t take office because they are inferior.

Disabled people should be an integrated and integral part of the fight against Ford. In many ways we are active in the fight (through groups like DAMN and OCAP), but in other ways many disabled people, especially fat people, feel demeaned and alienated by these petty, disablist discourses. Please, we have so many strong arguments against this guy, let’s use them.

There are a whole lot of reasons Ford shouldn’t be in office; his fatness isn’t one of them.

In-text links used in this post:

“Why Rob Ford’s Weight Is a Political Issue”

Big Fat Blog

Immigration Victory – But the Battle Continues

The Maeng family is going to be able to stay in Canada. This is great news for them and their community. For their story, click here. While there are success stories, from time to time, about disabled people being able to stay in Canada despite immigration policies. In these instances, like with the Maengs, the government makes an exception to the rule that disabled people aren’t allowed to immigrate if they are going to be a ‘burden’ on the health system. This is a disgusting policy. It is also disgusting that disabled people have to get media attention and public support in order to overcome this disablist policy.

Of course, there are many problematic policies in the immigration system: it is racist, sexist, classist and disablist and all of these need to be fought.