I know I haven’t written in a while. It’s thanks to various personal issues, a nasty case of writer’s block, and laziness. While I haven’t written anything of publishable quality in the last few months, I’ve kept my ear to the ground. Something I’ve noticed especially recently from several disabled activists is the growing trend of #JustAskDontGrab. While I feel this hashtag, part of a larger campaign to assert the independence of disabled people, can be a valuable teaching tool, I have my reservations. I whole-heartedly support the campaign to educate misunderstanding abled-bodied people – Mr Ableds – about disability #JustAskDontGrab supports but I feel I wouldn’t serve the cause if I didn’t raise my concerns.
Fellow disabled people will know what I mean about the irritation we feel when someone helps you do things without properly engaging with you about it. Social Media and Twitter especially have given rise to the #JustAskDontGrab campaign which, at the very least, aims to raise awareness about unwanted and unnecessary help from other people. At the risk of setting a cat among pigeons, I think we (the Disabled Community) should be wary not to overuse this powerful social tool into scaring off people’s humanity.
In the ideal world, disability and other issues do not limit one’s ability to experience society just as much as the next person. This is not the ideal world. In the world we live in, everyone has their challenges and the things they have to overcome; disability is just one. We would all benefit from getting help from other people when we need it. To think that we can function entirely without help is as naïve as it is reckless. We need people in our corner. We should be doing everything in our power to attract people to us while still maintaining our independence.
#JustAsk as Teacher & Carrot
So much of ableist belief stems from a lack of education of what disability is at its core. Part of the reason I love the term ‘disabled’ specifically is the extent to which it doesn’t shy away from highlighting society’s ableist shortcomings. Rather than emphasising the ’strengths versus weaknesses’ argument that terms like ‘differently-abled’ do, ‘disabled’ highlights the extent to which these shortcomings prevent a person’s full and active participation in society. At the same time, though, ‘disabled’ has connotations of being ‘unable’ to do things.
Particularly as a wheelchair-user, it is easier to forget that everyone is disabled. We all have things that we can and cannot do. I write but I can’t play the violin or sing opera. I know opera who can’t write and violinists who can’t put pen to paper. That’s fine. We have our strengths and weaknesses and that’s natural. Being born physically disabled and only knowing that perspective, it’s easy to forget that physically-abled people can see the way I navigate my environment as a ‘weakness.’ As irritating as it may be for someone like me to think their way of doing things is ‘weaker’ than others, it is from the perspective of Mr Abled watching us. By Mr Abled’s frame of reference, we are objectively ‘worse off.’ Mr Abled’s helping us to go somewhere, then, isn’t a rejection of our independence but as a caring, spontaneous offer to make our lives easier, stronger. It’s not about ’scoring social brownie points.’ It is fundamentally positive.
Where #JustAskDontGrab is a powerful, positive tool for social change is it provides an effective platform for the Disabled Community to communicate to the Mr Ableds of the world how our way of navigating the world is not ‘weaker’ but ‘different.’ Both are valid, individual ways of doing things. It helps to inform Mr Abled that what he perceives as a spontaneous act of charity to his fellow human can be deeply disempowering and, in some cases, dangerous. Rather than being ’spontaneously good,’ #JustAskDontGrab encourages dialogue between us and Mr Abled.
#JustAsk as Disciplinarian & Stick
In a world which is increasingly living online, it is easy for us to slip into the habit of unleashing our frustrations onto the inherently public space of social media. We’ve all had moments where we feel emotional about something and just want to share that feeling with others. It’s understandable, then, that there are many stories of frustration with the way a Mr Abled’s help ultimately caused emotional or physical problems for them. Given the hashtag’s popularity in relation to this type of thing, the extent to which this fury is intertwined with #JustAskDontGrab is understandable.
Moaning too much about how someone’s misunderstanding of your situation led them to take your arm and help you into the bus didn’t allow you to board yourself can cause new problems. Yes, 99% of these tweets don’t mention Mr Abled’s name but that doesn’t change the fact that Mr Abled’s spontaneous charity is now derided, consciously or unconsciously, by thousands of people. As social media evolves and expands together with #JustAskDontGrab, it is not unreasonable to assume that potential Mr Ableds come across someone’s bad day as a result of some Mr Other Abled’s spontaneous kind act. Especially considering that society is increasingly digital, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think that Mr Potential Abled is put off doing kind acts – note, I didn’t say ’spontaneous kind acts’ – for fear of being socially ridiculed. While #JustAsk may have prevented another Mr Abled being born, it also prevented any constructive, positive help. It shrank the assistance pool where it was expected to expand it.
#JustAsk for Social Interaction
Humans are naturally social creatures. We need to interact with each other to survive and to thrive. While all of us can do some things on our own, we will need to lean on others at some point in our lives. #JustAsk was created as part of a larger effort for disabled people to be better integrated into society. A large part of that social integration revolves around inter-personal interaction. The spirit of #JustAskDontGrab expresses the independence and abilities of the Disabled Community as a means of communicating humanity’s independent characteristics. Saturating a fantastic mechanism with what can be perceived as ‘hostility’ can push people away just as it strives to unite them.
While I support educating the Mr Ableds of the world about how disabled people, the physically disabled especially, are able to live independent, valid, and different lives. My biggest concern about #JustAsk is the extent to which misinterpretations of how some people use it can lead to the fragmenting of one’s relationship with society and the dangers it poses when one needs someone to lean on and they all run in the opposite direction.
#JustAskDontGrab has great potential to help change the Disabled Community’s fundamental relationship with ableist society. If used recklessly, it could cost the Disabled Community the humanity, compassion, and interaction all humans need.