I have read both of Jenny Lawson’s (The Bloggess) books, and actually laughed so hard I cried because I could seriously relate. I read her blog, too. So, as I was looking at my son’s Senior Pictures from earlier this year, I was reminded of her post about Rory, the taxidermied raccoon that is traveling the world as a stand-up poster board cutout. Now, I didn’t have a poster board cutout of Rory when my son’s senior pictures were taken earlier this school year. BUT – I digitally created what I thought it would look like if he had actually been there….
Over the weekend, I finally did something I had been contemplating for years. I used a permanent dye on my hair to make it purple. I had used a temporary dye over the summer a few years ago, and liked the way it looked, but didn’t go for permanent because I was about to start a teaching career. Schools tend to frown on teachers with hair colors that do not usually naturally occur in the human population.
However, since becoming disabled, I had started thinking more and more about going back to purple. At first, I resisted because I was job hunting after having to leave my teaching career due to my disability. Feeling as though I was maneuvered out of teaching after my diagnosis, I have been very up front on those “optional” EEOC disclosure statements letting potential employers know I have a disability. As more and more of the 150+ job applications I have sent out have been either ignored or rejected – despite my Master’s Degree, tons of experience in a variety of fields – having an “interview ready” appearance became less and less important.
More and more, I started noticing the way people stared at me when I was in public. For one thing, more often than not, I have a pronounced limp due to the damage that Psoriatic Arthritis has wrought to my spine and hips. PsA has also caused other damage that affects my ability to walk without pain (plantar fasciitis), my ability to grasp things without dropping them, often in public (carpal tunnel, peripheral neuropathy, tennis elbow, trigger finger), and has caused me to be extremely fatigued almost all the time. So, when the pain is too great, I have to use one of the motorized carts at the store. Because I am also plus-sized, that gets the most stares. I even hear muttered comments about “fat, lazy people,” which grow even louder when I also use my SNAP card to buy groceries for me and my son at said store.
Friday, after receiving a huge batch of emails stating I “wasn’t right for the position” and having encountered ableism and disdain at the workforce solutions office, I had had enough. I called my stylist and friend and told her I was done. I was ready to go purple. See, people have been staring at me for all the wrong reasons. Because of how I walk, because of how I dress (comfort is key due to constant pain), because of my size, because I keep my hair super short due to migraines (which is culturally not as accepted where I live), for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with who I am, and all about other peoples’ judgment. I had had enough. I decided I wanted to take control. By golly, if people were going to stare at me, I was going to give them a REAL REASON to stare, one that I control and has everything to do with how I see myself, and not what judgments and bias they have ascribed to me. I wanted people to stare at me because I look fine as f*ck with purple hair, not because they pitied me or had scorn for me.
Through something as simple as hair dye, I have wrested control of how I am seen in the world from others and placed it squarely back where it belongs – in my own control.
I had to boost the color detection in the photo to show how purple my hair is. I will take photos in better light once I am allowed to wash it again. LOL. One good thing about having lots of gray hair, my hair is multiple shades and brightnesses of purple, making it look almost like purple fire on top of my head. Yes, please stare. I know it’s all about the hair!
So, a thread on twitter regarding #orangegate raised some points. I commented, and was asked for a clarification. I posted one, but it was not accessible for all. My apologies for not responding in a format accessible to all. I am still fighting my own, internalized ableist tendencies in the form of considering how different people will be able to interact with my content. So here is a more accessible version. (And, as I state multiple times, I am not trying to speak FOR all people whom this issue affects. I am just trying to encapsulate what I see the as differences in the issues being argued. If you would like to clarify, rebutt, or correct me, please feel free to leave a *civil* comment. Thank you.)
Background: Here is the thread that started this new-ish conversation.
@cartooninperson asked me for an explanation of why I (and by extension, all of us) were continuing to bring up points and rebuttals. Knowing my reply was too long to fit in a 140 character format, I typed it into paint and saved it as a .jpeg file. However, that method is not accessible for everyone, and it is hard to read. So I will transcribe my response into text here:
What seems to be happening here is that you are arguing one point, many of us are arguing another. Those of us who are stating the oranges should stay on shelves are pointing out that his product is accessible to us in that particular type of packaging. Many of the people who are stating the oranges should be pulled have outright stated that it doesn’t matter what is good for PWDs, anyway. We have been called wastes of oxygen, told not to breed, told we are less than human, and that what we want or need is of no consequence. That we should just suck it up and deal with not having fresh oranges. Other people are piping up that the oranges should go because the packaging is wasteful. However, this is not the entire truth.The packages are reusable and they could be made of biodegradable plastic. Furthermore, we are pointing out that there are many other products with much less nutritional value that consume more energy to be made shelf-stable and then be packaged in wasteful packaging, and no one is calling for THEM to be pulled from the shelves. I cannot speak for all PWDs, but I have a hard time opening those types of packages (meaning the yucky oranges in syrup that are in individual plastic bowls with a film of cellophane on top that I mentioned in a previous tweet), AND I wind up spilling the juice everywhere once I do get them open. So, I do not buy them. However, many of us love oranges and fresh fruit and enjoy the independence of being able to buy oranges that we don’t then have to ask for someone else to peel for us. As I and many others have stated before, it’s not like people are always around, it is demeaning and changes the dynamic between friends/lovers if we have to keep asking for stuff like this, and it is frustrating to have to wait for it to be convenient for someone else to come peel the orange. Many of our doctors advise that fresh fruit is ALWAYS better than canned or juice (another argument others have made – that we should make do with those). The more you process an item, the more nutrition it loses. Now, we have also conceded that there could be more ecologically friendly accessible packaging for this product. However, we do not think the product should be pulled from the shelves outright until such packaging exists. That is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
What you seem to be arguing is not the same as what many of us are calling for. It all has to do with our needs that should be considered. From all this outcry, it is obvious that there is a market here ready and willing to buy pre-peeled oranges. But what you seem to be suggesting is that the product should be pulled now, that all commercialized packaging should be pulled now, and those foods only be reintroduced once eco-friendly packaging is available. (Please, feel free to correct me if I am misinterpreting your tweets.) So, what we are hearing is, those disabled people with dexterity and fine motor skills issues be damned, you can only have your oranges once there is eco-friendly packaging. Meanwhile, all those of us without dexterity or fine motor skills issues are going to sit over here and eat us some oranges. YUMMMMMMM. This may not be what was intended to be conveyed, but this is the message we are receiving. At least, this is what I am getting from all the tweets back and forth.
If anyone else who is in favor of the oranges staying wants to pipe in on anything I got wrong or that I did not add, please do so. I do not want to seem to be trying to speak FOR all others with dexterity/fine motor skills issues. And if I misstated your meaning, @cartooninperson, please feel free to pipe up. I am trying to explain what I see is happening here, in response to your query to me regarding how what we are arguing is different.
I hope this clears up for you why several of us are pushing back at you. If you’ll forgive the pun, it’s apples and oranges. We’re arguing about apples (the whole underlying issue/ableism/disrespect) while you are only focusing on the oranges themselves (or at least, this is the way it seems). Really, the two arguments are not the same at all.
In January, I had to resign from my teaching job due to my disability. It broke my heart to leave the students I considered “my babies,” but I had reached a point where I couldn’t get through a whole day of work without crying from the pain. In fact, most days, by the time I left the school, I could barely move.
If you haven’t read my bio yet, let me give you a nutshell description of my particular “flavor” of disability. I am physically disabled in that I have psoriatic arthritis that is attacking my thoracic spine, lower back, and hips. Bone is deteriorated, cartilage is gone, bones are fusing together – it’s a hot mess, to be blunt. Whether I am medicated or not, I hurt at all times. Continuing to teach at-risk youth who need me constantly leaning over them, squatting beside them, moving technology from a storage space on the upper floors down to my room, etc., was no longer an option. There were also some other things going on behind the scenes once I got diagnosed that made staying impossible. So, with heavy heart, I resigned.
I have been looking for another job for three months. I have been very open about the fact that I am disabled because I do not want to get into a situation where I waste my time and gas to go to an interview with a company that is not willing to make accommodations for disability. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that companies must make reasonable accommodations, corporations find ways to get around it. The language of the ADA is vague enough that companies can use the term “reasonable accommodation”, which can be quite subjective, to state they cannot make the accommodations that a person with disabilities has made. As has been pointed out, corporations have built physical requirements into their job descriptions that are exclusionary for people with disabilities (even when the physical requirement has nothing to do with doing the advertised job). I have a Master’s degree. I am currently looking for positions which utilize my experience as an education data analyst, administrative assistant, project manager, journalist, graphic designer, and writer, but I am increasingly running into physical requirements that I be able to stoop, carry 50+ pounds, stand and/or walk for long periods, and a host of other silly things that have nothing to do with the actual duties of the jobs for which I am applying.
Additionally, I am encountering another problem. I will apply for a job, have a recruiter or executive call me back very excited about my resume and cover letter, go through the whole phone-interview process, when it comes to that inevitable part:
“Now that I’ve talked about the job and what we are looking for, do you have any questions before we set up an in-person interview?” faceless employer asks.
I take a deep breath and reply, “Actually, yes. Your job description states a person in this job needs to carry 50+ lbs/walk and stand all day/etc., but I would like clarification as to how important this is for the position. Could you please explain how this requirement relates to the position as a whole?”
“Well, you know, just in case we need you to help with something else at some distant point in the future. Why do you ask?”
“Well, is it a deal-breaker? You see, I have a physical disability that prevents me from doing those extremely physical aspects of your job posting. I can do the computer- and phone-based work just fine. In fact, I can do everything listed EXCEPT carry 50+ lbs/stand and walk all day/etc.”
“Well, uh, hmm, I…” (clears throat nervously, stammers out a few words) “You know, those are good questions. Let me check on that and we’ll get back to you on it. Thanks for your time.”
“But wait,” I say, confusedly. “What about the in-person interview you said you wanted to schedule?”
Then, a few days will go by, and I will either not hear anything, or I will get a generic email thanking me for my time, but stating I am either “over qualified,” “under qualified,” or the company is “pursuing candidates who more closely match our vision for the position.” At one point, I got two separate rejection emails from the same company – one stated I was under qualified, the other that I was overqualified. Both emails were regarding the same position.
So, it wasn’t so much that my academic or experiential qualifications were in question, I get the feeling it has more to do with the fact that I’m “too disabled” for the position.
This mode of thinking among abled employers is a major barricade to persons with disabilities being able to secure positions in the workforce. Many people assume the problem is lack of skills or ability, when in fact the only thing limiting us is how abled people think of persons with disabilities.