When I first came across Karin Hitselberger’s writing online, I was in a bad place. She opened up my eyes to the fact that being disabled is nothing to be ashamed of. Her words helped me come to terms with my chronic depression and I’m glad I found her. I’m sure she will make you think differently about disability too. Over to her.
As a disabled rights activist, what are your top three pet peeves?
First off, I hate it when non-disabled people police disabled people’s language and experience. This applies to anyone from any dominant culture telling a marginalized person how to talk about their experiences, and how to refer to themselves. For example, I identify as disabled, and I still get non-disabled people telling me all the time that I should use a different term like a person with a disability or differently-abled. But to me, disability is an identity, it’s not a bad thing that needs to be avoided or danced around. It’s okay to say the word disabled.
Next, I can’t stand misplaced pity and inspiration porn. These are two different things but they kind of go hand-in-hand.
I absolutely hate it when people feel sorry for me for no other reason than the fact that I’m in a wheelchair. I also hate it when people tell me I’m inspiring for doing everyday things like going to the grocery store. I don’t exist to make you feel better by reminding you that your life could always be worse.
In fact, I don’t think of my life in a negative way. Of course, I’m okay with being an inspiration if I’m actually doing something inspirational. But calling me inspirational just for existing is really patronizing.
My third pet peeve is people who deny that privilege exists. I’m not blaming you for having privilege, but when you pretend as if it’s not a real thing, it’s really frustrating and it invalidates the experiences of so many people.
Many of us have gained weight in the pandemic. How can we deal with fatphobia in all its forms?
I think the biggest way to combat fatphobia is to constantly remind ourselves that there are so many worse things to be than fat. In fact, I recently wrote a few essays on body politics. I call myself fat and I own it. What I have realized in my journey is that loving your body is not as important or as relevant as accepting your body.
You’re not going to love your body all the time, and that’s normal. But you have to accept that your body is the only body you will ever have. Being fat doesn’t make you any less human or deserving of respect, compassion, and love. Your size has nothing to do with your value as a person. If we can all remember this, I think the world would be a much better place.
What are your plans for the future?
I just got my Master of Social Work from Columbia University. I’m not 100% sure about what I want to do, but I know I want to integrate my activism and my writing into my social work practice. Right now, I am looking for ways to integrate all my interests and develop a niche in the field that works for me.
I’ve done internships in sexual and domestic violence, and I would like to combine that with my knowledge and interest in disability. What that means is, I want to look at people holistically, and take into account all of their identities and ways of moving through the world when I work with them as a social worker.
Finally, what steps can we take to be more inclusive towards disabled people?
To me, inclusivity starts with listening to other people’s experiences without judgment, without getting defensive, and learning from what they have to say. Making society more inclusive to disabled folks starts with combating ableism and other forms of oppression. All oppression is interconnected. We can’t combat ableism unless we are also combating sexism, racism, homophobia, and all other forms of oppression.
I often post selfies on social media because representation is one way in which we can change society’s response to disabled people. Society has to stop seeing disability as a negative thing and start understanding disability as an identity and a culture. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are plenty of disabled people that wish there was a cure for their disability. But I’m not one of them anymore. I don’t want a cure for my disability. What I want instead is a cure for all the ableism that exists in the world.
To be more inclusive, we have to change the way we think. We have to stop thinking about equality, and start thinking about equity.
Instead of focusing on treating everyone exactly the same, we have to acknowledge people’s differences without placing value on one way of being over another. It is fine to acknowledge that different people need different things to succeed in life. The problem is when one set of needs somehow makes a person better than somebody with a different set of needs.
Karin Hitselberger is a disability rights advocate, social worker, inclusive fashionista, writer, and speaker. You can connect with her at https://www.claimingcrip.com/.