Today, it’s the Disability Day of Mourning. The day that the disabled community comes together to mourn all of those we have unjustly lost to ableism.
The main thing that we address on this day is filicide, and the continuing narrative the drives and justifies the murder of disabled people by their own family. It’s ironic that All In A Row, the play in which a non-verbal autistic child is represented by a grey puppet (and which has been a source of deep distress and emotional cost over the last few weeks), is continuing its run on this day.
Ironic, and devastating.
Devastating because it’s precisely this dehumanisation – portraying an autistic child as an inhuman, grey object that exists as a narrative device to create drama in someone else’s story – that fuels the high rates of abuse and murder that autistic people face. Add to that the fact that they are now using the pain and concerns of autistic people to market their play as ‘controversial’ (encouraging people to ‘see it for yourself and make up your mind’), and the exploitation and dehumanisation of autistic people continues apace.
Even as we fall silent and mourn today.
I think of the infamous video by Autism Speaks, in which a mother states, in front of her autistic child, that she considered committing a murder-suicide – and that the only thing that stopped her was concern for her non-autistic child. This then leads me to think of the narrative of pity and justification that surrounds parents who murder their disabled children.
It’s similar to the narrative that surrounds men who murder their wives – talk of how nice they were, how unassuming, how respected they were, how they loved their families, how they just ‘snapped’, how difficult it was for them – constantly pushing us to pity and understand them. There is little to no reporting of the abuse below the surface. And there is little to no thought for those who were actually the victims.
It’s an understanding that we, as disabled people, are not afforded. Society does not treat us with the compassion, respect or listening ear with which it treats our abusers.
Because, not that far beneath the surface, the world doesn’t see us as properly human – damaged humans, burdens, problems, maybe, but never fully-souled humans.
That’s why we’re dying.
And it’s not just filicide.
Filicide is what we immediately think of when we think of this day. But when I close, my eyes, I see all of those other people murdered by the world. And yes, I stand by that choice of wording: murdered.
I think of Carrie Anne Lucas, the disability rights attorney and activist, murdered by an insurance company that valued $2000 above her life.
I think of Oliver McGowan, murdered by a doctor who decided it was preferable to give him a psychotropic drug than to understand his autism and learning disabilities.
I think of Connor Sparrowhawk, Laughing Boy, murdered by neglectful careworkers who abandoned him to drown, alone, in the bath. And then I think of the other deaths ruled ‘natural’ under the same care, now thrown into question.
I think of countless people (many children), murdered by the people employed to look after them, who preferred dangerous restraints over creating an environment to mitigate distress.
I think of the thousands of disabled people who have died, cold and hungry, murdered by the Department of Work and Pensions – labelled not disabled enough to meet quotas, benefits cut, necessary aids and adaptations denied, left homeless, without support, and without the dignity they deserve.
I think of all those countless disabled people who have taken their own lives, murdered by a society that abuses, degrades and refuses to support and recognise each precious disabled life.
I think of all these people – people who don’t have ‘murder’ listed on their death certificates, but who were murdered nonetheless.
They were murdered by an ableist society.
That’s what I think about today.
And I think about those of us still alive. I think about those of us in danger. I think about the people across the country and beyond, locked away in institutions-that-aren’t-called-institutions-but-do-the-same-thing. I think about the people I encounter every day, fighting distress and PTSD, wrestling each day of life from the grip of suicidal ideations.
I think about the next terrible story I’m going to hear. I wonder when the next one will be. I’m always expecting it.
That’s why we mourn today.
And that’s also why we turn our grief into anger. Because we deserve to live the best lives. And we will fight against a world that takes that away from even one of us.
So, to everyone who is stopping, thinking, grieving, raging, writing, fighting or crying on this day.
I’m thinking of you.
I’m thinking of us all.