Within and outside of disability spaces, people share disability-focused information to teach, learn, and build community. With the internet at our disposal, we have quick access to endless information, including:
- Legal guidance, technical assistance, and policy analysis from hundreds of organizations
- Blogs, vlogs, and social media posts from millions of individuals
- Online books, news, and magazines from every place and persuasion
- Performance art, poetry, literature, and educational and entertaining talks from people all over the world, sharing their experiences and perspectives
With this abundance, it’s no wonder people are asking, “Is this a good resource?” Today, we take a deeper look at some of our assumptions around credibility and offer some questions to consider when you come across the latest disability news.
Six Questions to Ask Ourselves
1. What kind of resource am I looking for?
This deceptively simple question can help us narrow our search from the infinite resources on the internet to…well, something slightly less than infinity. If we are seeking to:
- Learn “what it’s like” to be a disabled person or have specific disabilities
- Develop a policy with equitable outcomes across disability types
- Understand and follow laws
- Set up space that works for everyone in our communities
- Learn about or connect to disability communities, history, and culture
We will look for different kinds of resources to meet each of these aims. It is also useful to consider if we’re seeking facts or opinions. Do we need information that can be verified (facts)? Are we looking to understand the interpretations, beliefs, and values surrounding issues (opinion)? Or both?
Our target resources could come in many different forms, including:
- Personal experiences
- Policy recommendations
- Legal compliance
- Art and literature
- Technical assistance
- Guidance, formal and informal
- Accounts of historical and current events
Many of these forms will offer a combination of fact and opinion, using verifiable information to support possible courses of action. Like these Access Tips, for instance!
Sprinkling in Facts Does Not Give Us “The Truth”
We all have biases, and this affects which facts we share and how we share them. Simply including facts in content does not make the entire piece of content true or accurate. We must also take care not to assume that the only places to find facts are in research journals and news reports. Biased gathering of data, as well as valuing seemingly “objective” research over what communities are telling us is true has long been used to justify harming communities based on race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and more.
It is critical to recognize the social forces that impact how information is gathered, shared, and given authority. Facts can come in many different forms. And both fact and opinion may have a place in the resources we are seeking.
The more specific we can be about what we need from our resources, the more likely we are to find what we need.
2. Who created this resource?
- Is it created by a person with a disability?
- Is it created by a disability-led group or organization?
It’s important to be aware if a resource was created by disabled people, by people who are connected to someone with a disability (like family or friends), or by nondisabled people working with people with disabilities (such as nondisabled health care professionals, teachers, or lawyers). One perspective isn’t necessarily better than another. They are different perspectives.
This point is sometimes muddled in resources about disability. Parents or professionals’ perspectives are sometimes portrayed as a substitute for experiences or solutions directly from disabled people, and this might not serve our needs. For instance, if want to know what it’s like to move through the world with a specific disability, hearing from nondisabled parents or professionals doesn’t make a lot of sense.Or if we’re seeking policy or practice solutions to improve the experience people with disabilities have navigating a specific system, looking solely to an organization led by nondisabled medical or service professionals won’t give us the information we need.
Similarly, if we want to know what it’s like to be a parent advocating for their child with a disability, or a medical professional diagnosing and treating a medical condition, it makes perfect sense to seek out parents’ and professionals’ perspectives.
Who is “in charge” here?
And for those of us who like to use film and TV clips to spice up our trainings, it’s important to note that many disabled characters are written by nondisabled writers and played by nondisabled actors.
When people with disabilities aren’t in charge of their own narratives, stereotypes and misinformation flourishes.
Knowing which perspectives we are seeking is critical to finding an appropriate and accurate resource.
3. What goals and values does the source portray?
As people moving through our lives, we usually pay attention to information we care about and share information we agree with. The same is true of organizations and the resources they create and share.
Organizations that focus on fixing, curing, or eliminating disability are going to pay attention to and share different information from organizations that focus on adapting to, embracing, or celebrating disability. They think about disability in completely different ways.
4. Whose perspectives are highlighted? And whose are missing?
Does this source reflect our racially, culturally, religiously, gender diverse disability communities? Along those same lines, organizations that focus on disability to the exclusion of other social and community identities are going to share different information than organizations that explicitly lift up the impact of race, sexual orientation, gender, and migration status, etc. on disability experience.
Our media reflects disability very narrowly, when it is reflected at all. The intersection of ableism with other forms of oppression, like racism, means that it is even more important to intentionally seek out resources highlighting perspectives that are frequently excluded from dominant narratives.
When we’re looking for disability-focused resources, let’s ask ourselves, “Is this organization [or creator] recognizing the impact of other identities on disability experience? If not, what information might we be missing?”
Does this content focus on one or many kinds of disability?
It’s also important to be aware when content is focusing on a single kind of disability or attempting to take a cross-disability perspective. Is the content taking a broad look or drilling down into the specifics of one kind of experience? If a resource claims to be about broad disability experience, does it acknowledge the existence of apparent (visible) and non-apparent (invisible) disabilities? Does it offer examples or suggestions that reflect many kinds of disability (for instance, mobility, visual, hearing, cognitive, mental health, intellectual, and learning) or just mention one or two?
Seeking out resources featuring cross-disability perspectives that consider intersecting identities is critical. It is unlikely we will come across a single resource will meet all our needs.
When trying to find “just one” resource leads to a not-so-happy ending
Let’s say that we are trying to find a trustworthy resource on event accessibility. We find a guide from the United Spinal Association on making spaces wheelchair accessible, and we enthusiastically use this as our only benchmark for our “accessible” event. The United Spinal Association is very well-known and respected, after all.
And on the day of the event, there is chaos as we realize that we’ve forgotten to consider access needs ranging from document accessibility, interpreters, and clear signage, to trauma-informed space, pacing, and plain language. And many of the communities we were hoping to reach did not even consider attending, since we didn’t consider transportation or economic access, our event occurs on a religious holiday, and it’s held near a location where members of multiple communities have experienced harassment.
By viewing our resources through the lens of, “Who’s here and who’s missing?” we can develop our skills to identify when we need to seek out more resources to meet our needs.
5. What is the intention of the resource?
Content is created with many different aims, and sometimes multiple aims, including:
- A call to action
- Technical assistance and legal compliance
- Education or anti-stigma (about individual disability experience, structural barriers, etc.)
- Entertainment (Before sharing, ask yourself: Is this inspiration porn?)
It’s important to take a moment to ask ourselves how this content is trying to impact us. Thinking back to our first question, is it the kind of resource we wanted in the first place?
6. Is it accessible in its current format or are you willing to make it accessible?
Often, resources from cross-disability organizations led by people with disabilities will be accessible in the first place, not only because it will be a core value but also because it’s necessary for staff to access it.
Things to look for:
- Captions on videos
- Transcriptions and/or captions for audio
- Audio description of visual content
- Screen-reader accessibility of documents (including booklets, workbooks, and other handouts.)
Signs a resource might have gone bad
Beware of resources that:
- Claim to inspire by showing people with disabilities doing everyday things. This is known in disability circles as inspiration porn.
- Tell a disabled person’s story (or share medical information) without their explicit consent.
- Focus on how to “deal with those people [with disabilities].”
- Are created by someone who doesn’t have any other disability-related work or any clear relationship to disability communities.
- Are not accessible to the people they claim to be for or about (for example, a video about the experience of being Hard of Hearing that is not captioned).
- State or imply that being cured is the only way people with disabilities can experience any fulfillment or happiness in life.
- Feature a nondisabled person or group of people claiming to speak for disabled people or what they want or need. Why aren’t they “passing the mic,” making space, or providing support for people with disabilities to share their thoughts directly?
What to do with an imperfect resource?
So we’ve asked our six questions and confirmed it’s not a rotten resource. But it's not perfect, either. Should it be tossed in the garbage heap? Not necessarily. There’s no universal guide on a “perfect” resource because resources are used for all sorts of things. It is good practice to be forthcoming about any flaws or limits of a resource. It supports everyone to learn about resource considerations, and it becomes clearer when we need to seek new or additional resources.
And this is where the end of our questions takes us back to the beginning, because we get to decide: Does this resource fully meet my needs? If not, what resources do I need to complement this one?
Cheers to Cultivating Curiosity!
Even though we might find no perfect resources, the payoff comes in asking the questions. By being curious about what our resources can offer, and what’s missing, we are intentionally cultivating a habit that serves us whenever we come across information. And building an awesome collection of resources to share with our friends, too. Happy sharing!