As someone with both a physical disability and mental illnesses, I’ve got two dogs in the fight against ableism, and it’s hard to tell what one has a bit more bite a lot of the time. I have faced several questions in waiting rooms and in the eyes of doctors across the room from me. When I first started seeing therapists and taking my mental health a bit more seriously as an adult, I began to notice something. A lot of the conversations during my weekly sessions focused on my physical disability. They assumed that I would be in constant mourning, and while it is true that every now and again, I do grieve the life I’ve never had, it is not the root of my depressive disorder or my panic disorders.
I became aware of these dogs fighting with and against each other after I self-admitted myself for mental health reasons in 2010. I was coming to terms with my PTSD diagnosis and pending homelessness at the time. I remember going into the crisis center as someone who was looking for answers and instead got quizzical looks and hushed “What are we going to do with her?”s. They searched desperately for an accessible bed and I lucked out with a kindhearted nurse who assisted me in my bathing, dressing and transferring when needed. All in all, I got my medications adjusted and social supports were put in place for me so as to strengthen me upon leaving. I left after about two and a half weeks, with a bit more hope and new listening ears, which were desperately needed. I made the right decision.
Fast forward to two years later and I knew that it was time to reach out for help once again. After leaving a toxic relationship and being fairly new to the area, someone suggested I start looking for support groups. Which led me to Vail Place. I requested a tour, only to find out that I’d only get access to one floor of the building, and the tight corners weren’t all that contusive to my wheelchair. So despite wanting to reach out to others managing their illnesses, that door was quite literally out of my reach. Support for three of my disabilities was no longer granted to me because of the existence of my fourth one. My Cerebral Palsy. One would think I’d get used to this by now though, the illness you can see is obviously going to either hinder a situation further or get you assistance faster.
As I mentioned previously, a lot of those within my mental health support team kept me talking in circles. They thought of their perceived trauma that is daring to live with a physical disability than the actual trauma that I have faced in my life. It is through talking in circles that I was silenced, and it is through the denial of access that I and many others like myself are entitled to. My Cerebral Palsy speaks for my PTSD, it speaks for my GAD and it certainly speaks for my Major Depressive Disorder. It’s rare to find a mental health crisis center with accessibility. With those that know ASL on staff, Braille, pull cords, captioned movies and learning videos or sensory coping devices available. I recently had a social worker attempt to assist me in finding a crisis residence in order to help me with my isolative tendencies in order to ward off suicidal ideation as I waited for my medication adjustment to really take effect, and while there were options available, one of which was completely accessible, aside from the bathroom and another could not guarantee that I’d get help with my physical cares due to liability reasons. As I’ve dealt with these four demons as long as I have, with this cycle of acceptance in one way and discrimination in another, I can’t help but wonder if a part of this comes from the societal perception that those who live like I do are expected to want to die. We’re expected to see ourselves as less than worthy of existence.
I have been a plot device and a game of comparisons before even letting you know my name. My physical disability does factor into the fact that I am a trauma survivor. It is estimated that approximately 78% of women with disabilities are survivors of sexual assault. A number of children with disabilities have been neglected and exploited by family members and caregivers. We are more than our physical disabilities. We are people. We are trauma survivors. We have mental illnesses and we deserve equal access to care. More importantly, we have the right to equal access. All members of the disabled community need to stand together. Please stress the attention of physical accessibility within the mental health community.