Mutual Aid and Human-Centered Learning for Neurodivergent and Disabled People
The women who manage the network say that because the project is based on mutual aid, and because they’re working as private citizens and not as part of any organization, this allows them to work more dynamically and creatively in response to the changing needs.
The need that led them to interrupt their lives and devote themselves to volunteer work – and the fact that now they can’t stop without neglecting thousands of people – is an indictment of sorts against the welfare system and the government’s order of priorities.
…she realized for the first time that there is no address for these problems. “I heard about a family from the Congo that hadn’t eaten for five days. Four people heard about them before me, and nobody stopped for a moment to buy food for them. Everyone thought there was someone whose job it is to take care of such cases. Everyone thought that there’s a welfare state here that supports its weak communities.”
Like Cantor, Beck also slowly internalized the fact there was nowhere to transfer the responsibility. “I realized that we have no ‘mother’ and ‘father’ to depend on, that responsibility for the survival of entire communities lies with us, the citizens,” she relays. “I didn’t come from this background, and this period has taught me a very important lesson about the welfare systems that devastate entire populations.”
“Mutual aid is recognizing first of all our neighbors and the root problems in our communities,” Cantor says. “It’s about openly opposing the systems of racism, class discrimination and large retailers. Mutual aid requires that we look at those among us who are privileged and those who aren’t, and to ask how we achieve control of the resources and distribute them so as to advance justice in our communities. What makes our actions acts of resistance is that we’re operating in the direction of dismantling oppressive mechanisms by means of showing radical empathy. It’s political.”
Cantor says: “Today, we’re demonstrating and creating a mutual aid alternative by ourselves. Everyone is excited about how people come together to help each other – to the point that we fail to understand that these difficulties shouldn’t even exist. We favor mutual help, but also target the root causes that brought about the lack of equality to begin with.” She adds that helping one another is “not just a matter of packing and handing out food.”
Non-disabled people in my life don't know how to love me like disabled people do. I'm so thankful for all my disabled friends who know how to provide care, rest, support and love. Disabled love is critically different from my other interactions with the world. 1/4
I really wish non-disabled people could learn to love in the same caring modalities. Love looks like remembering my food intolerances. Love looks like saying "that sucks" when I complain. Love looks like calling to check in and telling me stories. 2/4
Love looks like someone bustling around at home doing everyday things that wanted to call just to be with me across time and space. Love looks like not trying to fix everything and just allowing bad days to be bad. Love looks accepting my need to isolate as much as possible. 3/4
Love looks like spaces for shared grief. Love looks like celebrating our mere existence and survival in a world so set on eradicating us. Love is everywhere in disabled communities. 4/4
Increasingly, autistic communities have been exposed to ideas of disability justice, interdependence, access intimacy, collective/community care, and mutual aid. Care collectives, spoon shares, and other community care groups by and for disabled people, racialized people, LGBTQ2IA+ people (and people at this intersection) are growing in number. Is there a future for autistic spaces to also act as spaces of intentional mutual aid?
Moving from a rights-based perspective to a justice-based one necessitates a look at our care systems and re-envisioning how our communities function to ensure no one is left behind.
The lyrics referred to the way many people viewed fans of punk rock (who often endured stares, slurs and assaults at the time), but they could just have easily been about people diagnosed with mental illnesses, who are frequently looked down upon as crazy, violent and unintelligent.
A long-standing and influential theory regarding disability is the “social model,” initially advanced by Mike Oliver. The social model argues that “disability” does not reside within individuals, but is actually created by a mismatch between social structures and individual capacities. These structures can include obvious physical barriers (such as stairs, which could make it impossible for people in wheelchairs to enter a school or workplace by themselves), but can also include intolerant social attitudes which make it very difficult for people who don’t act in a manner that is considered “acceptable” to participate socially or avail themselves of community resources.
British human right activist Liz Sayce has specifically extended the social model to explain much of the disability that is experienced by people diagnosed with mental illnesses, and has argued for the establishment of “inclusive communities” to facilitate greater community participation among these individuals.