Shut out: measuring disability and segregation in US cities

best and worst

Image description: A light-grey map of the USA against a white background with state lines marked. 150 major cities are marked for Best for Disabled People on a colour scale from teal (worst) to purple (best).

WalletHub ranks the 150 Best and Worst Cities in the US for Disabled People. They measure ‘Economy,’ ‘Healthcare,’ and ‘Quality of Life.’ They list their methodology, including weightings. The criteria they use to assess Quality of Life, which is what interests me most, include:

  • Percentage of disabled residents
  • Number of wheelchair-accessible restaurants per 1,000 residents
  • Number of wheelchair-accessible trails per capita
  • Presence of Lyft wheelchair accessible vehicles
  • Walkability
  • Percentage of buildings built in 2000 or later (much more likely to be wheelchair accessible)
  • The weather

The focus seems to be on mobility impairments. They don’t rank other accessibilities—presence of ASL interpreters, state funding for vocational resources, etc. But in their terms, the top three big cities for crip quality of life are Honolulu, San Francisco, and New York. Seattle ranks 23 of 150.

In terms of economy (which includes affordability and job discrimination) and healthcare, Seattle does much worse, ranking 111 and 42 respectively. But I have excellent healthcare (at least for now; don’t even get me started on next year) and I’m a writer, so employment discrimination doesn’t affect me much.

Seattle is a fine city: a bit pricey, a bit wet in winter, and eye-rollingly indecisive when it comes to decisions on transport infrastructure, but the best city I’ve encountered in this country. This is the place we chose more than 20 years ago when I finally got Resident Alien status because it has the best climate—politically, geophysically and economically—in the US. Also, it’s near the water, there are lots of trees, and people here know how to queue, which for me is a proxy for the kind of rules-based civility that I cherish. That civility sometimes crosses the line into after-you-no-after-you diffidence that can be dangerous (especially on the road) but if you add in the many pubs that sell British beer, the understanding of how to make a good cup of tea (and coffee), and the presence of excellent bakers and chocolatiers, staking our future on Seattle was a good decision. Admittedly it’s awful trying to travel from here—getting to any other major city involves flying for hours, or sitting on a train for days—but we knew that and it seemed a reasonable exchange for the good bits.

When we chose this city, though, I was not using a wheelchair; I was not using crutches; I wasn’t even using a cane. Now I am, and physical access is beginning to assume great significance.

Public transport is pretty good, mostly. Of course, you have to be able to get to the bus stop in order to use the fancy kneel-down or lower-the-lift buses, and then the nifty street-level streetcars or light rail, and without a car this is not possible from our house. We live at the bottom of a very steep hill, and even if I had superhuman arm power, there are no sidewalks, there are blind curves, and the city helpfully built an insurmountable berm across the bottom of our driveway. Perhaps if I lived in a condo in one of the denser city neighbourhoods, maybe everything would be groovy. That is, if I could get into the bars and restaurants—if I could levitate over this two-inch lip on the so-called wheelchair ramp, or open that supposedly ADA-compliant door, or navigate those narrow spaces between tables, then float magically up the flight of stairs to the bathroom and pass through the immovable-slab of a door like a ghost.

But the weather here does suit someone with MS: not too cold, not too hot (except for this week, which is going to be scorching); not too dry (except in summer) and not too wet (except in winter). Other cities that rank high in terms of accessible infrastructure mostly have terrible weather for someone like me—that is, they get way too hot for way too long. (Also: bugs.)

So unless Kelley or I get offered a fabulous job in Canada or New Zealand or Ireland, we’ll probably stay. At least for now.

8/6 #CripLit Twitter Chat: Writing Disability

Image description: A bright yellow background with an icon of a book on the left and a laptop screen on the right, flanking text: “#CripLit Twitter Chat, Writing Disability, August 6, 2017. 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern. Co-hosts: @Nicolaz and @DisVisibility.”

#CripLit Twitter Chat
Writing Disability
Sunday, August 6, 2017
4 pm Pacific/ 7 pm Eastern

Co-hosts: @nicolaz and @DisVisibility

You are invited to the ninth #CripLit Twitter chat co-hosted by novelist Nicola Griffith and Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project®.

We’re both writers of fiction and nonfiction. We’re both readers. We want to talk about the experience of writing about and from being disabled—how it feels, what we love, what we hate. We want to talk about all kinds of writing: fiction and drama, poetry and creative non-fiction, journalism and personal essays. We’re interested in why we want to write about or from the perspective of disabled characters, or perhaps why we need to. We want to look at the kind of narratives we’ve seen a lot—Cure narratives, Pity narratives, Outcast narratives—and the kind we might sometimes write ourselves: Wish Fulfilment, Coming Out, Triumph, Norming narratives. What are they? What are some examples of each? What’s good about them? What’s bad? Why do we want/do not want to write them? How can we learn to do it better?

Additional Links

How to Participate

Follow @DisVisibility and @nicolaz on Twitter for updates.

When it’s time, search #CripLit on Twitter for the series of live tweets under the ‘Latest’ tab for the full conversation.

If you might be overwhelmed by the volume of tweets and only want to see the chat’s questions so you can respond to them, check @DisVisibility’s account. Each question will tweeted 6-8 minutes apart.

Check out this explanation of how to participate in a twitter chat by Ruti Regan:

Check out this captioned #ASL explanation of how to participate in a chat by @behearddc:

Introductory Tweets and Questions for 8/6 Chat

Welcome to the #CripLit chat on Writing Disability. This chat is co-hosted by @nicolaz & @DisVisibility. Please remember to use the #CripLit hashtag when you tweet.

If you respond to a question such as Q1, your tweet should follow this format: “A1 [your message] #CripLit”

Q1 Roll call! Please introduce yourself and share any links to your work or anything else about yourself. #criplit

Q2 Do you write about disability? What kind of #criplit stories do you write?

Q3 What are the joys/challenges (physical, emotional, mental/intellectual) of writing disability? #criplit

Q4 What are some disability narratives: Cure, Outcast, Pity, Triumph, Wish Fulfilment, Coming Out? Which do you love/hate? #criplit

Q5  What kind of stories are missing? How do we expand disability narratives? How do we get more #criplit on shelves and screens?

Q6 What’s your approach to writing about disability? #criplit

Q7 Should disabled writers write only stories with disabled characters, or about   issues? #criplit

Q8 Are you ever tempted to tone down the disability in your work in order to be ‘more publishable/marketable’? #criplit

Q9 Do you see parallels between #criplit narratives and those of other marginalised groups: #ownvoices stuff by queer, POC, immigrants, etc?

Q10 Would you want to take a class/workshop for crip writers? What would it be like? Are there any you’d recommend? #criplit

Thank you for joining our #CripLit chat. Please continue the conversation!

A Storify will be up tomorrow. Check the #CripLit hashtag. Feel free to contact @DisVisibility @nicolaz with any ideas/feedback 😀

An open letter to all writing programmes, workshops, and retreats

Dear Writing Programmes:

Everything you do—classes, retreats, workshops—should be accessible. Many of you are not.

I’ve heard all your excuses: But we love the quaint/rustic/boho vibe, and that will be ruined if we have to change! But we can’t have our woods/private chef/coziness if we move to an accessible space! But it’s important we give the students an inexpensive experience, and access costs money!

I have no sympathy for your excuses. To disabled writers like me it does not matter how beautiful/cosy/inexpensive your traditional/sorority/in-the-woods space is because we can’t access it. If we can’t visit, to teach or write, then it’s not beautiful or welcoming or inexpensive, it is a fenced enclosure with a huge red sign on the gate saying CRIPPLES KEEP OUT.

Twenty percent of the US population is disabled. How many of your participants are? If the answer is less than 20%, ask yourself why. Explain to me why it is acceptable to bar your retreat/programme/workshop to disabled writers but not acceptable to bar women, writers of colour, or queer writers.

Not every programme can become accessible overnight. But every programme can commit to a public timetable for becoming accessible. If you’re not willing to welcome us, you are saying, We don’t care about disabled writers, we don’t want your stories, disabled people don’t matter.

So here’s a public promise: after I have fulfilled my immediate contractual obligations, I will no longer support in any way any writing-related programme or organisation that does not have a public commitment to and specific timetable for becoming accessible. I will call on other writers to do the same. In addition, all writing programmes should include their accessibility policy and access information on their website. If you are not accessible say so plainly so that those of us who are disabled don’t have to work to find out we’re not welcome. Disabled people do too much work to survive already. Don’t put this work on us. Be clear. Be brave. Do the right thing. We’re watching.


Trans in the military

Today President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he is banning trans people from serving in the US military:

I have no idea if he can enforce this or in what manner or timeline his ban will unfurl. I don’t know and I don’t care why he is doing this; why doesn’t matter. This is a vile thing to do. I feel for trans people everywhere. Go read Cheryl Morgan’s take on the issue.

Quick housekeeping

The first part of my PhD story, Opportunity, vanished overnight but it’s now back. Sorry about that!

My name is No

My inbox has reached epic proportions. Many of the emails are requests: Come to this conference, signal boost that worthy cause, judge our competition, visit my class, contribute to our anthology/video game/brainstorm/policy session about women/queer/disabled people. It’s lovely to be asked, but I have a novel (and other stuff) to write and I’m already scheduled for, and talking about, teaching and school visits. So for the majority of requests the answer will have to be No.

If I’ve already said Yes, or we’re talking about it, this is not aimed at you. But to those of you to whom I have not yet responded, I will. And if it’s for something between now and late spring (when I have a book coming out) it will probably be No (unless it’s very interesting…).

Here’s Meghan Trainor to help you understand:

My name is No.
My number is No.
My sign is No.
You need to let it go.
Nah to the ah to the no no no.

Hat tip to Angie Bennett, a medievalist.

A piece of my heart

Image description: New international access icon. A white figure on square blue background with rounded edges representing a disabled person actively propelling their wheelchair.
Image credit: Sara Hendren & Brian Glenney
Image source:

Each of us knows we are not our friends’ and families’ number one priority. Important, yes. Top of the list, no. Most of us, though, don’t have to face the evidence of a loved one’s blatant disregard for our comfort, safety, and well-being every time we approach their home. As person who uses a wheelchair, I do.

Every time a friend or family member buys, builds, or rents a place I can’t enter, they cut out a piece of my heart. They add to the vast and escalating segregation of my life. I feel unseen, unimportant, and unwelcome. Every time it happens a less-than-lovely voice in my head whispers, Well, that’s not a very smart choice. Don’t you understand that as you age/have babies/grow your circle of friends, you and they will be grateful for universal design. Universal design works for everyone, in every stage of their life. That voice might be less than lovely, but it’s not wrong.

When you break a leg or have surgery on your knee, you’ll be glad you don’t have to try hop up those steps with no rail to hang onto. I’ll be glad, too. When your child brings their baby over, you’ll be glad neither of you has to haul that buggy up the steps. I’ll be glad, too. When it comes time to sell, and you have multiple bids because in addition to the usual real-estate hungry first-time buyers you’ll have all those whose choices are usually severely limited by the availability of accessible space—crips, old people, people with small children, and smart people with friends and relatives—you’ll be very, very glad. Supply and demand, baby. Universal design is a good investment.

Disabled people are 20% of the population. You know one of us whether you realise it or not. Why aren’t you paying attention? Why aren’t you being smart? Universal design is good for you, your friends, and your bank account. Also, it makes me glad; it heals my heart.