Ming and I love permaculture, and we’re disabled. We’ve been talking for years about disabled permaculture. I made a zine in 2020 called permaculture for a pair, which is about disabled permaculture. We’re the only people we know talking about this concept, and we decided to change the name. We’ve newly coined the term Disabled Resilience Permaculture.
It sounds more appealing, so we hope to draw more people in. The world needs Disabled Resilience Permaculture, so we’re happy to find better ways to name and explain it.
Permaculture resources like courses, websites, and books start with the assumption that the reader is an abled person with abundant energy and physical ability. The “normal person” is assumed unspokenly, which is the foundation that these learning resources. That means right away disabled people like me and Ming are pushed out, or need to translate everything to what might work for someone with a vastly different energy level and ability.
It can hurt because permaculture is supposed to be about healing and creating justice. The aspect of land justice is central, but what about justice for disabled people?
what disability is
Ming and I decided to change the term to Disabled Resilience Permaculture because disability is misunderstood by many people and thought of as not important. Scads of abled people think disabled people are few and elsewhere.
Also there are huge misconceptions about disabled people. Many people think some ridiculous nonsense. They think disabled people are
- exist to inspire
- overstating our health issues
- faking it
- that our health issues are our own fault
- our health issues are God’s will
- our health issues are some kind of physical reflection of an “inner sickness”
- not important
- a burden
- too difficult to accommodate
- without sexualities
- without brilliance, vividness, new ideas, intelligence
- worth less than abled people
Wow, so many weird notions that get associated with disability!
Of course, disabled people are many. Lack of accommodation means it can be hard for us to be out and about, noticed by abled people. So you might see less of us. Many disabled people are locked away in facilities, group homes, hospitals, prisons.
Then many of us are in disguise–if we can, we act as non-disabled as possible for your convenience and for our safety. Minimizing our disabilities, if we can manage, can mean more freedom for us.
Having that above list of negative attributes applied to us is dangerous. We can lose housing, relationships, jobs, healthcare, our freedom, and even our children, for being disabled. We might get paid way less than abled people for the same job. Abled people often decide things about us, and no amount of evidence to the contrary can unconvince them.
The misconceptions and prejudices that people have against disabled people are harmful to everyone. Just like race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, age, and fatness can all affect how people interact and use power, where people are located on the abled/disabled spectrum is a factor in power.
Disabled Resilience Permaculture is based on the disability justice idea that disabled people are valid, disability is valid, and disabled isn’t a bad word. It’s a reality for many, many people. We can name it and talk about it. It’s not shameful.
When those who have power believe that disability is bad, and disabled people are less valuable, they use their power harmfully. Most leaders won’t come out and say, “I find you less valuable than an abled person, Laura-Marie.” But if they treat me as less valuable for years, they’re harming me and the world.
“We’re all different somehow,” and other forms of disability denial are supposed to be friendly and inclusive. But considering disability a dirty word or shameful actually pushes me and Ming out. Being real about disability allows us to account for it and make smart decisions.
It reminds me of fatness. If we hold onto the erroneous idea that fat is bad, which means “fat” is an insult, and kindness means we need to pretend that fat people aren’t fat, we’re in a bad situation of denial.
Take me, for example. I was superfat for a long time and am now more of a large fat. That means department stores like Macy’s might not have clothes that fit me, movie theater seats might be too small for my hips and thighs and ass, and seat belts in some cars aren’t long enough to go around my body.
Pretending I’m not fat is not going to work. Denial will get us nowhere. Being direct and real that I’m fat, my body is valid at any size, and I deserve to have my needs met in this fat body, exactly as I am right now, is unfortunately mind blowing to many people.
Do you think my fatness means I’m bad and don’t deserve to go to the movies? How about flying on an airplane to attend a family member’s wedding or funeral, or for any reason at all?
I reject the notion that being fat means I’m lesser than. If we’re starting from the notion that my body is valid no matter what, and all people belong at the table of humanity, we can simply notice the difficulties we need to solve and solve them. Have a few larger seats on every plane and in every theater designated for fat people, and make seat belts longer. As long as we have a government, I suggest mandating these protections.
Assuming that all people’s bodies are valid and creating a world where we’re treated that way is an important part of Disabled Resilience Permaculture.
surviving and thriving
Disabled Resilience Permaculture is surviving with ease through systems understanding–surviving and thriving in a world that’s not designed for us. We can contribute in community and show up for one another and the earth with love. We can help create land justice and enrich a farm, or any place we live, with our valuable work and perspectives.
Disabled people enrich community. We bring rich diversity. We are not a burden, as long as everyone in community is on the same page of openness to differences and being real about what is.
Disabled Resilience Permaculture is respectful. People with disabilities might need different things from what abled people need and accomplish things differently, but we are no less valid. Our differences are perfectly ok. We connect with each other and the land as disabled people, doing gardening, community, earth care work in a way that’s appropriate and sustainable for us considering our differences.
Disabled Resilience Permaculture includes telling the truth about who we are, what we offer, and what we need. Honesty and clarity are central. We’re realistic about our strengths and limitations, in a matter-of-fact way. I don’t need to be inspiring, easy, or obsequious to be worth respect and accommodation. Disabled people don’t owe anyone anything, just to be treated as people.
This reality of being unconditionally valid is part of disability justice. It’s a given, with Disabled Resilience Permaculture. We don’t need to fight for it.
how it plays out
Disabled Resilience Permaculture has all those ideas as a foundation, and ideas are important. But how does it play out in the physical world? It can be gardening with access needs met. Paths that can be navigated with assistive devices, raised beds appropriate for wheelchair users, tools that can be gripped in different ways.
It can play out in supporting the farm in non-physical labor ways. So the social media work, all the big and small aspects of keeping a community going, networking, visioning, facilitating meetings, planning, scheduling, making shopping lists, making sure bills are paid, returning phone calls and emails.
Writing, holding history, documenting, connecting your community with other communities in collaboration. Tasks like cooking meals, caring for kids, art making, and beautifying spaces. There’s ritual and prayer, keeping resources organized and circulating, checking and sorting the mail.
kinds of work
My ideal would be physical work about an hour per day, and other kinds of work for the rest of the day, with plenty of rest and pleasure also. In a community, how many people could work a schedule like mine, and how many people would work hard farm labor all day as needed?
A community would need to be real about all of that, in deciding how to choose new people to let in. And in considering how old the current residents are, and what their health might be like in five and ten years. The work of the community or farm might need to change, to account for the needs of the people there. Change would not be failure, but a success, to consider who is actually there and be good to everyone.
All of us will get old, if we’re lucky, and many people will become disabled along the way. Death is real; illness is real. Being honest and direct about the worth of all people including disabled people is best for everyone.
Do you want to live in a community where disabled people are considered worthless? Even if you’re abled now, you might not always be. Much better to be realistic and real the whole time, than suddenly need to invent something like Disabled Resilience Permaculture after your fall, stroke, or illness.
permaculture design principals
Depending on who you listen to, there are some main permaculture design principles. Possibly 12 of them. Disabled Resilience Permaculture can be tied in with just about all of them.
But this post is too long already. I’m working on a whole workshop that Ming and I will teach about Disabled Resilience Permaculture. It would be great for anyone who is disabled, people who love people who are disabled, anyone who lives in community with disabled people, people who know they probably will become disabled, people who want a happier world with intersectional justice.
I will keep you posted about when we will be putting on that workshop and through what organization. But let me say this last thing for now.
Intentional communities and permaculture farms aren’t ruined by disabled people. In the orgs that I’ve closely witnessed, things get unlivable because of entitled white people who hoard power and other resources, or sexually assault interns. The disabled people are the ones speaking the truth and mostly getting ignored, until we can’t take it anymore and we leave.