On the Subject of Trans Women, Refuges + Terf Dogwhistles

Featured image description: Rows of makeshift beds in a large, well-lit room. The duvets are in are various colours.

CN for transphobia, terf discussion – including direct quotes from a terf blogpost, domestic abuse, trauma, death mention, detransition rhetoric, ableism, gaslighting, toxic masculinity

Hi all, 

Today is going to be quite a long post for many reasons. Mainly that I’m going to address the elephant in the room in the eyes of terfs – about trans women accessing “single-sex spaces” – including women’s refuges. This is from the perspective of somebody who got barred from one when feeling domestic abuse. I am now only just able to start coming to terms with this as I finally escaped my abusers. Furthermore, with the recent news that the UK government plan to roll back trans rights this year (starting with trans kids), I feel now is the time to publish this.

This is a lengthy blogpost as I’m going to detail things extensively – not just my personal experiences. There are also screenshots and quotes from transphobes – because yes, despite what people want to claim transphobia is still an issue in women’s refuges. While there are women’s refuges that are inclusive of trans people, there are a lot who aren’t.  

My escape was a long time coming due to many systematic barriers I faced. Here is a link to that post, so I don’t have to go into detail again here.  

So why am I writing a blog post on this specifically? Well, it’s for two reasons – firstly, so myself and others can source this article where appropriate because the voices of trans women are being silenced (ironically from those complaining they are being silenced, which is nonsense).

Secondly, because I wish to elaborate on the above a bit more as it was only through time that I was able to accept that I was rejected on the grounds of transphobia. I had previously thought it was just because they didn’t feel they could support me for any other reasons. This post also clarifies a lot of the dog whistles transphobes use – whether they are terfs or just random people spreading rhetoric they don’t understand.  

That said, the refuge as well as the staff I engaged with there are kept anonymous in this piece.  

The critical thing to remember is the trans women’s needs are often similar to cis women’s  

There is much misunderstanding about the needs of trans women and what being trans is. Hence a lot of beliefs services users have are rooted in transphobia whether they realise it or not.  

Trans feminine people generally wish to be treated like cis women. This is because the way wider society perceives us means that we are victims of systematic sexism and misogyny from those around us. This often includes years of mistreatment from cis men – often for prolonged periods of time in very similar aspects that cis women face – especially when other marginalisations are involved ie. Disability and race.  

This is something that affects all feminine presenting people, especially those that “pass” as a cis woman. Here is what I mean: 

Image is of an email from a worker at the refuge sent on Thursday August 8th 2019 at 12:03pm. Parts of the email have been censored to protect privacy. The rest of the text says:

“Hi Milla,
 
Please can you email me the information we discussed yesterday. It may not be appropriate to see you at the centre but I am looking into further support for you.
Kind regards,
[redacted], Liason Worker”

“It may not be appropriate to see you at the centre” is vague and was probably said to try to hedge the bad news. This was the first red flag, hence I enquired.

Image is of an email from a worker at the refuge sent on Thursday August 8th 2019 at 20:06pm. Parts of the email have been censored to protect privacy. The rest of the text says:

Hi [Liason Worker],

I have attached two files – a copy of [redacted] as well as a log of all the recent things that have happened, updated to today.
 
Could you please explain to me what you mean by “it may not be appropriate to see you at the centre?”
 
Kind regards,
Milla [redacted]

Note that I am supplying sensitive information, including logs – one of the critical things domestic abuse survivors have to compile. How exactly is it “inappropriate” that a trans woman is trying to access support?  

This person then replied with the following:  

Image is of an email from a worker at the refuge sent on Friday August 9th 2019 at 2:05pm. Parts of the email have been censored to protect privacy. The rest of the text says:

“Hi Milla,
 
Thank you for the information I will look at it and discuss the best course of action in conjunction with our Advice Worker. Our transgender policy states that we can only engage face to face contact with a women who is past the surgical stage of her transition. This said I am very concerned about the information you have shared with me and feel you need more support. We will be able to offer phone support and possible sign posting to another agency. We have no intention in giving up on your case but your situation is unique to us and we need to offer you the most appropriate support possible.
 
I will be in touch soon
 
Kind regards
[redacted], Liason Worker”

I would like to draw particular attention to this quote – “Our transgender policy states we can only engage face-to-face contact with a women who is past the surgical stage of her transition.”  

This is why the refuge rejected me. It wasn’t a case of “may not” – it was “was not,” but I had to push for an answer. The problems with this policy – assuming it’s genuine – is that it’s completely unrealistic only to accept post-op trans people. Somebody’s genitals don’t come into this frankly unless people know about it – or suspect that somebody is trans even though said judgements are often very inaccurate. It is a de-facto benchmark for what many think qualifies someone as transgender – and frankly, this obsession with what genitals a trans person has by cis people is quite creepy.  

In reality, it is not a realistic benchmark to maintain even on a purely practical level. For example, in the UK, trans people have to wait years before they can even have an initial appointment, let alone a surgery consultation. This is because of the long waiting times, horrendous gatekeeping that leads to wasted appointments and the overall administrative nightmare that system is. The only real way to get medical treatment in the UK promptly and safely is to go private. In the case of surgery, this usually means going abroad. For many trans people – especially those from poorer backgrounds – going private isn’t an option. I did call this out (though not in much detail). 

Image is of an email from a worker at the refuge sent on Friday August 9th 2019 at 2:05pm. Parts of the email have been censored to protect privacy. The rest of the text says:

Hello [redacted],
 
Thank you for getting back to me.
 
I am really confused as to why this policy is in place. It’s not my fault I haven’t even had the opportunity to discuss surgery with a professional (and won’t for at least 4-5 years unless I go private) and would also discriminate against me if I decided against surgery. This policy also discriminates against intersex people who happen to present feminine/grow up feminine and have a penis.
 
I know this is legal under the Equality Act (so long as the purpose is to achieve a “legitimate aim” which I assume is the case here) so I am not surprised that this has come up. I would appreciate an explanation to calm my anxiety. I’m worried if I am kicked out of my home I may have to go somewhere where predatory cis men are such as mixed gender homeless shelters (and that would be genuinely dangerous for me because [redacted].
 
I would be and feel safest within a women’s refuge especially as I want and need to be treated like a cis woman as much as possible. Is this kind of policy typical for women’s refuges? If I was on hormones already, could fully pass as a cis woman and had breasts as a result of HRT I probably would never have disclosed I’m trans in light of this.
 
I also would find traveling to a refuge further away difficult especially if I’m in a meltdown which is what would most likely happen if I am kicked out of [redacted] before I have somewhere to go. [rest of this paragraph has been redacted].
 
Am I right in assuming the appointment I booked for [redacted] is cancelled as a result? I see no point keeping it if I would not be allowed into the refuge to talk face-to-face due to this policy.
 
Apologies for all of the questions and the bombardment of my anxiety-ridden thoughts. I also apologise if there are contractual obligations in place that mean you aren’t able to provide me with answers in depth or at all. Feel free to ignore certain questions if you can’t answer them.
 
Kind regards,
Milla [redacted]

I was a bit of a trauma mess with this response as I wasn’t fully processing what was going on. Primarily because – at the time – I was not used to travelling extensively across the UK, and I feared what would happen if I had to leave (see the fourth paragraph). But I was quite clear I was scared and reading this back it’s heartbreaking. Though for anybody trying to access services, oversharing fears, intimate details and triggers are essential to get taken seriously.  Here is their final reply to me:

Image is of an email from a worker at the refuge sent on Friday August 9th 2019 at 2:05pm. Parts of the email have been censored to protect privacy. The rest of the text says:

“Hi Milla,

My colleague is currently reading your information. We agree that we need to complete a DASH ( a risk assessment on your safety) which we will do over the phone. Once this is completed, we will know where to refer you to. We are thinking [redacted] who can offer outreach support.
 
Anyone going to refuge would need to move out of area which I know will not work for you. Sadly, refuges are biologically gender specific for safety reasons.
 
As a women’s centre we are only funded to work with biological women but we are more than willing to support you over the phone as we will not turn away an individual who needs help. We are approaching your case with sensitivity and are trying to offer you as much support as we are able.
 
Are you willing to complete a risk assessment over the phone? We offer this service to women so we are not discriminating against you or offering you a lesser service. My colleague [redacted] is able to offer you a phone appointment on [redacted]. This would be in place of the scheduled face to face appointment next Friday.
 
I have left a voice mail with [redacted] but have not heard anything back. I will chase them again next week. If you hear from them please let us know.
 
I hope this answers some of your questions.
 
Kind regards,
[redacted], Liaison Worker

They offered the risk assessment – but I never emailed them again after this because I was devastated. Hence, I didn’t have the assessment, and subsequently, my escape is now even further away. It was not long after this that I felt I needed to look for a job to escape of which I did get one. But I was ultimately let go from the job which was inevitable.  

There are also mentions in here about biology and safety, which are no doubt rooted in believing myths about trans people. For example:  

“Sadly, refuges are biologically gender specific for safety reasons.”  

“As a women’s centre we are only funded to work with biological women”  

Here are some articles that debunk the gender binary and the idea that they “biological men/women” myths, because they are not accurate. Many people who believe in the gender binary are uninformed due to what they are taught in school but don’t care. However, there are people that use the myth as an argument to roll back trans rights and enforce strict gender rules. This is ultimately the goal of transphobes – whom are mainly conservative people.  

Article 1: https://qz.com/1007198/the-myth-that-gender-is-binary-is-perpetuated-by-a-flawed-education-system/   

Article 2: https://medium.com/@QSE/the-xx-xy-lie-our-social-construction-of-a-sex-and-gender-binary-4eed1e60e615  

It’s examples like this that support the reality that the majority of cis women support trans women but lack the understanding to provide proper support. Perhaps if service staff had improved training, then they would feel more able to deal with trans women as many do not need as much specialist support as people think. This is what I initially thought – as it is not incorrect – and used to justify to myself why the refuge excluded me as there was no more evidence either way. 

I will further discuss this on page 2.

On COVID-19, Home Working and Internalised Ableism

Content warning for: internalised ableism, COVID-19

Hi all,

In this post, I’m gonna talk a bit about the coronavirus and work today. The reason why is that the way employers have handled the coronavirus is both a source of frustration and opportunity for disabled people. I am going to reference my experience with my last employer to help illustrate this point.

My past experience

I had found out a few weeks ago my former employer is now working from home as a response to the coronavirus outbreak. All the team would not be in the office and could only be contacted through written mediums (or Zoom if they needed a meeting).

Yet when I worked there, I was never able to get any regular time out of the office to work privately in a quiet environment. This was an accommodation I needed for my sensory needs. The office is very overstimulating as a lot happens day to day, so even working outside the office elsewhere would have been OK. But I truly needed to be able to work from home at least two days a week.

I was not able to deal with the multitasking of various work and dealing with clients and an overstimulating. Not always being in the office to work would have taken the pressure off me. They felt it was “integral to the role” that I was in the office to answer questions even in an unsuitable environment.

Yet in light of COVID-19, the idea that my presence is “integral” to the role is nonsense. If I still worked for them, I would now be working from home too. My part was very similar to theirs. I would have worked from home in an environment that suited me, and I could regulate when I talk to people on my terms. Yet I wasn’t able to have this when I worked for them as a reasonable adjustment? Even Occupational Health agreed – their report was useless from my perspective. This doesn’t make sense, right? Well actually, it does.

I have no personal grief towards my former employer about anything. Even if they did accommodate me in this way, I still would have lost the job as it was unsuitable for me for many other reasons. However, these anti-home working attitudes are the kind of thinking that employers have systematically – even inclusive ones. I’m now going to explain what’s wrong with it and what employers can do to get around it.

Ableist expectations

There is the ableist expectation regarding work that employees must have a physical presence in the workplace period. There is this expectation that workers should be expected to relocated for all roles hence there are countries like the UK where the economy is centralised to a few specific regions. In the UK, the region is mainly London and the surrounding counties.

These expectations are so deep that employers – even genuinely inclusive ones that do try their best – do not realise the true extent. The foundations they use for employee expectations are rooted in ableism that harms disabled people. This is systematic ableism – namely that the design of the capitalist workplace itself discriminates against disabled people.

Abled employers barring disabled people from working – but then changing their minds when it affects them – is a blatant double standard. Yet when you point this out, many people will have no idea and cite the “extraordinary circumstances” of the virus. Yet they do not realise that disabled people have been dealing with these “extraordinary circumstances” for decades. Here’s what I mean:

  • We’ve learnt not to expect public services to help us correctly, and we have to fight for access.
  • We’ve learnt that communicating over the internet is more accessible for us than in-person events because we often can’t attend them.
  • We’ve learnt the importance of self-care and curating our environments, so we don’t force ourselves to tolerate an unhealthy environment that worsens our disabilities.
  • We’ve learnt to take extra steps to look after ourselves medically – whether that be medication, extra caution in daily life or allowing our bodies to rest when it tells us.
  • We’ve learnt to expect to be failed by the world of work repeatedly – bracing for the worst whenever we work for a new employer and being genuinely surprised when we find a genuinely inclusive one.
  • We’ve learnt to deal with a social security system that would rather deprive us of all support than give us what we’re entitled to.
  • We’ve accepted deep down we will have structural societal barriers to overcome, and we have to learn to deal with an inaccessible world that doesn’t value our lives.

Many disabled people accept that reality, but others don’t. Others continue to push their boundaries and force themselves to fit into the mould of broader society, even if deep down, they feel like a burden. And they know that the ableds around them mostly see them as a burden too – especially financially.

This is called internalised ableism – learned ableist messages from broader society. It’s not anyone’s fault for internalising them – whether it be disabled jobseekers or abled employers. Still, it does mean they need to take steps to unlearn it. This is because systematic ableism is underpinned by internalised ableism of most of those that participate in it.

I genuinely believe that there are employers out there that do embrace inclusivity. They do sincerely try to recruit staff from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. However, to be genuinely inclusive, it also means unlearning the ableism that has impacted their thinking towards work. This means unlearning internalised ableism as it benefits everyone.

How to be genuinely inclusive

This means redesigning jobs so that if ableds can suddenly work from home in the event of an emergency, disabled people can do so at all times so we can manage our conditions. For most office-based jobs, this will be possible. This means ditching the expectations of having to relocate staff unless it’s necessary.

In the UK, graduates shouldn’t have to move to London or a select number of other places just to get jobs that are right for their skills. People shouldn’t have to rely on jobs available in person because big employers will not offer home working. This is even when their response to coronavirus proves they can.

In my case, it meant that I didn’t truly need to be in the office the whole time. I knew that from the beginning. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it all the time. Yet they saw it as “integral to the role”. Hence, I had to either fit into what the employer wanted or eventually get let go. Quitting wasn’t an option for various reasons.

The results of not accommodating disabled people are apparent to those that pay attention. Alongside disabled people being out of work, many of us are highlighting the hypocritical behaviour of many employers now becoming blatantly clear due to the outbreak. Many of us are at best, annoyed or at worst, angry. Though bitterness is more often than not what people see.

The feeling of seeing yet again how accommodations are only consistently given to employees when ableds need it. However, when disabled people need it, they are denied, even when it’s against the law. That’s why it takes longer for us to get jobs generally and struggle to maintain them. That’s why many of us go self-employed or hide our diagnoses at work. Because it is often safer for us to do so – whether it to manage our quality of life generally or simply make working possible.

For any disabled people out there who can work reading this – take note. You now have a powerful argument to the state to employers to get you the accommodations that you are entitled to.

Good employers should accept this reality and work to further accommodate disabled staff. Whereas bad faith employers have expertly played themselves, and now it will be harder for them to deny accommodations. The evidence will be out there for all to find over an internet search (like this).

The future is homeworking – not just for disabled people can we can actually work, but also for ableds to improve their quality of life too. It benefits everyone – and it starts by learning the lessons from coronavirus. The world of work doesn’t have to be the way it is now. It doesn’t have to go back to old habits once the coronavirus is no longer a threat. Work can be better. It must be.

That’s all,

Milla xx

When You’re Trans, Autistic and Homeless, Finding a Place to Live is Almost Impossible

CN for transphobia, ableism, abuse, legal discrimination, intrusive questions, executive function

Hi all,

Apologies for the inactivity on here for the last several weeks. Today I’m going to talk a bit about the issues I’ve had accessing housing – which is something I’ve had to deal with extensively over the last several months. In short, my living situation at home with my parents became toxic (mainly due to blatant transphobia, ableism and overall abuse, but that’s for another time). The major reason it took me so long to leave home were because I am hitting systematic barriers that makes it difficult for me to access any form of help. That’s not just my words. It’s the words of one of many housing support staff I’ve been in contact with. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

I’m going address them one by one:

Fear of the unknown:

One of the major things that stopped me from leaving sooner was the anxiety caused by the uncertainty of what would happen next once I leave. Where would I go and who would I stay with? How would I be able to cope on the streets if that came to pass? In a way, staying in the toxic household is better due to the routine and certainty of having a place to sleep. This is one reason autistic people find it difficult to escape abusive situations in general.

Most housing services have inaccessible contact methods:

Due to all the stress my functioning ability had decreased significantly. One way this showed is that I could no longer use the phone even to call people I had called before already. This meant I could not access emergency accommodation in my area for one as all of them had phone numbers only and email addresses are harder to find if they are publically available.

Additionally, when I did email housing services they are either slow to reply or don’t reply at all. This included a UK LGBT housing charity I referred myself to in good faith they’d get back to me but they never did. If a housing provider does not offer an accessible contact method they are from the fact excluding those with disabilities from applying to their services and condemning them to their deaths as a result.

Additionally, emergency accommodation is potentially unsafe for marginalised people because of the chances of being trapped in an even more toxic environment. This applies to the physical environment as well as potentially the people staying there. Hence not being able to verify this in advance means it’s a no-go for many people.

Women’s refuge services have transphobic policies:

Here is a bit of a sticky topic. In the UK’s Equality Act 2010, there are legitimate exceptions in the Act that let services to discriminate against minorities if it’s a “proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim.” This includes potential discrimination against trans people when accessing refuges on the grounds of their gender. Or more specifically, their genitals. When i tried to get access to a women’s refuge in the summer, I visited once to sign up, but I had to disclose I’m transgender in part because the form required it – but also because I did not fully pass at the time and there was no way I could have gotten away with lying on the form.

As a result, I got barred from face to face contact with the refuge as a result due to the fact I’m pre-op (irrespective of the facts that many trans people don’t have surgery and that surgery isn’t something I could get access to for years if at all). They did offer signposting and limited telephone/email support but it upset me so much I am turned off refuges for life. They told me that this is due to their policy which ended up being based on reasons relating to biological differences and safety concerns which shows fundamental misunderstanding of trans issues at best and bad faith transphobia at worst.

Not able to rent privately:

There are a few reasons for this and many of them relate to personal circumstances which I will not elaborate on. However, I will detail some notable issues that affect people like me in general. the biggest reason is because I was trying to hold down a full-time job. I gave up on getting help to escape in the summer so I ended up banking on the money from a job to help me move however this was not possible long-term.
I did not have the energy or executive function to juggle trying to find a room as well as full-time work with a commute. It was too much for me having had to spend my lunch breaks and much of my non-working hours recovering. This meant I could not view rooms and thus could not make any progress.

Other access issues are that I could not work out what listings on the housing sites like Spare Room were legitimate plus many landowners specifically ask people to call them to enquire. This meant I had a lot of access issues even finding places to view so contacting them were largely inaccessible just like housing services. That plus the ensuring anxiety and lack of support meant processing the listings for red flags became very difficult. Same applies for finding houses that are trans friendly.

Finally, there is another legal loophole that meant many more listings weren’t accessible to me. Many of the listings were by live-in landlords and if the “small premises exception” applies they can discriminate on all minority characteristics (bar race) under the guise of a “preference.”
The conditions where this applies are the following (based on the info here):

  • The landlord or a relative of theirs will be living in another part of the same property and intend to continue living there
  • The landowner (or their relative) share part of the property with the other residents. This doesn’t include common accessways (like corridors and stairs) and common storage areas
  • The most likely shared parts will be kitchens or bathrooms; and either:
  • The property includes accommodation for at least one other household, which is separately let, but cannot accommodate more than two other separately let households; or
  • The property is not normally sufficient to provide residential accommodation for more than six people (in addition to the landowner or their relative and their household members)

Seeing as many of the listings I found fit into those categories – alongside the fact I couldn’t pass fully then – meant that I had to rule out a lot of listings. As many landowners are older, more privileged cis people and thus more likely to misunderstand, I did not feel safe putting myself into that situation which is before considering my autism-related needs. I very highly doubt I am alone in this although I can’t confirm personally.

The system for finding accommodation for housing related support:

The current system in the UK for someone who needs housing support to fill out a form via the council stating the needs people have and where they’d like to stay. Then housing providers can view applications on their systems so that if they can contact the applicant to request an interview. I haven’t been to an interview so I don’t know how that goes down, just the initial application meeting for one provider. In that meeting I was asked more about my needs as well as what steps I’ve took to undergo transitioning which includes social, legal and medical. I didn’t particularly want to give any details on the medical side – and the person I saw was very apologetic about having to ask it – but I believe that is a requirement too. Regardless, in the end that didn’t go anywhere as they didn’t have room for me either. However that was only one provider so hopefully there are more out there.

Being declared as unintentionally homeless:

The gist of this is that if I’m declared as intentionally homeless, the council would not help me and this would affect what support I’d get. It’s the same for any homeless person even though the circumstances will be different each time. My circumstances of fleeing abuse is one of a few instances where somebody leaving home when they aren’t being kicked out is not becoming intentionally homeless. It did mean that me and my parents had to meet with a council rep to have some kind of “mediation” even though I knew going in it wasn’t going to be feasible. It was annoying but I entertained the mediation idea and it paid off.

Wider political context:

There is a housing shortage in the UK and has been for some time thanks to the Conservative party. Nowhere near enough affordable social housing exists as the demand for that considerably outstrips supply. The same also applies to supported housing and other types of accommodation. Additionally, there is a lot of homes that are lying empty due to being owned by the mega rich and not occupied. Hence even if I was not marginalised I would still have some problems.

With all the above said, the only option left for me for now is to sofa surf and frankly if I didn’t have friends to help I would have been in a seriously bad place. And being autistic and trans even having friends is a privilege because social anxiety and dysphoria makes it hard for friendships to form.

In some ways, my experiences with my friends the past couple of months have somewhat restored my faith in humanity because it shows that people will step up where they can. However, it also shouldn’t be this way and that’s sad. It’s one reason I’ve written this post because it’s this kind of first hand testimony that spreads awareness of these issues so legal reform can be done. Most people are not even aware of these issues in any real detail especially if they are not involved in the disability, LGBTQ+ or housing communities. Hence I am providing some of the detail.

For me personally, I don’t know what the future holds. I’m hoping to no longer be homeless by the end of this year but I really can’t say for sure yet. Regardless, hopefully 2020 will be a happier, more prosperous year for me. Happy New Year to you all and hopefully 2020 is just as prosperous for you too.

Kind regards,
Milla xx

Transitioning Into Work When You’re Autistic Is Doable, But It’s Harder Than It Should Be

Hi all, 

Apologies for the lack of activity as of late – I’ve had a lot to deal with, but one of the most important things that have come from that is the following. I’ve got an internship starting next week! I’m happy and excited as a result for the most part but I’m gonna blog a bit about my thoughts from a disability perspective. Part of the reason why is that most of my backlogged posts are quite serious so a more lighthearted approach will be needed for this one. 

Earning money is important 

I will soon be earning my own money and that makes me very happy for a few reasons. The first is that I will be able to meet something that all disabled people should have the opportunity to do (if they can) is to earn an income. Another reason is that I need to start medically transitioning privately. In the UK, waiting lists for trans medical care on the NHS are years long and are not sustainable so the recommended advice is to go private during the wait.

A supportive environment is more likely to exist than people think 

As an autistic person, one of the biggest things that myself and others like me have to look for is whether a workplace is supportive of our needs. Fortunately, the push by companies to recruit more autistic employees is increasingly popular so it is more likely that we will get the support we need. Of course, some companies do indeed sign up to schemes that are flawed just to appear supportive like “Disability Confident” in the UK (here are several articles about it, CW ableism) so it is a minefield and there is still some way to go. However, things are still better than before. 

I am not as clued up on trans related employment issues however things are faring somewhat better there even though trans people are more likely to be unemployed than cis people. Hence I don’t address trans related issues in this article. The employer I will be working for I feel is a good fit for me and will help me meet my needs through reasonable adjustment which greatly helps my confidence. 

New pathways may open up 

Once somebody gets their foot in the door workwise, multiple pathways can open up depending on the situation. But a lot of it comes down to gathering experience. Doing a job is one way that employers will judge their employees. If somebody can do their job well, that is a great start. Of course, many opportunities would require some level of networking and skill, however, supportive environments may be more willing to overlook weaker social skills if somebody’s strengths exceed elsewhere. 

However, there are other pathways to work such as self-employment which is an increasingly popular option for disabled workers due to the added flexibility. Hence, in a way, many disabled workers can create a supportive environment themselves. Being disabled makes working harder, but it doesn’t always make it impossible. 

Of course, challenges persist 

I know that I am in the minority for my community, especially as so many people who are autistic cannot access work for many different reasons. This is why it’s so important that acceptance of our identities is pushed out there so we can be better accommodated in the world around us.

A lot of people, including many of my relatives, have a lot of negative opinions about whether people like me would be able to find and keep a job. I can only speak for myself when I say this but I am determined to prove those detractors wrong because I know their pessimism is unrealistic and based on outdated views of the workplace (and assumes all bosses are assholes).

Anyone who has additional supports or marginalisations is worth a fair shot at the world of work – end of. It is quite telling – and sad – that many people disagree and will actively take steps to harm the careers of disabled professionals. It’s important to discuss positive stories of disabled people succeeding in work without falling back on inspiration porn-based narratives or centring nondisabled perspectives and change the narrative. Hence there will be more disabled people in work achieving their goals. 

And finally, it is also important to ditch the idea that disabled people have to be in work to have a fulfilling life because in reality work is not an indicator of somebody’s worth. It is just that the current state of capitalism has convinced the average person otherwise, including many disabled people. Hence there would be better social and financial support for those disabled people that cannot work so they can live equally fulfilling lives. 

That’s all for today. 

Milla xx

Featured image source

Yes, Games Are For Everyone

Featured image description: Image is of a samurai in front of a burning Japanese-style temple. Text at top says “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” whereas the text on the bottom says “Take revenge. Restore your honour. Kill ingeniously.”

(CN for ableism)

Hi all,

There has been some recent discourse in the gaming and disability communities that I would like to offer my perspective – namely how all games should add in difficulty levels. This is a feature notably absent from the recently released Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice developed by From Software, a company known for their challenging games.

I am going to preface this by stating that my autism/ADHD affects a lot of how I approach video games these days alongside my time as a games journalist which included me reviewing games to embargos. Both of these formulate why I believe that games are for everyone and arguing otherwise are being elitist and ableist, knowingly or not.

First, I’m going to talk a bit about my playstyle as a background. I’m mostly a portable gamer and this formulates my playstyle for so many genres. Rhythm games are a good stimming aid (assuming the music is good) which is a great way to zone out and boost my immersion. My poor attention span means I find it very difficult to immerse myself on a home console game especially for Japanese RPGs where the portability factor helps me stick with them. I also find large screens visually overwhelming to process at times so having a small screen can help deal with this input better. This is also why I prefer turn based games to action games because I have time to think about my actions.

On the other hand, I am not able to play any PC games nowadays. This is because I can’t stay focused long enough to play them hence it’s a genuine accessibility issue for me. This is unfortunate as it means I am closed off from the vast majority of localised visual novels, a genre I really enjoy. This is despite me trying repeatedly to play through a small handful of Steam releases that will likely never get English console equivalents (like Higurashi When They Cry).

I also have to deal with executive dysfunction which in the simplest possible way means I find it difficult to juggle my day to day life. This especially applies as I’ve gotten older and have become more self-reliant for many things. It means I have less time and energy for games. If I am in a state of burnout, I will find it very difficult to play any video game.

So if I have to deal with a really steep difficulty curve, bad design, lots of grinding or other monotonous content it will become hard for me to continue playing. I do eventually burn out on many games I play and have to take a break so I can pick it up again later otherwise the burnout affects other areas of my life. This is how I got around to completing Dragon Quest VIII on the 3DS after a yearlong break.

I have come to appreciate developers adding in accessibility features in their games that weren’t there before. For instance, modern Falcom games have the ability to lower the difficulty of battles if they prove too difficult after each time the player dies (such as in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel). Additionally, the Utawarerumono Mask of Deception/Truth duology also feature a turn rewind feature which is a godsend for somebody like me whom has an iffy attention span and is prone to making careless mistakes due to burnout and zoning out.

Many modern remakes of Japanese RPGs such as Dragon Quest VIII (as mentioned earlier) reduced the amount of grinding required to complete the game which reduces playtime and boosts engagement which I really appreciate. Then there is also the easy mode in the difficult platformer Celeste, a title I cannot wait to play in part because it’s accessible. While I am aware that difficulty and accessibility aren’t the same things, difficulty settings are an essential accessibility aid for some disabled people like me.

Firstly, I’d like to address an elephant in the room aka those that attack games journalists for talking about accessibility. Firstly, I understand the pressures that games journalists are under when they play games to embargos. They don’t have a get-out clause like consumers do hence it is the ultimate hard mode. If they accept a code or a review kit from a publisher they are obliged to provide coverage of the game in return. This includes beating the game to ensure they know what you’re talking about. Yes, this does include playing through bad games as well as forcing themselves to play through games on a non-preferred platform (such as a handful of games I reviewed on PC). However, it also includes playing games that are inaccessible. So, if there is no easy mode or other accessibility features they need to play, they’re out of luck.

I endured this for two years before I had to quit. I had to learn to enjoy my hobby again and reviewing inaccessible and overly difficult games in rapid succession sucked the passion out of me. It is one of many reasons why I decided that working in the games industry is not for me. Reviewing games burnt me out and alongside my changing support needs means that nowadays I need easy modes in games to ensure I can prevent burnout and enjoy game in balance with other parts of my life. This doesn’t apply to all genres as I can handle difficult platformers and rhythm game stages as well as some turn based RPGs.

Internalising toxic gamer narratives without realising didn’t help either. I thought I’d have to live up to these standards that I could never consistently meet because of my disabilities. Hence most detractors that complain about accessibility in games in reality are privileged. This is because they have it easier than disabled gamers as well as the very journalists that inform them that the game is difficult. These narratives do mean that other disabled people contribute to ableist narratives knowingly or otherwise. One example is the quadraplegic gamer that beat Sekiro on the default difficulty setting which spawned a widely cited news article (CN for inspiration porn in article).

These cases will then be used by the anti-accessibility crowd to go “But look, this person is disabled and they beat it fine! Therefore, it’s a non-issue!” which is ableist. One gamer’s hard mode is a disabled gamer’s impossible mode. One gamer’s easy mode may be a disabled gamer’s hard mode however it would then be playable. It is subjective across the individual as all our needs are different however that does mean that easy modes are a necessary accessibility feature for some hence should become industry standard. This includes games that are praised for their difficulty such as the Dark Souls series.

Can a developer make their games accessible without sacrificing their vision? In short, the developers should always attempt to do this if they have the resources and money. All developers would aim to design their games for different audiences from the outset so that their “vision” isn’t compromised. If they cannot do this in-house, then the option of hiring disabled consultants and playtesters exists. I am aware there are exceptions to this such as visual novels (the genre is far too niche for accessibility aids to become standard period) and small indie developers (where it is not technically or financially possible for accessibility aids to be implemented).

The publishers that have published the Souls like games by From Software (including Sekiro) almost certainly have the resources to acquire this expertise. From Software also are a large enough developer that they can almost certainly allocate time to implement difficulty settings (as they have done for some quality of life aids). I am aware that From Software have been adding quality of life improvements with each new Souls game they make which they deserve credit for, however they still have ways they can further improve on making their games playable to more people.

I am definitely aware that there is still some way to go in video games before they become truly accessible. Subtitles aren’t an industry standard for instance and gamer culture is largely toxic as it features memes including the “git gud” mentality. Microsoft has launched new peripherals specifically aimed at disabled gamers to boost accessibility for the Xbox One and Windows PC platforms. It is not perfect but is an important step. There is still a way to go as those that want to play games on Nintendo/PlayStation formats do not have official peripheral support like the Xbox One has.

In short, games are for everyone. Please listen to disabled gamers when we talk about our access needs and not dismiss us. These can include so many things and vary by player (ie. Additional option settings, easy mode, adaptative controller, quality-of-life improvements) hence it is best for developers to cater to as many playstyles as possible during development.

That’s all for today.

Milla x

Featured image source

Assessment Centres and Initial Thoughts

(Image is of a person in a suit holding a handbag leaping towards a hill with the word “JOB” on it at sunset.)

(CN discrimination, ableism, masking)

Hello everyone,

As part of my preparation for life after I graduate, I have been spending some time throughout my last year at university learning about the graduate recruitment system that I would have to deal with to get a job at a major employer. The workshop I attended recently was about assessment centres and what I would have to deal with. This is a long post hence it’s split into two pages however I hope there is something here that could help autistic jobseekers.

Please bear in mind that while I have not actually been to an assessment centre, I but I left the session in a meltdown. I felt that trying to engage with the typical graduate recruitment system isn’t feasible for me period. The very thought of it fills me with anxiety. When I have to deal with how inaccessible it is, I enter meltdowns. I already had this before when I attended a previous workshop on video interviews (and how some recruiters are starting to use AI to assess candidates) as well as another workshops on when I was asked to discuss my strengths and weaknesses.

I am going to discuss some of the major points brought up in this session, my thoughts on it and how they make the recruitment process inaccessible for those diagnosed as autistic and/or ADHD. Note that some of these thoughts will apply to other neurotypes as well as mental illnesses.

The importance of the telephone

This is a major accessibility issue as employers place great importance on the telephone to communicate with potential candidates which of course causes problems if someone is unable to use the telephone in any way. Allow me to elaborate further.

Employer expect candidates to call them to let them know if they running late for interviews/assessments.

A lot of autistic people have huge anxiety calling strangers which includes unexpected phone calls. If an unexpected event happens and the autistic person needs to cancel this demand may be impossible for them to do. This is especially important as employers will expect candidates to ask if it is still ok that they can arrive at the assessment centre at a later time. They may start the assessment without them especially if most other candidates have already arrived. If they are too anxious to use the phone, it is very unlikely that any other form of contact would be accepted. I would assume this includes texts and email as well.

Do not use mobile phones in the waiting rooms for interviews/assessments.

This also relates to issues with how telephones are often used for fidgeting, dealing with nerves or communicating with others. Alternatives for this could work like a fidget cube, but that doesn’t mean misunderstandings won’t happen. The expectations that employers have will include reading various materials in the lobby, watching videos playing on TV as well as talking to other candidates in the area (which can actually add stress for neurodiverse people).

Should phone numbers always be disclosed in applications?

This is something I wondered as a result of the workshop. Although it is expected that phone numbers are given on all applications as a way of being contacted, if somebody won’t answer the call due to anxiety (or another reason), what is the point of giving the prospective employer their number? On the other hand, if a phone number isn’t disclosed on the application would an employer disqualify them immediately for that? I don’t know the answer to that. Either way, this is a huge accessibility issue.

Body language

This is an area where many autistic struggle and employers assess how often you use eye contact as a way to help them assess candidates for their roles. The problem with this is that it negatively discriminates against those that don’t present in a neurotypical way. This of course ties into masking and is one reason why many autistic people learn to do it. However, there are many that can’t or refuse to mask and thus are prone to having their chance taken from them because employers judge them by fixed NT standards. In other words, the very process of recruitment encourages masking.

You can click the the page number below to proceed to the next page.

 

Noise Cancelling Liberation

(CN: Discussion of sensory overload)

Hi all,

Last weekend I took a very big step in my independence skills and went with a group to the People’s Vote march in London, UK. This is something that I really wanted to do but knew that it would likely be difficult for me. Before I go any further, this post is not going to be about Brexit nor any of the politics associated with it. Instead, I will talk about an experiment I did at the protest in relation to being autistic – trying out my new noise cancelling headphones as an accommodation.

Noise-cancelling headphones are a commonly touted accommodation for autistic people to help cope with the world around them. This can help minimise overstimulation. They block out ambient background noise which is usually what contributes to a sensory overload. In the case of the march this included the music and voices beaming from the speakers, the crowd chanting as well as the sounds of the transport I took to and from the event. This is an expensive accommodation as proper noise cancelling headphones cost hundreds of pounds brand new. However, I managed to get a pair (AKG N60, one of the recommended and cheaper brands) for a significant discount.

I went to the march. It was nearly two hours before we began marching due to the sheer amount of people attending hence there was a lot of waiting and a lot of noise. I also met some new people as well. With the event getting noisy and the risk of exhaustion, overload and more becoming a possibility, I put my headphones on and flicked the switch to trigger the noise cancelling effect. In short…It liberated me.

I was able to participate like everybody else as the sounds were at a consistent volume that I could handle easily. I could hear people talking around me at a louder volume than the background noise whereas without the headphones everything would sound the same. I was able to participate in conversations which even included discussion about why I was wearing the headphones in the first place.

Furthermore, I didn’t get overwhelmed at all and had the realisation that this will solve many of my problems traveling especially by myself. I’ve had occasions where I traveled by myself and have gotten exhausted during the trip which leads to me becoming more vulnerable and prone to a meltdown. In the past, I have had to had relatives pick me up and drop me off back home because everything just got too much for me.

I didn’t feel disabled at all during that day. While autism and its comorbidities are disabilities (and this is something that I accept), there are ways to deal with them so that they can be managed to allow for as much participation in society as possible. The wish of being “normal” and/or accepted by wider society is very strong among neurodivergent people of all support needs and beliefs. I include the neurodiversity crowd in this as it is easy to internalise ableism due to the dominant narratives and is difficult to unpack.

I think it helped that I had a supportive environment as well. I was able to make a good first impression to other people and thus allowed my confidence to show. This is the power of what accommodations and acceptance by others can do. It allows participation of disabled people in society just like non-disabled people. In the case of me and noise cancelling headphones the accommodation was relatively simple to implement (aside from the cost). This is not me “overcoming” being autistic but rather adapting my life around being autistic and accepting myself.

Maybe in the future I will be able to handle more loud events. I have had thoughts about where to go but am unsure when I will be able to try those environments with the noise cancelling headphones. Either way, I feel that so many new opportunities have opened up to me that weren’t open before and that makes me so happy. Although I’d prefer most events I’d attend to be accessible, the attitudes of many neurotypicals means we are some way off this becoming a standard. Until then, noise-cancelling headphones have liberated me and many others too.

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,
Subtle

(@subtlykawaii)

Featured image source: I found the image and cropped it but realised it was from Braitbart after I had uploaded it and went to get the link. I’m not sourcing them sorry. I’ll aim not to do this again.