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As A Disabled Person, Embracing ‘Crip Time’ Helped Me Define My Own “Normal”

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The part of my identity I found hardest to accept, much less celebrate, was my need to follow a non-normative timeframe as a disabled person. Un-learning everything society had taught me about disability and journeying towards disability pride was a struggle, of course, but there was a certain sense of inevitability about it. It was not completely a conscious choice. It was only as I reached the destination that I recognised where the journey had led me.

All I was aware of during the journey itself was that people around me had a very different, and an extremely stereotypical idea of disability and the kind of life I lead as a disabled person. It was decidedly different from my own views. Thinking about these ideas I had, reading similar things other people had written, and slowly unlearning the internalised ableism society had instilled in me, led me to disability pride. In some ways, it was a natural progression of ideas. Embracing and celebrating crip time, however, had to be a deliberate, fully informed choice.

I use the adjective “crip” here and throughout this article, in the context of “crip theory”, a radically inclusive, globalized and intersectional lens of looking at and performing disability. The usage of this term crip is a reclamation of the slur cripple. Crip theory is grounded in the rejection of the compulsory able-bodiedness that structures everything about our culture.

Image only for representation. Via Getty Images.

Even something as basic as the understanding of time, including due dates, the time taken to perform a specific task, working hours, ideal hours of sleep that a body needs, etc., are largely normative and fixed in nature and not flexible enough to meet the needs and timeframes of different kinds of bodies and minds. Bodies like mine and those of many others who identify as disabled are directed to force their bodies to follow normative timeframes, lest they inconvenience others or appear as less capable, less productive, and therefore, less employable.

Before the pandemic mandated, and in some sense made possible, a radically different manner of working as well as learning, I had not given much thought to the idea of crip time. Even after reading about it, I didn’t really think it had anything to do with me. The only time our society considers crip time, although people might not recognize it as such, is in providing for extended timings for exams.

Although I did make use of the extra time (I was too pragmatic to do otherwise), I always felt a lingering sense of shame about it. Being less productive than my peers during the given time was clearly a bad thing. I have spent all my life living by a timeframe that was built for a non-disabled person, and all my time and energy was spent in “keeping up”.

However, the pandemic, along with the sudden flexibility in teaching and learning it brought about, taught me otherwise. Suddenly, I was free to work in the way I wanted, unhindered by a normative timeline, and I realized the possibilities of it. I could structure my days based on my body’s needs and wants, and not be hindered by a 10 to 5 schedule. It was freedom.

Two interventions that happened during the pandemic taught me the value of crip time in a way no other life events had managed to do. The first was a workshop for disabled women conducted by the non-profit organization Rising Flame to retell fairy tales and popular stories with protagonists who are also women with disabilities. This workshop, for the first time, showed me what crip time could be like in a teaching-learning community.

We all spoke at a slower pace to allow for sign language interpretation and live transcription to happen smoothly. If some of us forgot, facilitators reminded us gently. We listened to each other without wanting to rush ahead, talk over others, or becoming impatient. If we could not pay attention continuously for the complete session, we could always step back, take a break, and come back when our bodies permitted us, safe in the knowledge that we could catch up using the transcripts.

If we did not want to talk, we could put messages in the chatbox, knowing that it would be read out for those who were not monitoring the chat. Time slowed down. What’s more, time moved, keeping in mind all of the members who were part of that workshop. Nobody really sat me down and said “this is what I call crip time”, but I could now, little by little, relate to all that I had been reading.

Professor and author Alison Kafer in her book, Feminist, Queer, Crip says, “Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires re-imagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies. Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.” Now, finally, years after reading these words, I was beginning to understand what it meant.

The second event that taught me what crip time could do, when embraced in the truest sense, was a series of storytelling sessions I facilitated, along with a colleague, for blind and visually impaired school children in Karnataka, as a part of my work with the non-profit organization Vision Empower. Facilitating these, keeping crip time in mind, taught me that it is both possible as well as highly necessary to use crip time as a pedagogical tool while facilitating and planning remote learning.

I gave them stories in the form of small 10-minute audio files that they could listen to in their own time, at their own convenience. These stories were given to them days in advance so that they had the time to listen to the story as many times as they wanted, and however they wanted—with multiple pauses, in one sitting, or reading part of it one day and then coming back to it the next— they had the choice. Only discussions of the story happened in real-time. By the discussion day, the children had time to think the story over and form their own thoughts and opinions about what they heard.

They were also given tasks during the session, which were done after the session, in their own time. Originally, the sessions were structured that way for convenience. The sessions were happening on phone calls since all children did not have access to the internet; if narrated on the call, the stories were getting interrupted by network issues; the children needed after-session tasks to stay engaged with the content of the story. However, over time, I came to realize the value of having the intervention structured in this way, and giving children the time they needed to do things added to their learning rather than hindering it.

I have come to realise that crip time has always been a vital part of my life and identity. Capitalism, and its emphasis on constant and never-ending productivity, had just never let me realise it. Embracing crip time can take place only with an understanding and a rejection of the capitalist and neoliberal ideologies that work so hard to try to govern our lives.

Historically, as well as culturally, persons with disabilities have been seen as less productive than their non-disabled counterparts. The world considers productivity as an essential criterion for employability and one’s sense of self-worth. Taking time out for bodily demands is always seen as time lost, unproductive time. A conscious decision to be more mindful of crip time, therefore, is a resistive act against capitalism by its very nature.

Typical responses of the disability rights movement to discrimination and ableism goes something like this: “We are as productive and as fast as you are. Therefore, we deserve employment.” This has just left people, and even communities, behind. I think it is now time for crip time, a time-frame that is non-normative, that exists not to leave people behind.

This article is written by JAF volunteer O. Aishwarya, who is a research scholar at IIIT B.

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