I need time.
It takes me time to understand things.
It takes me time to make words.
It takes me time to respond to things.
To make medical decisions, I need the time to have a two way conversation with the doctor.
I need time.
Nothing changes this.
Shortcuts and attempts to speed it up slow it down more.
I literally walk faster than I run.
My brain is the same way kind of.
I get there. But I need the time. If it seems fast it’s because I’ve done it a million times already, many of them slowly.
Many times people assume based on the end product.
So if I have a complex thought they think it’s a fast thought.
I get to complex thoughts slowly usually.
Or they look complex. But they’re actually simple. But they translate as complex when they combine with language. Or people think lots of words means complicated. It doesn’t. It can mean I had trouble finding the right ones.
At any rate if people think they see complicated thoughts they often think that means fast thoughts. Or they think if I type or move fast I think and understand fast. Or they think fast in one context means fast in another.
None of those things are true.
I do best with things outside of what most people think like.
To get usual types of information and respond and have it be meaningful I need time. Lots of time. I get there but it takes a lot of extra time whether anyone sees that time or not.
To make it look fast I have to take dangerous shortcuts that harm me or confuse me.
I get confused easily.
I am good at not showing it. I suspect anyway. Sometimes.
But I get confused a lot. And it takes me time.
All of this is disability related.
I have developmental disabilities. I have cognitive disabilities. I have physical disabilities. All of these things are part of it in their own ways.
I usually tell people if you think of me as having a brain injury I make more sense. It’s the easiest analogy most people are likely to be familiar with.
But really as labels go I can identify a lot cognitively with people with dementia, stroke, brain injury, intellectual disability, epilepsy, autism, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, and lots of other things. Some of which are labels I’ve received or qualify for and some aren’t, but there’s cousinhood going on big time even when I don’t. Cognitive kinship.
It’s the way thinking works and the obstacles we face in the outside world that determine our similarities and differences, far more than what diagnosis someone decided to give us.
That’s one reason I don’t like communities based in a single diagnostic label. I’d rather seek out familiar people wherever they can be found. And there’s something degrading about being told that it’s the labels the medical profession decided to give us that determines whether we find that kinship. That’s one reason the developmental disability self-advocacy community insists on labels as less important than in some other disability communities. We’ve found a kinship based on common experiences and common values and desires among other things. And we prefer that to being divided up by other people’s ideas of categories. And we’ve had our categories used to erase our humanity. We have lots of reasons.
Most people with developmental disabilities have cognitive disabilities of some kind. And many of us, for many reasons, take time to figure things out, time to respond, time.
This is not just a personal request. It’s about accessibility. Accessibility isn’t just about what people want. In many places, including here in the USA, it’s the law.
Accessibility is a disability rights idea.
It has to do with the fact that societies plan for some people to be there, take for granted that some people will be there, build everything physical and social around the strengths and weaknesses of that kind of person. And then other people aren’t planned for or taken for granted and there’s all these obstacles to our participation in society. We are the disabled people.
Accessibility is about making it possible for everyone to participate by removing those obstacles and barriers that shouldn’t be there, and by building things in ways that make it as easy as possible for us to be there and participate and be part of things.
That isn’t the world’s best description but I’m trying. Most people if they’ve heard of accessibility they’ve heard if things like curb cuts and wheelchair ramps and elevators. Things that apply to physically disabled wheelchair users mostly.
Cognitive accessibility is different. Most people haven’t heard of it. Many physically disabled people who are big on physical accessibility don’t even believe in it. It’s part of ableist bigotry against cognitively disabled people.
But it’s huge. Just like physical access it can be life and death.
And for many cognitively disabled people, TIME IS ONE OF OUR BIGGEST ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES.
You need to give me time to think. Time to understand. Time to respond. Time to have a back and forth conversation. Time to put things together. TIME.
And the time needs to be without pressure. Without judging me for needing more time. Without making me explain why I need time. Without treating me as demanding. Without acting like your time is so utterly valuable that to give me even five seconds is a giant favor. Without acting like cognitive accessibility is a favor at all. Without all kinds of bizarre conditions in order to qualify as worthy of your time. Without treating me like I’m asking for special treatment. Without using the fact you gave me extra time to demand other things of me later.
None of those things are how real accessibility works. Because all of those things treat me at best like I’m only welcome under certain conditions. Like I’m only welcome because you’ve decided you want to be nice to me today. That’s not welcome. And it’s not accessibility. A wheelchair ramp that disappears and turns into a staircase whenever a wheelchair user feels grouchy isn’t access either.
Time isn’t always easy to come by. But we can’t just make our brains run the standard way. We need more time than usual. Or we need the time we have used different than usual. Or something.
Not getting enough time is such a common obstacle to access for such a huge and diverse group of people. Yet time is rarely seen as an access barrier. And when people bother to give us the time we need, it’s treated like a favor. Or like something that isn’t actually necessary. Something that wouldn’t be a problem to take away. And it’s our problem if we can’t keep up.
I’m dealing with huge timing issues in the hospital. It affects everything from comprehension to communication. It’s interfering with some of the most basic parts of my medical care. I’m getting exhausted, scared, and discouraged trying to cram my abilities into a speed that’s impossible for me. And half the time I’m not even getting the time to explain what I need when it comes to time: people force the conversations so fast it distorts communication at best and they can’t even tell it’s happening.
I’m not the only one. I had a roommate who communicated complex thoughts when we were alone but couldn’t get three words out around family and staff before they’d all decide what she was thinking. That’s a lot of things including lack of respect, but part of giving her respect was giving her time.
Meanwhile I’m always getting lectured on how I don’t respect people’s time because I make timing mistakes directly related to being disabled. >_< From people who rarely give me time enough to understand or respond right to anything.
People turn my access requests into weapons against me. Requests for time become ways to paint me as demanding or entitled. If I’m granted time, people will later explode at me if I still don’t understand.
“I GAVE YOU A WHOLE HOUR OF MY TIME AND I’M NOT ANSWERING ANY MORE QUESTIONS!” A doctor who was paid for an hour of consultation about choices between different styles of feeding tube. Later he happened to be assigned to me for a totally unrelated procedure and apparently the “favor” of his paid time meant he couldn’t answer a simple routine question any patient would ask. All I needed to know was whether I was getting Propofol during the procedure. Instead he wouldn’t even listen long enough to find out what I was asking. And I got shouted at just before a stressful procedure taking place in a room that gives me PTSD flashbacks every time I see it. I ended up with somewhat dangerous cortisol issues all because he happened to be the same doctor paid to spend an hour with me once.
People go out of their way to tell me what a hassle it is to give me any of their time at all. Even when they’re paid good money for it. The same people go out of their way to insist I don’t value their time enough. Often based on a false equality. But also based on rules I can never predict or follow because they require cognitive skills I don’t have.
This leaves me in the permanent belief that my time has no value at all. But that everyone else’s time is worth something close to infinity.
Mind you, until recently, using words or ideas like “time being worth something” would never have occurred to me. I’m still not sure it sits right in my head. And I’m not sure if it not sitting right is for a good reason or not. It just isn’t a way I think of time. Not the way they seem to mean it. Of course I barely understand time at all. But this way still confuses me.
But I do understand the concept of everyone always has to take time for me. And that this is a huge waste if their time. Because I’ve heard that my entire life.
I don’t actually buy the idea that my trouble processing time makes me a bad person who doesn’t understand the huge value of everyone else’s time. Or a person who needs to be condescendingly taught about such things. Because that just doesn’t pass any of my mental smell tests. But the way I’ve been treated and what I’ve been told leads me to feel that way.
So one barrier to access for many of us is time. But an additional one is the belief that we barely deserve the time we get, don’t deserve more, and are just taking away from everyone else’s much more important time. These add together until we get less time and lower quality time (like when the person spends the whole time letting you know you inconvenienced them), when we need more.
I need time.
But this is more than a personal need. It’s an accessibility issue. It changes how I’m able to participate in society. Right now it’s messing up my medical care. It’s a huge important deal, not an afterthought. And I’ve rarely met anyone with developmental or cognitive disabilities where time wasn’t an obstacle to access.
So giving us time, when it’s possible, isn’t a favor. It’s an access issue. And be real careful declaring it impossible, because there’s usually a solution. A lot of the time when people say it’s impossible they really mean it’s not important to them or they’ve always planned their time with a lack of time for us just built in. I only mentioned possible because there’s some people with cognitive disabilities whose own time issues make it hard for us to do this for someone no matter how hard we try. But for most people that isn’t a problem. And there are often solutions when time is limited. You just have to start from the assumption this is both important and possible.
Time is certainly important to those of us who need more of it. And it’s an accessibility issue just as important as wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, or Braille. It seems like such a little thing but nobody wants to give it.