Disabled Adults Need Spaces where they Can Be Adults

Matt Stafford
Jun 8 · 4 min read
Image courtesy of Baltimore Sun

Baltimore’s Club1111 is a new night club for disabled people. It is the first of its kind. A lot of disability activists are saying that it’s segregationist. Disabled people should be in the same clubs as able-bodied people. I can understand that viewpoint. On the other hand, there are clubs and businesses geared towards all other demographics. Why can’t there be clubs geared towards us? Maybe having a few more disability-centered clubs and bars is a good thing. It would be great for political organizing. They could serve the same role as gay clubs did for the LGBT community.

And there are things to like about it. Neurologists were involved in making sure it wouldn’t trigger seizures. There are a lot of epileptic people who’d love to go clubbing but can’t because of the flashing lights. And honestly, the idea of going somewhere where you don’t have to answer stupid questions about your disability sounds great. A guy in a wheelchair might like not having to hear the same “You have a license for that thing?” remark they hear from every drunk uncle at every family reunion. People with invisible disabilities would especially like to go somewhere where their disability is not called into question if they use a handicapped parking space.

But there’s a problem: Parents.

Parents are terrible at designing disabled adult spaces

You might think that statement is harsh but a lot of parents seem pathologically incapable of accepting that disabled adults are adults. Look at all the sensory-friendly movie nights. They only seem to show kids movies. The idea that disabled adults might actually want more adult fare is an alien concept. The reason for that is that so many parents would immediately flip out. You’d be shocked at some of the things thrown around in online disability spaces where there is nary a caregiver to be found.

And the same thing seems to be happening at Club1111. Parents are obviously the driving force. No alcoholic beverages are served. It closes at 10. Is this a space for disabled adults or is this one of those Christian alternative party events that every church youth group puts on to look cool? This doesn’t strike me as a disabled adult space. This strikes me as a simulation that is designed to give the illusion of an adult space but focused on keeping the parents happy.

Adult space simulations are not fun or socially healthy

What parents don’t often understand (and often don’t want to) is that these simulations aren’t actually fun. What you usually end up with is a bunch of overbearing parents going into full helicopter mode. Unsolicited (and unwanted) coaching, more than a little eavesdropping, and a lot of anxiety-inducing nagging. I know of more than a few parents who positively flip when they hear their disabled family member swear or otherwise talk about adult subject matter. And after they get home, they have to go through a long and judgy critique, even though we’re hard enough on ourselves as it is. I’d openly argue that the post-outing critique routine is why Social Anxiety Disorder is so prevalent in the disability community. The helicopter routine tends to turn what is supposed to be an enjoyable experience into a huge headache.

On a similar note, constantly being nagged and helicoptered around, even in what are supposedly adult spaces, is one reason disabled people have trouble forming relationships with able-bodied people. Look at Club1111 itself. Very few disabled people would want to take an able-bodied significant other on a date in an adult space simulation. No alcohol? Constant supervision by caregivers who will no doubt gossip about them behind their back? Nothing kills the romance faster. No significant other wants to have to constantly censor themselves because a parent can’t handle the fact that disabled adults have the same conversations and desires (even the sexual ones). It’s not a fun date.

No one likes being in the firing range of a misguided special needs helicopter parent. It drives them crazy and a lot of people in our community have stories of relationships being wrecked by parents not treating disabled adults as adults.

Disabled people need actual adult spaces

It’s not that I don’t sympathize with parents somewhat. I understand that a lot of people take medicines that make them unable to drink alcohol. So let’s have non-alcoholic beverages as an option. I think there is potential for clubs for disabled people. Certainly, Club1111 is a step in the right direction.

However, by choosing to cater to the needs and worries of parents instead of the disabled people it purports to cater to, it falls into the trap of being an adult space simulation. I hope future planners for disabled-centered nightclubs learn from Club1111’s successes and its failures. I really hope they learn that any plans must center on the needs of the disabled people rather than the parents. That’s how real spaces for disabled adults are created.