Preppers are people who plan for emergencies in practical ways. Exactly what they’re preparing for varies but can include natural disasters, economic crisis, civil unrest, or a zombie apocalypse.
Prepper culture focuses on self-reliance, making detailed plans, stockpiling essentials, and doing everything possible to support survival in a catastrophic breakdown of society.
While creating our new show Burnt Out In Biscuit Land we talked a lot about the overlap between prepper culture and disability culture.
Disabled people must often make complex detailed plans about their survival. These may mean buying extra equipment and stockpiling essential supplies – very much like prepping. But it struck me that one of the key differences between regular prepping and the plans that disabled people make, is the difference between imagining a future failure of society, and dealing with a society that already fails to consider our bodies, minds, or requirements, and certainly never makes emergency plans that would work for us.
Disabled people are often encouraged by official bodies to make our own plans, putting all the responsibility as well as the financial and emotional burden fully on our shoulders, making us responsible for our own survival and seemingly absolving those in charge of any need to think about us when they’re doing their emergency planning.
We saw this very clearly during COVID when those most at risk from the virus were told to shield and to stay at home, without any thought being given to the practical implications of this, like how we’d get our food safely. During COVID disabled people supported each other by providing information, sharing knowledge and compiling lifesaving resources.
Like many disabled people I had an ‘emergency hospital bag’ packed and ready to go – I still do. This is very similar to the concept of a ‘bugout bag’ in prepping communities, except rather than being full of stuff to help me survive in the wilderness, it’s got what I need to help me survive in a hospital.
I imagine that for most non-disabled people, the concern about going to hospital would be about whatever’s making them sick, but for me, the concern is more about being given an equal chance to survive. This anxiety is based on numerous negative experiences I’ve had in healthcare settings.
But it’s never just one crisis: if you’re a disabled person the planning is relentless!
For example, in January I received an email from UK Power Networks who manage the Priority Services Register. This is a national list of sick and disabled people who rely on power for their health and care needs. People like me are included because we have essential powered equipment like beds, chairs, bath lifts, emergency alarms and mobility aids. Other people are included because they need power for vital life functions like breathing, dialysis or eating.
The subject line of the email was ‘Make a plan for power cuts this winter’. It went on to describe in detail the type of power outages that might happen. It also made clear that ‘Being on the Priority Services Register does not offer you any protection from the national power cuts.’ Getting this email was scary and it offered very little useful advice for how to make a plan that would actually work. Telling someone who needs power to breathe, move or have a wee that they should always have warm clothes and a torch to hand does little to relieve the concerns.
Call me a cynic, but I don’t think this email was ever about encouraging disabled people to make a plan. It seemed to be more about shifting responsibility from the Government and energy companies onto individual disabled people.
For me, the cost of a meaningful back-up energy plan would run into thousands of pounds — I know this because I’ve spent a great deal of time researching the options.
Disabled people are prepping all the time, and while we might not call it that, many of us have back-up plans for everything!
But some disabled people are even having to fight for the right to plan. The Government has rejected recommendations that disabled people living in high-rise blocks be given Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans or PEEPs so they know how they can get out if there’s a fire or other emergency. They claimed that it is not “practical” or “proportionate” for disabled people to have PEEPs and that providing them would incur “excessive costs” and “hinder others in evacuating”, this despite substantial evidence in support of them, including from the fire services.
Failure to consider disabled people in emergency plans isn’t just an issue in the UK. It’s come repeatedly in crises all over the world, whether during floods in Queensland, wild fires in California or earthquakes in Japan. While some efforts to recognise this are being made by organisations like the United Nations, the risks caused by these failures still generally fall on disabled individuals and communities.
We aren’t inherently better at it, but we’re repeatedly forced to plan by the governments and institutions that exclude us. I experience the impact of assumptions made about me every day, and it’s wearing. While I do have ways to resist this oppression, when it comes to medicine and emergency planning, the stakes are particularly high.
I’m not prepping for an imaginary doomsday. For me, doomsday can happen any day of the week. It can come in the form of a broken wheelchair, a sick support worker, or an unexpected email from an energy provider. I’ve seen very little research or discussion about the impact of living with this ongoing precariousness.
Disabled people are made vulnerable through systems, policies and plans that don’t consider us. What if policy makers took a different approach and valued the incredible expertise held within disabled communities?
I’m not writing this to make you feel miserable or because I think there’s no hope of improvement, but because making our experiences visible is the first step towards creating a society that has all of our humanity in all of its diversity woven into it.
I’m not interested in living in a normative supremacy where only certain bodies and minds get a chance to survive. Fuck survival of the fittest, I’m interested in survival of the crip-est!
Our national tour of Burnt Out In Biscuit Land beings on Wednesday 26th April and runs through until July. Details can be found here.