Eline Pollaert on inclusion and ableism

Until 2020, Eline Pollaert worked for the UU Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which has now become the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Office. In June 2022, Eline will start her PhD research on the history of disability in the Netherlands. Read more about her vision on diversity and inclusion in this article.

“People with disabilities enrich the academic world,” says Eline Pollaert, who is a project assistant at the UU Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. “Because of my disability, I regularly feel excluded from the academic world. This strengthens my ambition to make it clear that people like me offer a perspective that's currently mostly lacking.”

Eline Pollaert
Eline Pollaert

Creating awareness
Creating a more accessible UU for people with disabilities; that is one of the themes that the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force focuses on. “Accessibility is a mindset. It's not just about logistics, it's first and foremost about welcoming people,” Eline says. “With the Task Force, we put diversity and inclusion on the map by creating awareness and boosting discussion. My work is a lot of fun for various reasons. I can put much of myself into it because the themes of diversity and inclusion are near and dear to me. The subjects I work on vary as well; from quiet rooms and the Diversity & Inclusion Award to the organising of events and policy,” Eline says. The recently published Diversity and Inclusion Highlights 2018 - 2019 provides an overview of all initiatives in the field of diversity and inclusion within UU.

Identity is multifaceted
Eline has a congenital genetic condition that led to her connective tissue not being formed properly. “On the outside I look fine, but I experience chronic pain and fatigue on a daily basis. My internal organs work suboptimal, I get injured quickly and I cannot stand for long or walk long distances.” On the work floor, this means that Eline has a customised office chair, regularly uses the quiet room, works part time and uses a cane when walking long distances.

As a disabled person, you will regularly deal with prejudice from others. “I notice every day that being healthy is the norm and that I diverge from it, especially when my disability is ‘visible’. For example: when I visit a music festival in my wheelchair, people don’t talk to me but to the person pushing my wheelchair. When I entered the elevator with my cane one day, I didn't hear ‘Good morning,’ from an unfamiliar face , but ‘What's wrong with you?’” Eline is also no stranger to remarks such as ‘But you're too smart/young/attractive/cheerful to be ill.’ She tries to approach such situations with amazement: “People's discomfort is somewhat funny, but also sad. It means that disabilities are not considered normal, despite the fact that 15-25% of the world population lives with one or more disabilities.

What I personally find to be particularly tricky is that it seems impossible to harbour multiple ‘other’ identities. I'm queer, for instance, but I often don't sense the space to let those things coexist. With some sarcasm: ‘You're already disabled - how can you be something else on top of that?’ I try to laugh at that kind of short-sightedness , but I find it to be difficult to not internalise these kinds of norms.”

"Diversity among people is a fact, inclusion is a conscious choice."

Fighting for inclusion
Diversity among people is a fact, inclusion is a conscious choice, Eline states. “In an ideal world, there is room for all aspects of our identities and subsequently no need to hide parts of ourselves. An example of this is shame because you use a mobility aid, visit a psychologist or use medication. The dominant norms limit all of us, including the people who seem to meet them. By making a conscious choice for inclusion, we strive for equal opportunities and justice.”

Besides her work for the Task Force, Eline also devotes herself to more inclusion in her free time. For instance, she is a co-host of Ziek. De podcast. This is an initiative by UU alumna and journalist Tamar Doorduin. Eline says: “The cross-fertilisation between the podcast and my work for UU gives me a lot of energy. In the podcast, Tamar and I tell stories on the intersection of ableism, racism, sexism and other forms of oppression together with our guests.

Ableism is the discrimination, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people with disabilities based on their physical and/or mental states. Sickle-cell anaemia is a good example: this condition is primarily prevalent among black people and because of that it receives much less research funding than cystic fibrosis, which is primarily prevalent among white people.”

Eline continues: “What I think is important about the podcast is that we view chronic illness and disability from multiple perspectives. Not just the question ‘How does it work when you're chronically ill or disabled?’, but also ‘What's it like when you're disabled as a black woman or transgender man?’ The podcast provides people that are usually talked about with a platform to tell their own stories themselves. We can learn from that in the academic world.”

By inclusion correspondent Myra-Lot Perrenet