Taking the Edge Off: Navigating an Ableist Pandemic Through Mixology
Taking the Edge Off: Navigating an Ableist Pandemic Through Mixology
Mary Frances Layden
Sometimes a cocktail just takes the edge off.
During lockdown, in the early days of the pandemic, my family and I sheltered in place in New York City. Hospital beds were thrown together in Central Park, cases skyrocketed beyond belief and prediction; it was, admittedly, a terrifying place to be for someone high risk like myself. My sisters and I have a rare neuromuscular condition, which includes paralyzed right diaphragms, a respiratory concern to a virus like COVID-19. We really hunkered down and worked remotely, or in my case, completely remote for my last semester of my Disability Studies program. As the days passed, we tried our best to find ways to distract ourselves. One night early on, I decided to make a drink for St. Patrick’s Day—an Irish Coffee. And without discussing or deciding this, a new routine and family activity was born.
We started by making drinks that we already knew how to make—Cosmopolitans, Margaritas, Gimlets. Then we branched out into mixing more adventurous drinks, ones we had never tried before but always wanted to. This continued throughout lockdown, whether just at our family dinners or over Zooms with friends. At a particular standing Zoom appointment on Saturdays with our friends in England, one person would select the cocktail for that week, and everyone would partake in making it from their respective cities. Even though we couldn’t see each other in person, this made us feel like, somehow, we were all sitting at opposite ends of the same long bar.
Making these drinks for family and friends not only ignited a new passion within me, but it also awakened me to the inaccessibility of mixology. It frustrated me that instructions described as simple were actually quite complicated for me and my body. And there was nowhere online where anyone was talking about this. So I knew I needed to come up with my own adaptations to help myself and for others.
As the world began to open back up and vaccines arrived, my family and I ventured out occasionally and carefully; I remembered how beautiful it was to be a part of the world again. This didn’t last long though. Variants reared their ugly heads and forced us to retreat inside, while others carelessly continued to live their lives. Even today, surges of Covid variants like BA.5 or the emergence of Monkeypox have driven disabled and chronically ill people to remain sheltered in place, all while mask mandates and other public health measures have been dropped. Non-disabled people remind us, again, how little they think we’re worth. To grapple with this rage and grief, I got thinking about what makes me happy when I feel hopeless. I decided to create an account where I not only share recipes my family and I have enjoyed but shine a light on access and dispel the myth that disabled people do not enjoy adult activities, such as drinking. As I mentioned, I would search online for adaptive bar tools, or tips or tricks, that could help with making the cocktails; however, I didn’t find any that existed—the tools I did find for cooking looked like they belonged in a hospital, highlighting society’s medicalized view of disability. I also searched disabled bartenders and any story involving mixology and disability and came up with very little. I realized that creating an Instagram account documenting my adventures, @bar_marv, could help bring awareness to this void in our community and begin the work of filling it.
I want my account to be a haven for cocktail enthusiasts, disabled individuals, and/or both! My page is an accessible, inclusive, and informative space for all. On it, I include “#AccessTips” to provide insight into the techniques I have found helpful for my disability, when encountering access barriers, such as difficulty holding certain tools or cracking eggs.
Instead of making simple syrup the traditional way (i.e. heating sugar and water in a saucepan), I employ the ”No-Cook Simple Syrup” method, which includes adding water and sugar into a container and manually stirring or shaking until dissolved. Because I have difficulties maneuvering pans on a stove and cannot stand in place for long periods of time, this method has proven to be very accessible for me. In addition, I feature “disabled wisdom”—I share quotes, ideas, and thoughts from disabled individuals on the topic of access, design, drinks, etc. I also make a concerted effort to frequently feature delicious mocktails. There are many reasons why some people might not drink alcoholic beverages, whether they’re in recovery, are medically unable to consume it, or they simply have chosen not to. I want my account to remind disabled individuals who do not drink that they can partake in the culture and fun of mixology just as much as anyone.
Finally, one of the most important parts of @bar_marv is my “disabled icons” spotlights, where I repost an image of a disabled person enjoying a cocktail or mocktail. While it may not seem significant to non-disabled individuals, I find power in showing disabled people living their lives with complete freedom and joy. In her book Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity, Simi Linton discusses the idea of disability and pleasure and that it is “society’s choice…to exclude disabled people from social and cultural events that afford pleasure” and that disabled people “seeking pleasurable experiences are thought to be searching for something to soothe, to comfort, or to take their mind off their troubles rather than something to activate that imagination, heighten awareness, or to spur themselves on to social change” (p. 111). Disabled people are constantly infantilized. Non-disabled people don’t think of disabled individuals, specifically those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as interested in drinking or socializing in the way that they do. They are wrong. We are worthy, we are grown, and we like to mix things up and activate our imaginations. And sometimes, especially in this weary world, we just need to take the edge off.
So sit back, take some time for yourself, and enjoy a drink! Here are 2 recipes for a drink I call “The Pandemic Isn’t Over”— an alcoholic version (“Alice’s Nightcap”) and non-alcoholic version (“Alice’s Zero-Proof Aperitif”).
Mary Frances Layden (she/her) is a disabled academic, entrepreneur, and advocate living in New York City. She and her sister co-founded love♡bili♡nyc, an apparel company that celebrates disability pride through designs. She holds Master’s Degrees in Developmental Psychology from Teacher’s College, Columbia University and Disability Studies from CUNY School of Professional Studies, and has experience in international disability rights, including working at the non-profit A Leg to Stand On (ALTSO), co-writing a chapter for Oxford University Press on the humans rights issues affecting disabled children globally, and attending the 10th annual Conference of States Parties for the CRPD at the United Nations with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Layden currently manages the Instagram account, @bar_marv, aimed at making the mixology process more accessible for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
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