For many years, researchers have peered into the depths of chrononormativity, or the way that our lives are structured around certain milestones and expectations, using time as a vector of power. It is maybe unsurprising, then, that society’s understanding of a so-called “normative” life course” has garnered quite a few critiques from marginalized people throughout history. One such critique comes from the disability community, whose experience with time is vastly different than our ablebodied counterparts—from these critiques, the concept of “crip time” has arisen.
As Alison Kafer writes on the topic, much like “queer time” or “coloured people’s time (CPT),” crip time emerged as a “wry reference” to a disabled experience of time, which is unique in its vastness. It means, Kafer explains, not only “a slower speed of movement,” but also the experience of dealing with other ableist boundaries (both physical and mental). In general, according to Petra Kuppers, it is the idea that people simply move, think, and speak at their own pace. Similar to the naming conventions of queer time and CPT, crip time is named explicitly by a reclaiming a pejorative, with the verb “to crip” being used in reference to forcing the hand of something non-disability focused to respect and be aware of disabled experience. Though it refers broadly to disabled experiences of time, crip time has a unique relationship to work, since so much of capitalism revolves around time expectations. With regards to work, cripping time means not just the addition of extra time on deadlines, but a “reorientation to time,” as Kafer says, a reevaluation of the expectations that we have all placed on ourselves with regards to pace and scheduling. It is, as many people have written on the subject, a consideration of flexibility and grace, the understanding that we exist, first and foremost, as people with needs and desires and not as machines for “the apparatus of capitalist production.”
It is worth cripping time, then, not only for the benefit of currently disabled people (as much disabled discourse notes, the abled/nondisabled dichotomy is not as clear a line as you might think), but as an explicit challenge to so-called “professional” standards, which have long since proven themselves outdated and ignorant (think of questions like are tattoos professional and can you be competent at your job with colorful hair as more examples). As Kaia M. Arrow and Zachary Sera Grant write, crip time “forces disabled folks to implement and respect personal boundaries,” offering disabled people a way to prioritize themselves over their work. Perhaps the idea of you coming before work sounds terrifying—overwork, as Rainesford Stauffer writes on the subject for Teen Vogue, is often seen as a necessary evil, a sign of commitment to your employer. But this is, as many (including Stauffer) have noted, simply a way for a systemic problem to be seen as an individual one. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, as it were, rather than realizing the kitchen is actually on fire and being not-so-subtly forced to continue cooking there is actively harming you. If you and you alone are trying to convince your employer to respect your health and boundaries, you become the problem child. As Arrow and Grant write, this system defines workers as “good or dedicated enough based on how much unpaid labor they provide.” This exploitation is the keystone of normative-timeline-based capitalism: really fantastic workers simply do what needs to be done. This belief is widespread throughout the labor pipeline. Many disability researchers have noted that higher education instructors often suggest a fear that students will “take advantage” of any widespread accommodations, such as extra time or an increase in excused absences—as if it is unprofessional and manipulative to simply seek accommodations. Crip time allows us to escape these bounds, understanding that our value as workers—furthermore, as people—is not tied inextricably to our ability to produce on an ablebodied timeline.
Though capitalism sees work as a means to keep a roof over our heads, work itself has merit—there is value in creation and social interaction and the meaning we can make for ourselves. Work allows us to “create [our] material world in a self-reflective and social way.” And there is inherent value in a diversity of opinions and experiences in that work, disability can and should be a part of that diversity. We crip time not to tolerate the presence of disability in our workplaces, but to open up further space for its existence, for the betterment of us all.
Cripping time is a societal change and not an individual one, it is, by its very nature, a response to a widespread problem. Rather than an understanding that everyone is dealing with this, there is a pressure to pass as “normal,” as Emma Sheppard writes, especially when it comes to disability. When your boss tries to convince you that your boundaries are unprofessional, that is symptomatic of industrial capitalism’s expectations that you exist primarily as a machine to pump out work eight hours a day, five days a week (at least). When professionalism continues to maintain the guise of ease, we tend to forget that we are not alone in struggling against the expectations of normative time in our workplaces. Remember the last time you got sick and had to take time off work, did you simply take the time you needed to recover, or did you guess how many days you were “allowed” to be sick, as though you can simply stop being ill whenever it is convenient for capitalism? Illness is not allowed to require too much accommodation, you must pretend everything is fine, regardless of health. For another rampant ablebodied example, look at the way you’re meant to act as a menstruating person at work: you may be bleeding, your insides cramping, and your body exhausted, but there is work to be done! Buck up.
There are pervasive narratives of “pity and infantilization” that so-called obvious disability and illness lead to, and then there is, of course, the ensuing expectation of crip failure, which is often (wrongfully) assumed to be a failure on the part of the disabled person, rather than a result of ablebodied practices. Furthermore, if, as a disabled person, you attempt to follow the trend of performing ease, you’re likely to fall into the clutches of the “Super Crip” trope, which is, unfortunately, exactly what it sounds like. The inspiration-porn success story who is able to “meet the unrelenting colonial construct of the ablebodied and ableminded,” the disabled person who proves that everyone is capable of normative, ableist expectations, that those other people just aren’t trying hard enough. This trope also has implications for the Super Crip in question—when they eventually are unable to meet the ablebodied expectations they’ve been striving for, they also suddenly become a failure.
What does cripping time actually look like, though? The restructuring of our understanding of time is kind of a big, vague, academic concept. Well, luckily for you, you’ve just experienced (and are still experiencing, please wear your masks and be safe!) an example of crip time of your very own: the COVID-19 pandemic. The switch to online coursework and remote offices was widely described as draining and difficult, exasperating ablebodied individuals who were now, as Ellen Samuels and Elizabeth Freeman write, suddenly experiencing the frustrating uncertainty of crip time. In response to the “messy humanity” of the pandemic, the world at-large was forced to reckon with “new and radical approaches” to the expectations of work. These approaches can act as starting points for ablebodied people to reckon with the concept of crip time. If you were in college, you may remember a syllabus that suddenly described this radical idea that we were all humans and that your professor would understand if you had to prioritize sick family members or caring for children that were suddenly home from school. Maybe your team at work had a meeting to discuss being much more understanding with time-off requests. It’s key to note here that this was very much not the experience that frontline and retail workers had with the pandemic. At no point did anyone sit fast-food workers down and say that we recognized they were people too, that they were allowed to be sick or need extra grace. Still, we all experienced the same uncertainty as a result of the pandemic that is key to the experience of disability. It was undeniable that the world was no longer running as usual—even now, we’re continuing to have conversations about the “status quo” and how our experience with the pandemic makes us uninterested in returning to it. That disruption of norms, the understanding that industrial capitalism’s focus on “fitness and punctuality,” quoting Alison Kafer again, is an impossible standard to meet, regardless of health, allowed us as a society to recognize the necessity of crip time, even if we didn’t call it that.
Consider, then, cripping time as a way to break from the ablebodied expectations of capitalism, centering instead vulnerability and support for one another. Imagine it as a way not to tolerate the existence of humanity, but to celebrate it—to understand that life is messy and weird and uncertain, but that it is truly worthwhile to put in the effort to involve people despite. Crip time cannot simply be the addition of single-worker accommodations—especially not when we’ve been taught it is shameful or manipulative to use said accommodations—it is, instead, the complete reevaluation of time. Regardless of if you yourself are currently disabled or currently working with “out” disabled people, I urge you to reconsider your understanding of time in the workplace and reckon with the idea that your worth cannot be determined by the schedule on which you operate.