5 Common Myths About Disability

5 myths about disability: image shows a collage of photos representing different types of disabilities. Text reads over a blue rectangle, "5 most common myths about disability" and www.meriahnichols.com
The most common myths about disability are talked about here

5 of the most common myths about disability are talked about here – starting off with the biggest one:

1. We all use wheelchairs

I was late in joining the disability community (“island time” as they say in the Pacific), because in my family, the only “real” people with disabilities were people who use wheelchairs.

My being deaf and my mental pieces were just things that God was sending to me to overcome, make me stronger (and so forth). “With fire we test the gold!” was said a lot to me.

What this did, however, was make me feel like a freak. Because something was clearly up with me – I knew it, I was experiencing it – but I had no community, resources or friends who were similar. I was trying to be non-disabled.

I had no idea that being deaf counted as a disability, that wheelchair users only count for a fraction of disabled population in the United States. Non-visible disabilities, in the form of reading/learning disabilities, chronic health conditions, mental illness, d/Deafness, speech disabilities, and neuro divergence are everywhere.

You know it, when you think about it, because there are people all around you who have disabilities.

But since “disability” is so stigmatized in our culture, who on earth would want to “come out”? I mean, you really have to have a pressing reason to put yourself out there (if you don’t have to).

2. That we are incapable

People assume with the “dis” part of “disability” that people with disabilities are without ability. But ~

“DIS” prefix is not only “un” and “not” but has a Latin and Greek derivative meaning “duo” and “two” hence *another* way of doing and being. – Heather Watkins

So rather than a group of people who are incapable, people with disabilities are a group of people who do things another way.

They are people who see, walk, hear, speak, feel, process, emote and experience in the world in another way.

My daughter with Down syndrome has a disability. It’s an intellectual disability, which means that she learns, speaks and emotes in a way that’s different from mainstream.

I am deaf – and have mental pieces that I’m still trying to understand. I simply hear, see and emote in a way that is different from mainstream.

Neither my daughter nor I are incapable! We are not without ability. We have another way of processing in our lives, a duality in our lived experience.

3. We are to be pitied

Our culture sets disability up as something to avoid at all costs. It follows the medical model of disability, meaning, that disability is something to be fixed.

Since disability is something to be avoided, people who are disabled are naturally pitied. Our lives are held up as examples, ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I!‘ and so forth. In that pity, there is a also a disassociation – like, ‘this couldn’t happen to me!’ or, “I could never deal with that…” (- so the good Lord in His infinite mercy wouldn’t test you with something you couldn’t bear, because only strong people have disabilities, right?!)

The Pity Narrative is a really old and tired one; it needs to be retired.

In it’s place, we need one that recognize that people with disabilities just need a level playing ground. We need access, we don’t need pity. We need the opportunity to go to school, work, have medical coverage.

Screw pity.

4. We are not sexy

This one is kind of hilarious when you put it in context.

Anyone seen Nyle DiMarco? Lady Gaga? Or how about Halle Barry, Tom Cruise, Mark Ruffalo, Micah Fowler, Lauren Potter, Cher, Marlee Matlin, Carrie Fisher, Prince? Seriously, the list of artists, musicians and actors with disabilities is a mile long. It almost seems as if it’s a requirement to be successful in the arts. Who knows? *shrugs* Maybe it is.

To say disability is unsexy is just ridiculous. I mean, disability in and of itself is nothing more than another way of doing something, right? So the presence of sexiness only has to do with the person who has it. Plenty of people with disabilities ooze sexiness; plenty don’t, just like there is a whole world of non-disabled people who are also sexy and not.

5. We'd rather not be disabled

The question of whether or not people with disabilities want to be non-disabled is just as complex as asking if someone would prefer to be white, rather than black.

Do black people – who are oppressed in a majority-white America – want to be white?

People with disabilities are also oppressed. Access is a bitch. Violence against people with disabilities is rampant. Education, employment and opportunities are often a fight, discrimination and prejudice are a given. So would we rather not have our disabilities?

Huh.

Well, I think most everyone I know would do without all the bullshit: the oppression, violence, discrimination, prejudice and lack of access.

But if all of that was removed, would we really want to be non-disabled? I mean, for many of us, our very identity is inextricably linked to the way in which we move through our world. So, the question for those of us who feel that way is, “would you like to remove your identity?

5 myths about disability: image shows a collage of photos representing different types of disabilities. Text reads over a blue rectangle, "5 most common myths about disability" and www.meriahnichols.comSo there you go! The 5 most common myths about disability, plus a bonus of the brilliant definition of “disability” by Heather Watkins (and I think she said that Lawrence Carter-Long has been saying that too? Very cool).

If you have more myths, add ’em in the comments!

Meriah

is a deaf blogger, global nomad, tech-junkie, cat-lover, Trekkie, Celto-Teutonic-peasant-handed mom of 3 (one with Down syndrome and one gifted 2E).

She likes her coffee black and hot.


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3 Comments

  • Next Myth: “All people with Disability are Intellectually disabled” No, not everyone who has a physical disability, or is blind or deaf has an intellectual disability. My husband and I both have Cerebral Palsy AND higher educational degrees. We are not mentally deficient in any way. Speaking slow and LOUD does not work for us, or refusing to take in that we are actually educated. This happens often in doctor’s offices, where we can get penalized for being intelligent.

    Next Myth: “Disabled people are either oversexed or don’t have sexual feelings at all. ” No, we are just normal humans with normal range of emotions including sexual feelings. AND some of us can even be ‘gay’.

    Next Myth: “People with Disabilities want to be underemployed or unemployed.” NO ONE wants to live their lives being under appreciated, underfed, or spend all their time working for literally nothing. Many of us are becoming self employed in order to earn money in some way. SSDI does NOT take care of all our needs.

    Next Myth: “We all KNOW one another.” All people with disabilities run in their own circles. Some of us might actually bump into one another from time to time, but I don’t “know” Josh Blue or Geri Jewell (Facts of Life), and yet I have met Marlee Matlin and the Reeves family before Christopher and his wife passed, as well as John Hockenberry, who were all guests of honor at the BiAnnual Solidarity Conferences that used to be held in Ohio.

    Next Myth: (this is a job related one again), “We all want to be (or need to be) motivational speakers” as if there are no other possible jobs available for us. Some of us are writers, some of us own brick and mortar businesses, while other’s of us that become self employed, push like hell to get vocational rehab to do anything but place us in flunky jobs, and actually help us out in our small businesses. There is nothing wrong with being a motivational speaker, but for heaven’s sake this isn’t the only “gig” out there!

    Next Myth: ” We don’t marry, we don’t have children, and if we do, we should not have custody of our children should we divorce.” Still a problem, folks of courts still believing that we cannot or should not raise children. This still is a huge detriment that often drives rifts between children and their disabled parents, thinking that they are not loved, because courts have denied access.

    Next Myth: “Disabled people get discounts all the time for everything.” Nope, Nada. In some states they do allow the disabled to be able to receive ‘senior’ discount (after all we have the same income, if we are receiving SSDI and the same problem of cash flow). In MOST states folks under the age of 65 receive no “senior discounts” or any discounts towards restaurants, movies, etc. It’s not done. And don’t try to ask, they just don’t get it. Even store discounts offered for seniors require that you must ‘age in” to receive.

    Next Myth: “Travel is easy.” Travel is bloody difficult, and if you intend to leave the US to go even to Canada, getting a VISA is ridiculously hard. Because CRPD (the second ‘half’ of ADA that never passed) failed to pass 2 years ago, it is UP TO THE AIRLINES, up to the AIRPORT, etc as to whether or not you can travel. In some cases, airlines have the RIGHT to ask you to forfeit your tickets if you do not show that you have a ‘care attendant’ or someone on the other end to ‘care for you’…….Also know that IF you have a wheelchair it can be confiscated for ‘investigation’ to check for bombs, etc. One paraplegic lost her chair in travel through Air France that took 6 weeks for them to dismantle her motorized chair looking for bombs. You gotta love this stuff. It’s crazy.

  • Attitude is everything, it doesn’t mean that if you are disabled so you can’t do anything. It’s in your attitude if you choose something have to guts to do it. I have a friend whom right hand not works but still he drives a car and also an owner of a big company.

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