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
“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
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.
4. We are not sexy
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?
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?”
photo credit: Neil. Moralee Close Encounters. via photopin (license)
photo credit: jackcast2015 Paraplegic Date via photopin (license)
photo credit: jackcast2015 Victorian wheelchair woman via photopin (license)
photo credit: CircaSassy A rose that saved (1900) via photopin (license)
photo credit: Renaud Camus Le Jour ni l’Heure 8715 : autoportrait à l’aveugle, bibliothèque, Plieux, jeudi 7 novembre 2016, 01:30:40 via photopin (license)
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.