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“Are people with disabilities contributing members of society?”

Blogger Ellen Stumbo recently asked this question on her blog, delving into the question and stating that people with intellectual disabilities:

offer unconditional love, the kind that has no strings attached, it is pure, strong, real. They radiate joy as they celebrate the simple things in life. They cheer, celebrate, and encourage. They teach us compassion, acceptance, and humility. They remind us to be thankful for the many blessing that we have. They show us, in a profound way, what it means to be whole.

This made me pause.

She goes on to say,

people with disabilities are contributing members of society. They show us what really matters in life, what it means to be human, what it means to be loved and accepted simply for being, not because of what we can or cannot do.

– I was already in pause mode, so this made me stop still. And maybe – just maybe! – with that bit about my daughter existing to show Ellen Stumbo what really matters in life, what it means to be human (etc), my head hit the desk.


Okay, so.

“Are People With Disabilities Contributing Members of Society?”

That’s really a huge question and the answer can be worthy of a book. While I’m not going to go there, I did want to flesh out the question a bit and talk about some of the assumptions therein and give it at least a fraction of the  attention it really deserves.

First off – which is all we are going to talk about today – who exactly are we anyway, us people with disabilities?

I have more than one disability; does that make me on par with Stephen Hawking who also has a disability? Or is he made of the same stuff that Lauren Potter of Glee is?

This lumping  of “people with disabilities”? It’s kind of like going to China and they think you are ___________(insert name of latest movie star) and forget if she’s even the same ETHNICITY as you; you are both AMERICAN and that’s enough. It’s like a Chinese person coming to the United States and people here snapping their fingers, wanting to make the person feel comfortable, “hey! I watched a Chinese movie once! It was called “Karate Kid! That old guys was so great – do you know him?!

Do you see what I’m saying?

Disabilities are not the same.

Lou Gehrig’s disease is to my deafness what being a Bushman in the Kalahari is to a Swede in Stockholm.

Other than ‘oh right! We’re all human!” there isn’t an awful lot in common.

Now I don’t want you to even jumping to that massive (and terribly ubiquitous) conclusion that people within disability sector are the same either. That’s as offensively absurd as someone in India thinking that you are going to sleep with him (immediately too) because you are white and don’cha know, thanks to Hollywood, everyone knows that all white women sleep with guys immediately!

All white women! The same!

Thank you, Hollywood!

I’m the same as my other d/Deaf kin like you are the same as anyone else within your ethnic family. No more, no less. You share some commonalities but you are likely to have your differences too. By the same token, Moxie shares an extra chromosome with others with Down syndrome but she’s her own girl.



“Are people with disabilities contributing members of society?”

“people with disabilities” – who are you talking about? Are you talking about me or are you talking about Moxie? Are you talking about the guy who works at my local Safeway who has Cerebral Palsy or are you talking about Stephen Hawking?

Because lumping us all together makes as much sense  as lumping all the white ladies of America together and saying we are all exactly like Alicia Keys.


My point exactly.


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  1. People with disabilities and lumping them together is tough for me…I am a disabilities snob and I cannot even tell you which ones I am comfortable with and ones that I am not…because I see them in degrees to me and my daughter…Down syndrome is my pet project Maddie extra chromosome has made me see that there are many disabilities in the world and there are some that I do not see as a disabilitiy but I can imagine the person or family that lives with them very much consider it a disabilitiy…I also see why it is not my right to decide who has it worse or who has or what is a disability…this is a huge question and a deep thought…I can say I am not comfortable having society say that people with a disability makes them better or more fulfilled or more of anything…I will like to think that my Maddie will change the world on her terms but not because of her perceived disability but because she is just that awesome! .smiles

    1. I have been doing a lot of thinking on this topic, and one thing I can’t figure out is why there should be a disability hierarchy/degree of disability distinction (other than that clearly, people with certain diagnoses and challenges require different levels of care and may be more or less impacted by their challenges). But it has been on my mind for a few days now, and I thought I’d just ask directly: what does it mean to be a “disabilities snob”?

      1. Huh. I don’t know. “disabilities snob”. I know I’ve heard it before but I don’t honestly know what it means. I’m going to ask around.

  2. Very good question Meriah. I can’t write an answer to hers until she answers yours 😉

  3. I pause too. Oh, how I pause.
    So a person with a disability is denied his/her own individuality and is simply here on this earth to act like a puppy that still licks the hand that beats it, and to show us folks without a disability how to live our life (yes, our singular one), because …everyone needs a purpose, preferably one that fits into one of these neatly set out categories?

    What? Sheesh, now I’m kinda pissed off again.

  4. When I think of disability, my mind immediately goes to intellectual disability. If I didn’t know you, and we randomly met, I wouldn’t think, “oh she has a disability, because she’s deaf.” There are huge variations in disability, but I guess I don’t equate those with intellectual disabilities in the same plane as someone who is blind, deaf, missing a limb. I think people with intellectual disabilities can be very contributing to society whether it is through work, service, or in their immediate community and family through interactions and relationships. I don’t have a problem with what Ellen said. Just like Kamdyn is what comes to my mind when I think disability, I’m sure Ellen thinks of her two daughters when she thinks of disability. Your truth is what you know, whether someone else sees it the same or not. I’m not sure if that answered the question. I wasn’t quite sure where you were going, but I guess I’ll see more after your next post about it.

    1. Thanks, Tricia.
      Sure, your mind might go to ID when you hear “disability”, but that’s an assumption on your part. It’s not a truth.

      According to the state, I’m actually quite certifiably with a disability – a different disability to be sure than Ds, but I can still get the bus discount card and the red (disabled) train pass.

      I do think that it’s important to be careful when making sweeping generalizations about “disability” as a part of advocacy

      1. I’m not saying that its not disability. That is just where my mind goes when I think disability. I don’t think its an assumption. And it is my truth, because I live it every day. I’m not making any generalizations. It’s just what I relate to, because I don’t live with anyone who is deaf or has another physical disability. My son was recently been out on medical assistance for a tic disorder and ADHD, but I don’t think disability with him. I’m not trying to tear down any advocacy. I’m just being honest. I haven’t lived with disability all my life. I’ve lived with it for almost 3 years, so I’m sure I’ve for a long way to go in that area. Right now, my advocacy is geared toward my daughter, not the whole disability world. Maybe that’s wrong, buts all I can handle right now.

        1. I will say that this has made me think. And I guess for whatever reason, in my head, I kind of thought of physical disabilities as not being as bad, I guess. I guess kind of like levels of disabilities, and those ones weren’t on the severe side or something. I know that thinking isn’t right. Now that I’m aware that’s where my thinking was, I can change it. So thanks for that. On a side note, I think advocacy is an interesting topic too. I advocate for my daughter, but I wouldn’t consider myself a disability advocate by any means. I wouldn’t say I make sweeping generalizations, because I don’t try to advocate for all disabilities. I wouldn’t even know how to, because I don’t know what those are like. I wouldn’t feel I had the right to.

  5. Good point–we cannot all be lumped together. I am disabled (prefer not to share here but you can message me if you are very curious 🙂 and my daughter is differently abled (Down syndrome). I believe that we both contribute to society differently. The things is, we do contribute as we both have different things to offer. I cannot speak for Ellen Stumbo but when I read her post, I was thinking more along the lines of people who are repeatedly looked at by society as “unworthy”–those with Down syndrome, CP, and other syndromes. Anyway, I love how you always make me take a step back and think!

  6. As far as the unconditional love goes, I really had to laugh. My sister (25 with DS) does not radiate joy even though I remind her that she should because her middle name is “Joy.” She struggles with enough intellect to understand her differences, dislike them, and desire to “not be Down syndrome” (her words). She has always had clear favorites and if you are on her black list – forget it. You will be shunned. Forever. I know other people without ID just like this.
    I applaud Ellen’s effort to draw attention to the positive side of disability. However we swing the opposite direction to the term (which I despise) “Super Crip.” April’s extra chromosome is not for extra-love or extra-acceptance. But she still contributes positively in her community(most of the time, wink-wink)

    As bloggers we do a disservice by over generalizing postive aspects. People with ID are people too. Broken like us and beautiful too. Not more special, not worth less. Human.
    Thanks for your posts!

  7. Thanks Meriah for letting me know you were writing about this. Glad to give you a good prompt for a series of posts. For anyone questioning, Meriah wanted to make sure that I was not offended by her posts, and she reached out to me.

    I hope everyone here actually takes the time to read my post! It makes a difference to read words that flow together from paragraph to paragraph.

    Also, I did want to point out that I asked this question specifically about people with disabilities that require life-long care or have severe intellectual or physical limitations.


  8. I found the third post in your series, “Are People with Disabilities Contributing Members of Society?” and printed it off as part of some book research I am doing. But now I can’t find that post, or the second one. Love your thoughts and straightforward style. Thanks for this post. If you read this comment, I hope to read the other parts of the series, too. Thanks!

    1. thanks for looking – I think I may have paused those posts to edit them and not reposted. I’ll check

  9. Caitlin Turner says:

    This is a difficult topic, because people with disabilities as a whole have been seen not as contributing members of society but more as a burden on society. Obviously we want to change that narrative, but how do you go about doing that? How do you convince non-disabled people that people with disabilities have value and can contribute to society as a whole? How do you stop discrimination and prejudice against an entire minority without discussing it as a whole?

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