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I Thought I Was Just Stupid

I Thought I Was Just Stupid

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This is part of the series by Kari Turner, which explores internalized ableism.

I Thought I Was Just Stupid

That’s right, once upon a time I had no idea that any struggle of mine beyond the most obvious physical ones – falling, keeping my balance – had anything to do with my cerebral palsy (CP). I did not learn until college that CP also affects spatial skills and orientation, meaning that up until then I had endured a lifetime of getting lost (and staying that way, since I could never give or understand directions anywhere I tried to go); failing math tests (and enduring the befuddlement of parents and tutors who had no idea how to help me); and flubbing any and every task involving spatial reasoning, from assembling pieces of furniture to finding my way around a store.

I could pass off only so many jokes about getting lost in my own house before dissolving in tears of exhausted frustration. As much as I’ve always loved traveling, the thought of going anywhere–especially alone–filled me with dread and anxiety. Over time I came to feel so lost, afraid, and yes, stupid*, that I believed no one wanted me around. The ableism I had internalized became so profound that even now, years after learning to recognize it and call it what it is, I find I can barely write this column!

But I’ve decided to do it, because the best way I know to support others is by sharing experiences.

When I got to college and found out my spatial deficits were something I could have gotten accommodations for, rather than a personal shortcoming I would just have to deal with, I thought how much different my life could have been, and I realized as I met more and more people with all different kinds of disabilities that I had to be far from alone.

I decided there must be value in exposing this “underside” to disabled life, the side that the media would have us believe does not exist and the side that has made it almost impossible for me to trust my own self-perception (though I never stop trying.) And now, there’s none better to begin this exploration with than Meriah herself, who, when I pitched her the title of this column, hit me back with a resounding, “OMG, YES!”

So…. here we go, an interview with Meriah to kick off this series that explores people’s own internalized ableism!

Note: “K” stands for “Kari” and “M” stands for “Meriah”

*A note on the language: If the use of ableist terms here offends you, it should!; not one of us should ever have to experience ableism, from any source! My hope is that by identifying and naming the worst of it, I can hold space for growth and change–from the personal to the organizational level! My experience has been that sometimes, though certainly not always, triggers can be cathartic. So, if something here resonates with you in a way you can safely engage, I will have done what I set out to do. I can be reached at karisatglencree@gmail.com for discussion and potential interviews.

Thanks for reading!

The Interview

I Thought I Was Just Stupid…

Kari: Can you complete the phrase, “I thought I was just…” to fit your own experience of internalized ableism?

Meriah: I thought I was just stupid, for sure! I’m a little nervous about backlash with using the word “stupid”, but I think it’s more important to be honest, and it really does fit.

K: What aspects of your disability frustrate you the most?

M: Well, I have more than one disability…I think that for all of them, though, I get frustrated at times by their non-visibility. It feels like I’m faking it sometimes when I say that something is happening because I can’t hear, remember, or understand. I speak really clearly too, so most people have no idea how much pulling together of contextual information I do to “hear” or grasp what is happening. That’s frustrating sometimes.

K: What’s one thing you constantly find yourself explaining to others about your disability, maybe that you wish you didn’t have to?

M: To be honest, I don’t do much explaining these days! I live in a silo.

K: Are there any accommodations you are ever embarrassed to ask for?

M: I have to ask for captions all the time, and it can be torture.

I jump through all these hoops and then…they are not there. I can’t count the times I’ve wanted the floor to open up so I can jump in, because the entire meeting or class are all WAITING, because the organizer is trying to figure out how to enable the captions, because they didn’t get it ready ahead of time.

K: On the flip side, can you tell me about a time you have been accommodated or otherwise had your disability recognized and considered in a way that pleasantly surprised (or at least relieved) you?

M: Yes. I attended a training on Interplay, and when I asked for captions, they were like, “Of course. We have them enabled already.” The organizer also checked in with me to make sure it was all okay–it meant a lot to me.

K: What’s one aspect of your disability that you wish you had understood better, or at least earlier in your life?

M: My neurodiversity.

I wandered into the world of disability when I was in my late 20s, but it was only the deaf world. I gradually came to figure out that my TBI and CPTSD were extremely important for me in relating to and being in the world. I recently “scored” for being on the Autism spectrum, and I have to say, so much clicked into place with that. It kind of spun me around, because now, looking back at my life, everything becomes so clear to me: How and why things happened, how and why I was that way.

I really, REALLY wish I had known about this before. It would have made life so much easier for me.

K: What’s one thing you wish more disabled people understood about Deafness?

M: That it’s a spectrum: Deafness is a spectrum. We don’t all sign, either. On that note, I’d love for people to understand how isolating it can be to live on the deaf spectrum and to not be fluent with a signed language.

K: Where do you see more opportunities for the Deaf community and other disability communities to come together? What do you think is in the way of that the most right now?

Or, where do you think there is more room for different groups of disabled folks to distinguish themselves from each other so we can face ableism (especially lateral ableism) together?

M: That’s such a great question.

Areas of clear and easy intersection to me are in our rights and in resources available to us, which we need to thrive. I will also say that much of our histories are intersected, and much of the oppression and challenges that we respectively experience are comparable. I know I learn a lot from other disability communities, and I appreciate their perspectives.

Thank you, Meriah, for this amazing interview. I dream of living in a world where no one has to explain or excuse their disability to others, and where no one has to justify their needs. I hope through this column I can take one step further along the path to realizing that dream.

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Marlena

Monday 25th of October 2021

"Deafness is a spectrum." I never read this expressed so clearly. As someone on the deaf spectrum, I will share my favorite ableism: The speaker strides up to the stage, waves aside the microphone and says (it's not question): "You can all hear me, right."

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