If I had a dollar bill for every time someone said something to me along the lines of, “you know, I’ve never thought of you as ‘disabled’, Meriah, you just seem so NORMAL!’, well, I wouldn’t have a mountain of money piled up to my chin,but I’m sure it’d reach my knees (- I”m tall).
And it’s like…. HUH ??
I seem so “normal”?! Are the disabled so un-normal, so oddly abnormal that we’re like the Coneheads or something? Am I then like the “v”, all posing to be the same but really need to eat rodents at a certain time of the day (isn’t that what the V did? What was it? It was something weird, wasn’t it?) Do I have to do something in particular that will qualify me as ‘not normal’ enough and then I’ll fit right in with the disabled camp? Or do I just need to not walk to look “disabled”? Maybe throw in a little drool?
I don’t think I need to get into those tired conversations of “what is normal anyway” or even on the word, “disabled”.
For what it’s worth, I think the word “disabled” is just flat-out stupid. It used to really annoy me, the whole “dis-abled” , the implications of lack of able-ness, of broken-ness and all that, but then I struggled to come up with another word and couldn’t. And since the world is what it is right now, it’s useful to have a descriptive word for people like us, people that have something going on that makes functioning in a world that is built around a mainstream population that operates differently from us.
You know, a society that makes you telephone to solve problems, that is often inaccessible, that has rigid time frames, that insists that you be a certain way.
So, no, I’m not disabled. When you look at it that way – I am perfectly ‘normal’ and I’m just living in a society that is not made for me or others like me. I’m not yet living in a society that values what I’m bringing to the table.
But then, when I – or those like me – try to function in this society, we slam up against the wall of our ‘disability’. And it’s really not a question: yes, I am disabled in this here and now. Yes, my deafness, my TBI, narcolepsy, PTSD and auditory processing disorder do get in the way of functioning within these particular societal parameters. Yes, it is *really* fucking hard sometimes.
Really. Fucking. Hard.
But I’m still Meriah, you know? I still like Donna Summer, red saltwater sandals, bell-bottomed jeans, cheesy 80’s power ballads, the Kingston Trio, Haruki Murakami and Barbara Kingsolver novels, good graffiti, kimchi fried rice with bacon and crisp plums.
I’m disabled and I’m normal.
Or as normal as I’m ever going to be.
But I AM disabled.
And you know what else? I claim it. I’m proud of it.
I don’t want to “pass” anymore. I don’t want someone to think that telling me how “normal” I am – I sure don’t look disabled! – is some kind of compliment. Because it’s not.
By acknowledging my disability, I feel that my struggle is also acknowledged. By acknowledging my disability, I feel that my unique perspective and skills are given a nod. Saying that I don’t “seem disabled” is robbing me of my experience and it’s also telling me that you think people with disabilities are freaky and uncool or something.
And isn’t it about time we reframed our collective consciousness about disability? I mean, isn’t it time we remembered that some of the very coolest people ever to grace our planet were/are disabled? Hellllooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo, Steve Jobs, Halle Barry, Cher, Franklin D. Roosevelt? Evelyn Glennie, Riva Lehrer, Harilyn Rousso, Simi Linton, Gavin Newsom (-yes!)? And, oh my God but it’s so easy to find disabled people in the arts! It’s almost like you throw a rock into a crowd at Hollywood or any given big-time art space and you are will land a few – because the disabled FLOCK to the arts; the arts are counted upon to be among the most welcoming spaces for us! So yeah, Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta Jones – do they seem disabled?
And they are!
So I *do* think it’s time for a reframing.
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.