Life with disabilities. Lately I’ve been struck by the many accounts I see of people with disabilities just trying to get through their day to day without the obstacles of the ableist world holding them back. This isn’t an occasional thing. I see the written accounts every day, and those are just the stories that get written down. These are the few newspaper chronicles of how difficult it can be to travel from point A to point B with a wheelchair, for example. Or how it’s impossible to get concert tickets for people with disabilities.
Sometimes I see things on social media, too. I guess those chronicles of life with disabilities are also written down, just in a less formal way. Like the way firefighters have to respond when an elevator stops working in a building where people with disabilities are gathered for work, play, or other reasons. Or the many, many times able-bodied people make it impossible for people with disabilities to park—sometimes even when they’re tasked with enforcing the law.
I know a lot of people don’t see these issues as a big deal. I want to talk a little about why they are when you are the one living life with disabilities.
There are many different disabilities, and the challenges people face as a result of them vary a lot. Pain of some kind is one factor that unites many of us. So let’s start with that: pain.
If you don’t suffer from chronic, unresolvable pain, you cannot imagine it. That’s just a fact. As an ally you can certainly have sympathy and be supportive. Unfortunately, many people in our ableist culture take the position of naysayer, for a variety of reasons.
Maybe at some level they feel guilty or just uncomfortable, and that’s why they argue that a person who is paralyzed “can’t feel pain.” Maybe they don’t want to think about political issues like gun control or armed conflicts overseas, so they argue that someone with a spinal cord injury or amputation only felt bad pain at the time they were injured.
Maybe they don’t understand the cruelty of thinking that someone with cerebral palsy can’t be in pain because they seem too “out of it” to notice. (Yep, I’ve heard that one.) Maybe they just don’t believe that someone with an invisible disability has the problem they say they do; there’s really nothing wrong with you! This is all in your mind.
This brings us to the other kind of pain, the kind that all people with disabilities cope with from time to time, and sometimes every day: exclusion and judgment. These two unwelcome guests are part of life with disabilities in an ableist culture. Like the man who knows it will be a long-fought battle just to get to work or across town to shop, or the woman who will struggle with pain just to get dressed and out of the house, people with disabilities are constantly made to prove themselves worthy to exist in our society.
And goodness knows, you ask for help at your own peril.
Read about writing a letter to yourself here.