Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Ode to Peter Parker

"I'm just so quirky."

"I'm just so off beat."

"I'm just so wildly unique."

Many people love the idea that they are completely and amazingly different from others. I had a friend once who went to a psychologist with a concern, he was told that it was 'entirely normal'. He said that he left not feeling comforted but almost insulted. As if the mere idea that what he thought was idiosyncratic was just plain common had brought him down not up.

"I'm just like everyone else."

"We're all the same."

"Cut me, do I not bleed?"

Then there are those who are truly different, who want to be seen as simply normal. That they are, under the skin, the same as everyone else. That the difference they experience does not make them different as people.

I had another friend who summed up this dilemma for herself by saying, "When people focus on my disability, it pisses me off. When people refuse to note my disability, it pisses me off. I live in a constant state of being pissed off."

Am I different?

Am I the same?

Perhaps, then, its normal to be different. Maybe that's where all this intersects. All this so far is me trying to sum up my reaction when people use the term 'differently abled'. It's a term that makes me squirm. I really don't like it. I like the intent but not the outcome. What on earth does 'differently abled' mean anyways and what's wrong with the word 'disabled'. I'm totally OK with being a disabled guy. I don't even much like 'person first' language in every situation. I don't like hearing 'down syndrome kid' or 'that cerebral palsy guy'. But when it comes to the word disability it seems different. Like it's OK to followed 'disabled' with 'person'. We don't use 'person first' language constantly with anyone else. I've never heard someone say, of me, that 'he's a person who is gay'. I've never heard 'a person who is a woman.' It seems labourious. It also seems to suggest that 'personhood' needs to be attached to disability because it is just not readily apparent.

But, that's not what I want to write about. 'Differently abled,' rankles me. I read it on a blog recently that I visit in secret. It's written by someone who scares me because of the level of anger she expresses. She holds others to a standard that, I believe, she does not herself bother to maintain. No, I won't tell you. She used this term recently and I sat there wanting to make a comment but knowing I would be stalked and attacked. So I didn't. Ha Ha, I have my own blog and can say what I want. Ha Ha, I have readers that will discuss with me and who are not afraid to challenge me, but do not often bloody me.

I think what gets me about 'differently abled' is 'different from what' or 'different from whom'. The term assumes a norm and then gives that norm power. It isn't 'normal' to live without disabilities, it isn't a 'desired state' to which all aspire. I think one of the biggest problems is that the majority thinks that it's the norm. It ain't normal to be white, it's normal to have a skin tone. To think that 'whiteness' is normal is to make everything else in comparison to it, everything else valuing itself in relation to 'whiteness'. It makes 'whiteness' superior. To refer to someone as 'differently skin toned' would be, I believe insulting.

Too, my abilities are never much different than anyone else's abilities. They are just abilities. I may get to where I'm going in a different bus but when I get there I do what everyone else does. In my own way, in my own time but it's pretty much the same. I think Spider Man is 'differently abled'. I don't think I am. My abilities are pretty much in the 'normal' range no matter how much I like to think otherwise sometimes.

So here's me. Wanting to be different while living an ordinary life. Just like everyone else. I'm uniquely me while being pretty much the same as my neighbours. I guess I'm just ordinarily different. But what ever I am, I'm just not 'differently abled'. I don't think anyone else is either.

Except, of course, Spider Man.


theknapper said...

wise words

not sure if I miised it but was there a discussion on the book, Deafenning?

Dave Hingsburger said...

No, I didn't do the discussion on Deafening but I am planning for it in September. Thanks for reminding me.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

I've used the term "differently abled," mainly because I don't see it as being all that different from disabled; after all, "dis-abled" assumes comparison with a norm of "abled." My way around this is to make clear that I'm talking about the social model of disability, in which being disabled is a cultural/social fact, not a medical one. It puts the word in context and hopefully points up why it's difficult to come up with a word that does not sound like a comparative.

Interesting, too, that you mention living an "ordinary life," as I just wrote a post last night called "A Strangely Ordinary Life." It's about being different, but also the same--extraordinary, but also ordinary. The more I accept myself, the more my uniqueness coexists comfortably with my simply being human.

Jannalou said...

I thought this post came at a very appropriate moment; Doug Cootey (A Splintered Mind) and I were just talking about ADHD stigma on Twitter yesterday, and this post reminded me very much of what we were discussing. We are both planning to write about stigma today on our respective blogs. (Mine isn't on Blogger anymore.)

Nan said...

Kind of like "special needs" (gag, gag, gag) I have always maintained and tried to point out to people that my daughter Jessie (who happens to have Down syndrome and loves the Jonas Brothers ... note that in my mind is the love of the Jonas brothers that causes me a problem) does NOT have special needs, but very typical needs (a la Maslow, i.e., need for food, shelter, love, recognition etc...) that sometimes (note, sometimes) need to be met in special ways. As she once said at her IPRC meeting, "my label, if you have to use a label, should be: Jessie and creative!"

On another note, labels are only useful if they convey useful information. We have been known to use her label shamelessly to get discount airfare (one of her goals is to travel as widely as possible).
Quite honestly, I kind of like "disabled" sometimes, because of the community it represents . . . I often really enjoy hanging out with people who use the label disabled in a radical lets change and challenge the world kind of way. Okay. Sorry for the ramble. I don't even know if its on topic anymore!

Anonymous said...

Nan said ...

"my daughter Jessie [...] does NOT have special needs, but very typical needs (a la Maslow, i.e., need for food, shelter, love, recognition etc...) that sometimes (note, sometimes) need to be met in special ways."

Yes, this, EXACTLY.

The phrase "special needs" tends to make me cringe, especially when used to refer to people (such as "special needs kids") even though I can't always put my finger on why. I'm not sure this is the whole reason why, but it may be a good part of it.

Too many non-disabled people think that people with disabilities asking for accommodations are somehow asking for "special treatment" -- something above and beyond what other people get. They can't seem to grasp that, no, we're just asking for the exact same thing everyone else has already--we're just asking that the MODE OF DELIVERY be adapted so that we can actually RECEIVE it instead of being excluded. They think that treating us all the same (ie using the same mode of delivery for everyone even if some people cannot access that mode of delivery) is inherently fair and that accommodating people's disabilities (such as providing audio instead of text for blind people or text instead of audio for deaf people) is automatically unfair.

I may be off point here! But, these are ongoing points of frustration for me!

FridaWrites said...

Saying "differently abled" ignores the disability and the real accommodation that may be needed. "Physically challenged" is even worse--someone used that to refer to me. I tried a few days ago to find more about the history of those terms but couldn't--I seem to remember people in the education field advocating for them, but I don't know how much input they had from people like us.

We are both the same and different. I think nondisabled people want to see it simply rather than to value complexity. Thus complaints every time there's a news story about lack of access that go something like: "These people say they want to be treated equally, and yet as soon when you do treat them the same, they scream 'discrimination.'"

The differences need to be accommodated so that we can be treated fairly; otherwise we should be regarded as valuable as everyone else rather than charity projects or less evolved beings.

FridaWrites said...

Oh, I also think being disabled is normal and being gay is normal. I might get a lot of flack for that from others, but that's my belief.

Andrea S. said...


I agree, disability and being gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender are all normal. After all: DIVERSITY is normal. So why wouldn't manifestations of diversity be normal too? Sort of part of the definition, innit?

Kristin said...

I absolutely LOVE this post.

Glee said...

spot on Dave and Nan special = apartheid, hate it

Shan said...

I'm so sick and tired of everybody being bloody special. Guess what, world? Everybody is special, which means no one is. You're disabled? Okay, well maybe the truth is your disability is visible. Mine isn't.

Anonymous said...

I've always shied away from certain terms: "differently abled" and "hearing impaired" and the like. I don't have problems with the words "disabled" or "deaf" because they're descriptive words that just about everyone understands. I believe the other phrases, like so many PC phrases, were brought forth with the best intentions; they were designed to be kinder and more inclusive, but they very quickly became condescending--with the distinct sense of "We normal folk accept you just as you are! Aren't we wonderfully enlightened?" Bleah. People are free to express themselves however they like, but any word or phrase that reveals more about the mental state of the person using it than it does of the person being described is not particularly useful or desirable language. Just IMO.

Estee Klar said...

"It's normal to be different." I couldn't agree more.

Georzetta said...

I wanted curly hair when I was a girl. Now I want all that bouncy grayness to go back to a nice straight brown.So it goes.

I've decided to stop worrying about the language people are using and concern myself with the intent.

The most hateful person in the world can use all the right words and still intend and do evil.

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