Monday, July 22, 2013

Elevators

A few days ago someone sent me a link to this video:


I loved the video. I think the man has a truckload of talent and I enjoy watching people do what they love to do. What I found disconcerting though, was the number of people who have responded to this video by saying things like:

"I wouldn't call him disabled."

and

"Who say's he's disabled?"

They mean this as a compliment! I'll admit, I've had it said to me too. Usually as part of a compliment after I've given a lecture or in an email from someone who was moved by something I've written. I know I am supposed to take it as it's meant - the highest form of flattery. Like I've moved out of the class of beings who cannot and into the class of beings who can. Rah!

I don't take this as a compliment, however, I find it, in fact, quite insulting. Firstly, I AM DISABLED. Secondly, I'm OK with that. Thirdly, my status of being a disabled guy isn't temporarily lifted when I do something that someone else admires.

This may shock you but when I hear that kind of compliment, given to me or given to someone else with a disability, what I hear is the depth and breadth of prejudice and bigotry behind it. What it means is that the speaker, the compliment giver if you will, has such a narrow definition of what it is to be disabled that they cannot include in that definition what they have seen, what they have heard or what they have experienced. So instead of stretching their minds to include within their conception of 'disability' this new experience, they artificially 'lift' or 'elevate' someone with a disability into the status of someone without a disability - into the 'norm.' Yikes.

This doesn't just happen to people with disabilities, of course ... I remember hearing some guys talking about the first woman welder at the mine where I worked summers during my university years.

"She's just one of the guys."

and

"When it comes to welding, I don't think of her as a woman."

Um, but she is. She is BOTH a woman AND a welder. But we can't have that can we? That would mean that we'd have to reconsider what restrictions we have in our minds about what it is to BE a woman. Rather keep the stereotype and 'elevate' her into the status of 'honourary man.' I call 'bullshit!'

But then this also happens in reverse.

When I wrote about the woman who sat in my wheelchair someone commented that the woman must have had a disability or some other "difference". It's like the definition of "normal" can't include someone who is privileged, who is selfish, who is inconsiderate. Therefore, instead of stretching one's mind to include within the understanding of the length and breadth of of "normal" behaviour someone with negative characteristics, one simply "demotes" them into the "dis" part of humanity.

You see this all the time. When someone commits a crime, or when someone does something cruel, people interviewed, usually neighbours who blink into camera's and say:

"That's just not normal."

and

"She seemed so normal."

It distresses me that typical people are constantly encouraged to see themselves as being at the peak of evolution. They have no need to think about their behaviour, to think about the fact that "normal" includes cruelty and selfishness and unkindness. That "normal" people can bully and abuse and rape. That "normal" people need to be on guard against their own natural impulses - which aren't, no matter how much you may want to believe it, always towards charity and love and generosity of spirit.

That disabled people can be disabled and talented and that "normal" people can be mean and cruel should simply be obvious.

But it isn't obvious.

It's a challenge to how those with bias see the world. It's the essential ingredient behind ableism and disphobia. But then attitudes that have "disability" as lesser than "normal" are so ingrained that the minds of many have installed elevators ... not, unfortunately, to increase access ... but so that those who "inspire" can be lifted up from one status to another, and those that don't can be moved down.

Yeah, the guy can dance. Yeah, the guy has a disability. Get over it.

12 comments:

Just Heidi said...

Agreed. I have a child who is affected by Autism, when that information is shared with others; we hear things like, "She doesnt look Autistic" or "She must be high functioning". She has Autism, no need to catergorize her based on how she looks or acts. She is aware she has Autism it is no secret.

On another note... I am a "Thick Chick" who does not work out... BUT I can beat my supervisor in a foot race up the corridor every morning at work. (She works out 3 days a week. ;) Haha!!

Normal is the setting on the Washing Machine...


Mary said...

Same thing when I decided not to pursue horse riding (at a Riding for the Disabled stables) because the horsey girls hanging around were bitchy and clique-y and generally fulfilling a stereotype.

"Oh, I thought it was specifically for disabled people."
"It was."
"So they were staff? Ohmigod, that's awful..."
"No, they were other riders, although they had their own horses that they kept at the stables."
"So not disabled."
"No, they were disabled, and horsey, and bitchy, and I've no interest in paying a small fortune to hang around giving them a target."
"But how can they be like that if they're disabled themselves?

(That last bit usually comes out in a kind of wail.)

FunMumx3 said...

Will give some thoughts to your analysis of the situation but may I just say for now.. what an incredible dancer. His upper body strength is phenomenal. So talented. Just that.

Anonymous said...

Dergin is an amazing young man. Partially paralyzed by polio when he was one year old. He uses a wheelchair, but goes down flights of stairs in it. He taught himself to dance, and performed with the Cirque du Soleil for seven years and over 2000 performances.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPwMkXjT8x0

Sharon

Anonymous said...

I also have a pet pieve . . . when someone says "he's so talented" - as if "talented" were a genetic characteristic that was somehow dropped into his waiting body. Talented - NOTHING! This guy is creative and he has worked for hours perfecting his creative ability!!
Thank you!

Flemisa said...

The dancer has such great stregth and determination!
And as usual (thank goodness) you challenger us on how to view him and all others.
Thanks for both.

Deb said...

I am reminded of the Buddha's saying; "They disparage one who remains silent, they disparage one who talks a lot, and they disparage one who talks in moderation. There is no-one in the world who is not disparaged."

The meaning of what someone else says to us is always filtered through our own experience. Pema Chodron tells of being in retreat with a group of eight other women. Each was supposed to clean her own dishes after a meal and on returning from a walk she saw that someone had left her dishes uncleaned. She immediately grew angry, and assuming she knew who the culprit fumed, "Who does she think she is? None of us are her mother!" Approaching the stack of dirty dishes, she saw they were her own bowl, plate and cup. Her anger dissipated and she was humbled by how quick she was to judge and convict someone who was entirely blameless.

I do the same, and if we are honest most of us will admit we do it too.
As a person with a disability I do not want pity, or sentimentality. I want exactly what I want for my family, friends and neighbours who do NOT have a disability. I want to receive and extend compassion. Part of the "receiving" is accepting comments which are meant to be encouraging and comforting with grace, because people are usually doing their best when they make remarks that are not particularly helpful, but are meant to be.

The mean-spirited ones are acting out of pain, ignorance or habit, and to answer back in anger solves nothing. I think of how Dave asked the security guard if she would want her grandchildren to learn the lesson she was teaching "his" grandchildren, i.e. "Just shut up and do what you are told." She responded to his logic because she realized Dave's battle was the same as the battle Black people still face today. He appealed to her compassion, and she responded.

I think I have wandered off the beaten path and I'm out in the weeds somewhere! LOL But anyway, I think my point was that I fare better when I deal with others from a place of compassion.

Joshua said...

It was very interesting reading this post by a member of the physical disability community. In the intellectually gifted community, we have a similar issue with twice exceptional (2e) learners. Even many educators appear to believe that a student cannot be gifted and learning disabled at the same time. Gifted children with a learning disability will often not have the opportunity to accelerate. Gifted students who have used their abilities to compensate for dyslexia, autism, or other LDs many times have their disability ignored and are not taught important techniques because 'they are not disabled'.

Our society has a long way to go before we respect the differences in others and are able to recognize that great ability and disability can exist in the same person in an integral way that do not cancel each other out.

Joshua said...

I also disagree with one of the anonymous posters. The talent that was just "somehow dropped into his waiting body" does not take away from his creativity and the work he has done to hone this talent. Talent or exceptional abilities are part of the uniqueness of each life and need to be just as recognized and aware of as disability.

Ettina said...

"When I wrote about the woman who sat in my wheelchair someone commented that the woman must have had a disability or some other "difference". It's like the definition of "normal" can't include someone who is privileged, who is selfish, who is inconsiderate. Therefore, instead of stretching one's mind to include within the understanding of the length and breadth of of "normal" behaviour someone with negative characteristics, one simply "demotes" them into the "dis" part of humanity."

I disagree with this.

Reading the comment in questyion, I don't think it's coming from an attitude of 'normal people don't have negative characteristics'. The woman who sat in your chair was doing something that would be really unusual for someone to do, even to an able-bodied guy with a regular chair. (Who is less likely to need the chair back.) When someone does something that is unusual and socially inappropriate, it is reasonable to consider that they might have a disability that affects social interaction in some way. Not that 'normal' people can't be socially inappropriate, but since they're the majority they tend not to be unusual.

Ettina said...

"I also have a pet pieve . . . when someone says "he's so talented" - as if "talented" were a genetic characteristic that was somehow dropped into his waiting body. Talented - NOTHING! This guy is creative and he has worked for hours perfecting his creative ability!!"

I have been told I'm talented at creative writing, and I can tell you that I certainly don't feel like I made a choice to get good at writing. It really does come naturally to some people - that's what talent means. Certainly, hard work can improve on talent, but it cannot create talent out of nowhere. In my case, something inside me just keeps telling me I have to write, and so I write, and what I write tends to turn out well. I'm not saying this guy's dancing is like that for him, but it certainly could be.

Casey said...

Thank you for this analysis. I'm a disabled dancer, and I hear some of these comments when I dance (I sometimes use a crutch, sometimes a wheelchair, sometimes no adaptive aids). I was going to write a post about this very video and topic, but thank you for being more eloquent and beating me to it!