Yesterday I received a letter informing about a film/book/project that they sender hoped I'd be interested in and as a result of that interest write about it. I get these all the time and, if you are a regular reader, you know that I only seldomly use this space to push any kind of product. I have done. I may do again, but I have to be really struck by the material.
I didn't even get to the material.
I couldn't get by the letter.
In it, when speaking about the primary person involved, it is said, "He doesn't see himself as disabled.
Think about that for a second, a letter is written to a disabled writer telling him about a fellow who, also a wheelchair user, doesn't seem himself as disabled. Oh, so, this guy doesn't want to identify with people like me, disabled people. This guy wants to make it clear that 'I'm not one of those'. Well. I am. This kind of statement from disabled people is lauded. It's seen as plucky and resilient but what it is is another subtle way of indicating that the disabled status is something that people, this person in particular, does not want to embrace. It indicates that whatever has been done or achieved has been done for the eyes and hearts of non-disabled viewers, 'I will denigrate the status of having a disability, even though it is clear that I have one, because that INSPIRES you non-disabled people.' That statement says that whatever has been made, or written by this person will act to reinforce prejudice rather than challenge it. No need to re-think disability - it's so awful that even disabled people won't admit to it.
Later in the letter the term 'differently abled' is used. Let's be clear. I am not differently abled, I do not have special needs, I don't have a diversability. In fact, let's be clearer. "Barf!" Again these terms, terms to make disability, which is a real thing, into a euphemism. I DON'T NEED EUPHEMISMS!! I am disabled. Get over it. The use of euphemisms when it comes to disability is a way of saying 'what you have, what you are, is so freaking horrible that it can't be plainly spoken.' I am a disabled man, who is part of the disability community, who has a point of view and life experiences that are rich and add to the human narrative. Do eradicate my voice by making me into a euphemism.
Finally it said that he met people who 'defy being defined by their disability.' Oh, freaking, rah. Nobody is defined by any one characteristic about themselves. I am not defined by being gay and I am not defined by being engaged, and I am not defined by being disabled. But that's not what the statement means is it. It means something darker. It means that people with disabilities should not allow their disability any meaning whatsoever. Well, dears, my disability has meaning. It reveals a different side to my character, that I didn't know was there, and it has changed, for the better, my understanding of my self in relationship to the world, my self in relationship to others, my self in relationship to itself. Disability matters, it matters in a wide variety of ways.
I raised these concerns to the person who wrote the letter and received a very respectful letter back and an opportunity to take some of these issues up with the person involved. I don't know if I'll hear back. I informed the letter sender that I was going to write about this on the blog but assured her that I wouldn't identify either the fellow or the product being spoken about. I don't do attack blogs in that way. I'll go after things like this but not the people behind them.
I believe we are at a time where we need disabled leaders and role models and spokespersons who will stand loud and proud and address the world as a proud disabled person. In a time where Peter Singer can say that disabled babies should be killed as part of medical policy, we need different voices, speaking of disability in a new, a different way.
And to do that, you need to be who you are and wear it comfortably. Disability needs to be a word that you can say, without flinching, without embarrassment and without embroidery.
Get over it.