Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dis-Missing Me

Image description: On a cork board a note is pinned. On the note is a smiley face under which is the word 'disability' with the dis cross out.
There is a sentiment that I'm hearing more and more often about disabilities but never actually said by someone with a disability. I know what the speaking is trying to say, and even that knowledge doesn't eliminate, or even reduce, my deep, deep, discomfort whenever I hear it. It has several versions:

... one day there we will live in a world where there is no such label as disability.

... in the future, with full accessibility, we will eliminate the whole concept of disability.

... it is my hope that there will be a time when no one even knows what the word disability means.

Whenever it's said it is in the context of the world becoming more accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities, a world where employers hire talent regardless of tires, a world where full participation is simply the norm.

These are lofty goals. People need to live in a world of welcome and access - all people, not just disabled people. But can we talk about these goals that that world without simultaneously speak of the elimination of disabled people.

I KNOW THAT'S NOT WHAT THEY ARE SAYING.

But it is what they are saying.

Let me tell you that in a world with both ramps and stairs, I'm always on the ramp, never on the stairs. I will always live a reality that is shaped by my experiences and my experiences will always be shaped by my disability. Now here's the thing, I think that's a good thing. I think one of the reason why people with disabilities are valuable is precisely because of the perspectives and points of view we have. We see and experience the world differently. That's good. Isn't it?

I don't hear people suggesting that an end to racism will eliminate black people, or an end to homophobia will eliminate the need for the word gay or the LGBTI community. In fact, many might even shudder at that kind of discussion.

History has it's lessons.

But as 'disability' the word, and 'disability' the concept, and 'disability' the lived experience aren't valued, the idea of 'elimination' comes easily. Way too easily.

I too wish for a future with full access, full participation and the sense of welcome, but I do so as a DISABLED person, not as a person who wants my identity and my point of view and my voice eradicated.

7 comments:

clairesmum said...

You often write about this issue, and for a long time I didn't really 'get it'. I'm beginning to understand....and to have a sense of why this is so frightening - because it is about making an entire group of people disappear. The causes of disabilities are many, and people don't talk about eliminating each of them. Instead, the talk is of eliminating a whole group that happen to share one characteristic - a disability. Sorta like saying someday the need for eyeglasses will be eliminated - so many factors that lead to eyeglasses to compensate for changes in the body - how could we ever think to 'fix' or 'cure' all of them? I hope I am on the right track here, in terms of understanding.

Colleen said...

Dave, your last paragraphs are devastating! I know the history. I hope and pray it is never repeated.

Anonymous said...

I've heard many people before say things like "One day the world will be colorblind" when talking about race issues or "One day sexual orientation won't matter" when talking about LGBTQI issues. Those two phrases make me uncomfortable as well, since they seem to also imply an elimination of groups that differ from the dominant norm.
-Dan

Anonymous said...

But I, of course, see the difference when it comes to disability issues....no one ever talks of curing non-whites. (Though there's been talk of a gay cure....)
-Dan

CapriUni said...

"I think one of the reason why people with disabilities are valuable is precisely because of the perspectives and points of view we have."

Absolutely! This cannot be stressed enough.

The corollary to: "Nature abhors a vacuum" is "Nature Adores Diversity."

Just as we need biodiversity (many different species living together) for a healthy planet, we also need perspective diversity for healthy society.

Disabled people have ALWAYS been part of human societies -- even further back in time than the existence of H. sapiens (there's evidence in the fossil record). And I honestly believe that's one reason (out of many) why humans have come to rule the planet. Because any family, or clan, village, tribe, or nation that accepts disabled people as members has people who are experts at problem-solving.

kstableford said...

I thought similarly after hearing the last sentence of an otherwise excellent story on CBS Sunday Morning earlier this week. The story was about a fellow with Down Syndrome who runs a successful restaurant in one part of the US and is closing his business to move across the country and be with the woman he loves. All great, UNTIL the interviewer/narrator said something inane along the lines of, "I don't know why we call them disabled when they understand the important things better than we do." That really ground my gears.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Hippies - and pointy-headed liberals.

Just as Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you," we will ALWAYS have disabled people. We're just a fact of life. Like we will always have any other human feature.

Life is too complicated.

Keep pointing this out - the society that treats its disabled, old, children, women, people of various skin hues... and men who are healthy, young, and able-bodied - the same, is a society which is using all its resources. And that means accessible everything for anyone who wants to go there - because some of us will.