I think there is a plot afoot.
I am not normally prone to conspiracy theories. I think that there are conspiracies, mind, but that most of them are conspiracies of coincidence, but even those can be conspiracies of consequence. Right beside my computer is a piece of paper upon which words are carefully written, thoughts carefully turned into questions. It was handed to me by a woman with a disability, who had attended one of my workshops a few days ago. I've read the first question over and over again.
You see she's given me the questions but no way of ever getting an answer to her. No contact information, no email, no address, no phone number. I know she wanted me to answer her questions, she handed them to me and whispered a request that I answer.
Buried, not so deep, in the question is a criticism of the class I teach and the way I present myself in the class to the class.
Yesterday was my second such presentation, though on a different topic, to another group. It went well. Very well, I thought. Then a young man, much younger than the writer of the aforementioned note, approached me with a question. It was the same question. I got chills up my back, it was like they had been secretly in communion with each other and were putting forward a challenge to me. But then, I couldn't answer him. His ride was there, my ride was there, it was time to go. He looked at me with purpose, I knew he wanted me to answer the question.
Here's the question:
Why do you use the word 'disability' so much when you talk. Isn't that labelling people?
To be sure these are not the first times I have been asked a similar question. Mostly by people with intellectual disabilities, never by people with physical disabilities, a distinction that is here important to make. I've decided in to make a feeble attempt at answering a question that I think is important. I'm hoping other readers here will take up the challenge to answer the question too. But I answer by beginning with my own criticism.
People with intellectual disabilities are too often led by philosophies and politics that are developed by non-disabled people who have good, even the best, intentions. And as non-disabled people, people who have never had to go through the process of developing disability from 'horrifying concept' into 'personal self hood' ... disability is often something to be 'denied' to be 'wished away' to be 'pretended invisible'. Disability is certainly not to be loud, to be inconvenient, to be public knowledge. Therefore there is a 'we're all the same' sentiment which is preached and preached and preached again to kids with intellectual disabilities. It's a mantra of 'shame' and 'denial' it begins the journey to a life of 'pretend normal' not 'proud difference'. It's hurtful.
This happens with people with physical disabilities, 'I'm just the same as everyone else.' It happens with people who are newly disabled, 'I'm the same person as I've always been.' Both have the sound of desperation. Because, of course, it's not true. Disability does make a difference. It means something and often something that requires some startling and some even drastic adaptions. My disability came with a cost, to me, to Joe, to my job, to my mobility, to the things I choose to do with my time, to the places I choose to go and the places I actually can go. It did all those things. I had to ride the river of change until the raft pulled ashore at a place emotionally, physically, intellectual and spiritually from where I could begin again, anew. I will never say that I'm the same as before because like everyone else, I'm in life's school room and sometimes the lessons change me.
When I do workshops for people with disabilities, I mention disability because disability matters to the subject at hand. You can't talk about bullying and teasing without talking about disability, or abuse prevention without mentioning disability, or rights without mentioning disability ... when the class attending has a disability. We have to address the very specific needs of the disability community for self protection, for understanding the danger of bullies, for understanding the importance of rights.
I also mention disability because I know many have never been taught about disability as something that one can be 'out' about. That disability isn't a 'label' it's a description. More than that 'disability' is a part of us that gives us the richness of a community, the disabled community may be the coolest gift my wheelchair gave me. Disability gives me cause and purpose and a legitimate voice for both praise and protest. Disability isn't to be denied, it is to be embraced. It's part of the larger human community. Disability defines us not confines us.
Why do I mention disability so much in my workshop? Cause I want to say, 'but ya are Blanche, ya are!' Difference, Diversity, Disability ... all part of the vastness of the social world, all part of the vastness of the human experience, all part of the whole community. Difference, Diversity, Disability ... we make community and the community would be less without us. Difference, Diversity, Disability ... we bring with us challenge and demand for change, just like every single other member of every single other community. We are the same in what we want, but we are proudly different of who we are when asking.
So for those who's plot is afoot. That plot to convince us that we're all the same and difference is to be denied. Take a look at your finger print, now take a look at mine ... there's a message there ... get it.