In a casual chat with a stranger I was asked what I do for a living?
I think the expectation was that I would say: Not so very much.
But I answered describing a bit about each of my two jobs, the one where I work in an office, the other where I travel around giving lectures and doing consultations.
It's always a bit funny to watch features change as faces rearrange themselves from on emotion to another. When I'd done, and I really only took a couple minutes. I was told that I should be proud of myself because I'd done well in spite of my disability.
Let me pause to say, I hate that sentiment.
People with disabilities may be the only minority group that gets openly told that any achievement is made enormous because we have to do things in spite of who we are.
I don't recall ever hearing a woman, successful in business, being told that she is to be proud of herself for being successful in spite of being a woman.
Or a gay man being told that he should be proud of achievements made in spite of being gay.
It would be considered offensive.
I do believe there is an 'in spite of' to be used - in all cases.
In spite of prejudice.
In spite of barriers.
In spite of attitudes.
In spite of these things, people achieve anyway. The way is made hard, not by 'being' but by 'bigotry.' I find 'inspirational' stories of people with disabilities frustrating because they make the 'disability' the thing that is 'triumphed' over. It's almost never that. It's the idea that we 'can't,' it's the prejudice that makes sure we 'can't' ... people with disabilities triumph over the preconceptions that disability means inability ... people with disabilities inspire the very people who make disability difficult and instead of recognizing that the prejudice is wrong, that the idea of disability as a negative force in someone's life is simply projection, they become 'inspired' the the 'exceptionality of the person seen as exceptional.'
What's worse is the number of people with disabilities themselves who've bought into this.
I mourn a bit every time someone with a disability, in inspirations spotlight, says, 'I don't let my disability stop me.'
Let's be clear, someone with a disability who climbs Mount Everest didn't triumph over their disability - obviously climbing Mount Everest is something they could do, they triumphed over the idea that they couldn't in the first place, they triumphed over the expectation of failure, they triumphed over the millions of messages they got about their personal inadequacy by professionals and by passersby.
Let's be clear, someone with a disability who gets a job didn't triumph over their disability - obviously they can do the job, they triumphed over the myriad barriers placed in the way of employment, the curbed entrances and the staired attitudes, over the prejudices of interviewers and the concerns about the cost of accommodations by accountants.
So, in spite of my disability I continue to live a life of employment and relationship - that's what they see. What I see, from where I sit, is something different. Much different.
But back to my conversation with a stranger.
I smiled and said, 'thank you, but disability isn't the barrier, is it?'
He said, 'I don't understand.'
In spite of myself, I wasn't surprised.