Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spitting on Spite

I was reading an article today about sexuality and disability and the feature was about a woman with cerebral palsy. The subtitle of the article said something like (sorry I looked but couldn't find it again) 'She doesn't let cerebral palsy get in the way of living her life.' Now, remember, this from my remembering - I am sure I got some words wrong but what I didn't get wrong was the fact that she not letting her disability get in the way of her living her life.

This kind of thing annoys the shit out of me because it places 'disability' at the centre of the problem, it states that disability, itself, is the barrier, it telegraphs the message - DISABILITY DOES BAD THINGS TO YOUR LIFE. There is no question that having a disability adds a whole new wrinkle to living one's life but pretty much everyone with a disability learns pretty quickly that disability is the LEAST of the problem.


There's a very short and not even slightly comprehensive list of what 'gets in the way' of living life fully.

Sexuality and disability - check the prejudices and the assumptions that people make of us as somewhat slightly less than fully human and only slightly below the 'icky' line of sexual attractiveness.

Employment and disability - check the attitudinal barriers that are bolstered by the physical barriers, shit if I had to make the work site accessible I'd have to work with 'those people' so I can pretend it's the stairs not the stares that are the problem.

Access and disability - check the frequency with which people with guide dogs are disallowed in stores and in churches and on transit. As was pointed out recently (Hi Amy) that no one in the Western World is unaware that guide dogs and other accessible devises are allowed in public spaces. Denying them is, then, not an act of ignorance but an act of hatred. Get it right.

I've even had people say to me that 'in spite of your disability, you've done pretty well,' I wanted to respond, 'And I must say that I think you've done well in spite of being a woman.' I didn't say it, I wouldn't say it because even to make a point I don't think that sexist language should be part of a discourse. Saying 'in spite of being who you are ... ' means 'who you are is a bad thing and you are coping well, poor dear ...'

If non-disabled people want to write about disability shouldnt' get have at least an inkling that we also may be the audience. That subtitle on that article was written, not for readers with disabilities but for readers without. It was written up to shore the idea that 'hey you don't have to do anything because what she faces she faces because of cerebral palsy none of it could be because you are a hateful ass who refuses to see people with disabilities as fully adult and fully human.'

This isn't an subtitle that suggests the article is about her at all, it assures non-disabled people that it's safe to read - the disability stands accused so you won't be.



I didn't read it.

I couldn't get by the subtitle, it was like the writer placed a staircase in front of the article barring access to those of us who live with disabilities and who think while we read.


Anonymous said...

Disability does do bad things in your life. Not everyone has the loving support, the ability to work, the ability to make a difference once disabled. There is a difference in making an adjustment and loosing almost everything. I am disabled. It has been a bad thing in my life. I have lost vision, mobility, my career, the joy of doing things, and a long list of other issues. Oh sure, I can still have a laugh, or hear the birds, or go for the occasional car ride - but the loss is far greater than any gain (as seeing the kindness of others). All the problems you listed are so true, but none of them would be a problem if I wasn't disabled. Not to say I wouldn't advocate for others, which I have, but for me disability is a bad thing.

B. said...

A friend of mine commented on how it was nice to see a couple of other women we know become friends. I agreed but I was confused when the next comment was 'because she can get (?) the other women out'. Then I got it. So nice that the 'normal' one could help the 'disabled' one to get out and about. Oh no, says I, the so-called 'disabled' woman works full-time and gets out plenty if she wants to on the weekends. I thought it was nice of the so-called 'disabled' woman to befriend the other who appears lonely. Hopefully they both value the friendship.

Writer 18:01 is right also. It's not easy but society doubles the hardship lots of ways. Thanks, Dave.

Mary said...

Dave, I agree with every point you made, but I would like to raise that it's often not the writer of the article, but the editor/subeditor of the platform, who chooses the title and "blurb" for an article.

It is not unknown for my twitter feed to include disability writers headdesking about the 'spin' that's been placed on their article by a third party who hasn't fully read/understood what they were saying and/or is just trying to maximise the click rate.

Katie said...

Okay not trying to be a bother here, but just stumbled upon your blog for the first time. I have to speak out for all the disabled women in this world, maybe I should say disabled people, but I cannot count the amount of times that I have been questioned on the particular subject that you wrote about. Also, I couldn't agree more with the whole barriers concept, it is not the disability that creates the barriers, it is those without the disabilities that create the barriers. I want to thank you again for crawling inside my head and expressing these views.