Societal Perceptions of Disability Need to Change
As a fan of social media as a way to connect people, I often talk with a variety of people on Twitter, Facebook and even message forums around the Internet. It was on such a forum I saw something that gave me pause. I am a budding filmmaker who watches television and movies voraciously, so it is not uncommon for me to loiter around forums for television shows or films. I have enough knowledge to offer up intelligent commentary and add to the conversation, if and when I want. Recently, I was incapable of not responding to a thread on one of my favorite television shows, American Horror Story.
Someone made a comment about the only way American Horror Story would be scary in a brothel was if it was a brothel for the disabled. It may not seem like this kind of thing is a big deal. It’s just a few words on a screen, but it is a symbol of the systematic yet casual prejudice those of us with disabilities face every single day. Our society does not see us as the same as other people. Something as simple as sex or love (things all people aspire to have at some point) are deemed weird or unnatural.
I reminded this person, a person I do not even know, that tomorrow they could be a part of the disability community. I know I’ve tried to stress this a lot, but it needs to be said again and again until it gets through to everyone. People need to realize that a disability does not define a person. First and foremost, we are people. We share the same kind of desires, wants and needs as every other person. Society deems us less, and I don’t believe it is even apparent to most people. It is so ingrained in our society it just happens, without pause. Really, every person who can walk needs to imagine what their tomorrow would be like if suddenly they had the ability to walk taken away.
First, would you be different inside? Probably not. You’d still like all the same things you liked before. The football fan would still love their favorite team. The drama nerd would still want to act, write, direct, or check out the latest theatrical production. The lover would still find others attractive and want to date them. Nothing internally would change. Second, unless your mental capacity was affected, you’d remain as intelligent as you were before developing a disability. Physical disabilities do not affect the ability to process information logically nor do they change the way you experience emotions. The only thing that would change would be on the outside. Yes, it may be a drastic life change. You may have to develop new ways to do simple, everyday things, like getting out of bed, finding a way onto the toilet, and getting dressed. It may change your perspective on the world. However, the biggest change is not on how YOU see things, but on how others see YOU.
You will experience stares. You may hear mean words. You may be seen as an inconvenience, in someone’s way or dismissed. You can expect to get looks of sympathy and pity. You might even get someone telling you, ‘bless your heart’ or ‘I’ll pray for you!’. If you are young enough, expect to hear about how tragic it is for some disability to strike a person SO young! It’s such a tragedy! It’s so heartbreaking! You are assumed to be missing out on so much. Your life is invariably changed and changed for the worse, so expect to be ‘grateful’ you can even make it out of the house and do everyday things, because you’ll be expected to be nearly incapable of performing such tasks by the majority of society.
If you do make it out of the house, you will be a hero and an inspiration. Look! Billy wiped his ass! He’s so inspiring! Susie got dressed and went to the bank! Here’s her parade! Of course, not everyone is like this, but a lot of people are. Others will be unsure how to relate, so they may talk to you, on the surface, but will not try to connect with you beyond being a casual acquaintance. It can be a lonely road having a disability. Society doesn’t want to understand us or even take the opportunity to try. On rare occasions, there are people who reach out to us and don’t judge us and they are golden.
I understand a lot of people just don’t get it. They don’t realize they are anti-disability. This is a societal problem. It won’t be changed until people with disabilities start being seen as people and not less than a person. However, I truly believe that this begins with awareness. All of you need to be made aware of the fact that this societal oppression is occurring. You may be guilty of it, yourself.
You do not have to be this way. Make the choice not to be judgmental or negative now before you end up being one of us labeled as weird or scary, just in case you join the disability club. Even if you don’t join us, do it because it’s the right thing to do!