Societal Views on Disability Favor the Idea We’re Broken, Injured or Less Than
I had intended to post about this in relation to the image below, which I had seen floating around Facebook. For those who have trouble seeing, it shows a cartoon with two pregnant tummies. The one tummy on the left has the woman in black/grayish coloring. She is holding a lit cigarette and the word unhealthy is across the top of this half of the photo. On her belly is the wheelchair symbol in cartoon drawing. The right side tummy has the woman pink, and the word healthy is across the top. The stick figure on her tummy can clearly stand/walk. It says Like at the bottom of her side and Ignore at the bottom of the supposedly unhealthy side.
Stereotypes about disability are widespread. In fact, they are often so ingrained into society, many of us with disabilities uphold such stereotypes. Having a disability is often considered being less than. We are less capable than our able-bodied counterparts. We cannot do what they can. We are limited and restricted. As such, we are not seen as or treated as equal. For everything we cannot do, what many people fail to realize is we have an alternative way to do these things. I don’t walk, I wheel and my advantage is I do it faster, without getting tired! For every supposed thing we cannot do, I have a friend with a disability who challenges that and finds a new way of adapting to do it. For us, we are not only just as capable, many of us are more resourceful.
Every disability is different, and I’d be lying if I said being able-bodied wasn’t easier, but I fully believe our biggest challenge is lack of access. Our lives would not be as difficult if people did see us as equals and did realize with the right supports our abilities are limitless. We are hindered by lack of resources and attitudes towards disability more so than the disability itself. As activists our job is to educate the able-bodied world and hope they listen. We can hope they learn. We can hope they change to begin viewing us as equals, because we are.
I recently debated a long time friend on the merits of speech and how able-bodied people interpret verbiage that many of us with disabilities see as ableist. I fully believe that if it does not impact the person it is hard for them to see our point of view, as people with disabilities. That is why it is so important we educate the masses. That is why I am so passionate about speaking out when I see something our community deems ableist. I can just hope people will listen and try to understand our perspective.
Being a former walker, I must tell you, I never fully comprehended what people with severe disabilities endure until I went into a wheelchair myself. I get it because I used to be there with you. Now I experience oppression and discrimination regularly. It has empowered me to fight back and try to make those who do not have disabilities see and understand our perspectives. The thing is, anyone can end up with a disability, at any time. You have to realize what is going on, and become aware before it affects you, and it is too late.
We, as a society need to treat disability differently. This should not be an issue of have or have not. It should not be an issue of normal vs. abnormal. It should be a issue of human beings treating other human beings like they are human, too, regardless of their (dis)ability. We are not broken. We are not injured. We are not less than. We are whole human beings and we deserve to be treated as nothing less.