They made us feel that way,
The way they think, that is.
It's time to stop the hiding.
Sing hey world, I'm different,
Let your freak flag wave
Let your freak flag fly
Never take it down, never take it down
Raise it way up high!
Another one I heard on TV the other night when I was watching a special on progeria, a disability that causes rapid aging, so that kids look like they're about eighty when they're about five. It's very sad because these kids don't usually live past the age of 13 or so. But that's not the point. Anyway, one of the girl's parents in the special said, basically: "When I look at her, I don't see progeria." And that annoys me.
Am I being too nit-picky here with my distate for words/phrases? I agree that disability shouldn't be all you see, but it's gotta be part of it, especially if you are visibly disabled/different. Yeah, you see the person, but the disability is part of the person, just like brown hair or blue eyes is. You wouldn't say "When I look at her, I don't see brown hair." would you? That would be ridiculous. You see the brown hair as part of the whole person. Same with disability - it is a part of a whole.
The thing with these phrases that I don't get is that this denial is tacitly applauded and even encouraged. When someone says "I don't consider myself disabled" or "I'm just like everyone else", they are generally lauded over how much they've overcome their disability (another phrase/stereotype I want to bash to pieces - a disability is not something to be overcome, it is something to be worked with to find alternate ways of doing things) and isn't that so great. Which, of course, reinforces the stereotype that a disability is a shameful, evil thing to have and it should be hidden and suppressed whenever possible. And of course it is those images of disability that make it into the media, rather than the images of disability pride and culture.
Seriously. I implore you. Don't deny your disability. You don't have to love it. You don't have to be into disability culture. You can even hate it. But when you acknowledge it, you are admitting that there is something that makes it harder for you to do certain things, and that that is okay. There is nothing bad about disability. If we were all "out of the closet", so to speak, maybe disability wouldn't be such a taboo topic in our society.
It wasn't until last year that I started talking to adults with disabilities. Through various crip events, I met a group of crips in their 20s and 30s, crips who had done what I was doing and lived to tell the tale. These crips served, and still serve, as role (or roll) models for me. When you're disabled, especially when you're creeping onto the edge of college and adulthood and all those scary things, there's always this fear: What's going to happen to me when I get older? How am I going to do X, Y and Z? Who is going to take care of me? Will I end up in a nursing home or similar institutionalized setting? Will I find a man who is accepting of my disability? Even if you are, like me, fairly independent, these thoughts still run through your head. These crips were living proof that yes, I could be a successful adult with a good quality of life. That reassurance was almost mind-blowing. I still worry about the future, but some of the mystery has definitely lifted.
So while the disability community may, in fact, be the largest minority, it is also unique in that it is extremely isolating. Unlike ethnic minorities, disabled children are often the only disabled people in their families. Families might not be supportive of embracing the crip lifestyle, forcing the child to conform to a non-existant mold of "normal". Even if a child has a supportive family, there is absolutely no substitute for contact with other PWDs, especially older ones. I think a great idea would be a mentoring program, kind of like Big Brother, Big Sister, where children/teens with disabilities are paired up with mentors with similar disabilities. What say you?
It started one morning, when Harry James Potter, also known as The Boy Who Lived, rolled over and fell out of bed with a loud thump.
Through half-closed eyes, he heard Ron ask Seamus: “Did you hear something?” Seamus shook his head. “Not a thing.”
At breakfast, Hermione and Ron didn’t acknowledge him, not even to say “Pass the butter, please. Neville even sat on top of him and then seemed faintly puzzled when his rear end didn’t touch the bench.
In Transfiguration, Harry was having trouble Transfiguring his dung beetle. He squashed his beetle and asked Professor Mcgonagall for a new one, but she didn’t seem to hear him. Unsurprising, really, considering the way his day was going. He raised his voice and asked again, and only then did she turn around with a somewhat distant expression on her face. “Oh, Potter. You need a new dung beetle? Right, I’ll go get you one.” Yet he never got a new dung beetle, and he wondered why everyone around him promptly got new beetles when they squashed theirs, and why his was the only tabletop empty.
Out in the corridor, Harry tripped over one of Fred and George’s fake wands that had been left lying around. He fell hard onto the unforgiving floor, his books flying out of his arms. But despite the rather dramatic crash, no one stopped to help. Students rushed busily to their classes, and not one of them slowed down. Some stepped over him; some of them weren’t even that kind and stepped on him. His books were flung in all directions, most left with dirty footprints on the covers and crumpled pages torn. Groaning, Harry hauled himself to his feet and slowly gathered his books while the corridor cleared. Only then did he see Dumbledore standing serenely at the end of a long corridor Harry had never noticed before, next to a mirror in an old, ornate frame. Dumbledore beckoned to him slowly with one long, crooked finger, and for some reason, Harry felt compelled to obey.
“Professor, what’s wrong?” Harry asked desperately, when he got to the end of the corridor. “Why can’t anyone see me?”
“Why, because you’re invisible, of course!” Dumbledore indicated the mirror with an amused gesture. “Have a look and see for yourself.”
Harry stared into the mirror; he could just make out the faintest outline of his reflection hidden underneath the folds of his invisibility cloak. He tried pulling the cloak off. Then he tried shrugging, tearing, and ripping the cloak off. Nothing worked. Finally he sat back with a resigned sigh.
“I realize, of course, that this must be extraordinarily difficult for you.” Dumbledore said gently. “Growing up as the Boy Who Lived, constantly in the limelight, hasn’t made it any easier.”
“But Professor,” Harry pressed, “surely there must be some way to get the cloak off?”With a flick of Dumbledore’s wand, a lavishly decorated armchair appeared next to the mirror. Dumbledore took his time settling himself comfortably into it before he replied.
“Why then, should you even bother to fight? If all your attempts at living are met with indifference by some and outright hostility by others, wouldn’t it be better to just lock yourself in Gryffindor tower and throw away the key? Or better yet, succumb to all the voices telling you your life is not worth living and let yourself die, little by little?”
“You will think all these things and more in your darkest, angriest moments, when all the hope seems to have gone from your life. Sometimes you will wish you weren’t invisible, that you could easily throw away that cloak without a second thought. But that invisibility cloak is as much a part of your identity as your scar is, and denying that part of your identity would be neither right nor productive. And along your travels, you will meet others who are on the same quest. That is the important thing, Harry. You must always try to remember that you are never alone.”
There was a rippling of the air at Harry’s feet. One by one, others pulled off their own invisibility cloaks and revealed themselves to him. Young and old, male and female, black and white, people of all races, ages, and genders shed their invisibility cloaks and nodded in acknowledgment to him. With one smooth, fluid movement, the line of people linked hands, leaving a spot empty in the center. Without quite knowing how or why, Harry realized that spot was for him. Slowly, he took his place in the center of the lineup and felt strong hands grip his on both sides. Together, they walked proudly down the corridor, and here, amongst all these people who knew what it was like to be invisible, Harry James Potter, also known as the Boy Who Lived, started his new life.
The theme is: "If you had the chance to strike down one stereotype, which one would it be and why?"
Much of the mainstream disability rights movement and disability based organizations in particular seem keen on promoting the “I’m just like YOU!” factor. Well, here’s a news flash for you: I’m not just like you.
We have things in common, sure. We both like to read, we both go to school, and we both are intelligent people. We both might have the same political beliefs, or we might both want to go to college. But I am not just like you. From the moment of my birth, I was not just like you. From the second my life began, I traveled a different path. I have had cerebral palsy all my life, and it is that that has made me a different person.
I have known hardships that you have never known. I have known discrimination; I have known pain of all kinds. I have known what it is like to be an unperson. I have known the struggle that comes every day from simply trying to do things that you take for granted.
But I have also known the particular joy that comes with being with my people, my brothers, my sisters, who can understand my unique experience in a way that you never will. You may understand it in your own way, you may accept it, you may even embrace it. But you will never understand like they do. And I know that, and that’s okay with me.
We are different. But aren’t we all different? Shouldn’t we encourage diversity and acceptance of each
unique individual experience? We should value each person for who they are, instead of trying to make them fit this mythical mold of “normal” that everybody thinks we should strive for. Instead of “I’m just like you” we should be saying “I’m different – and that’s okay.”
*disclaimer: I am not trying to reverse-discriminate against Abs, nor am I trying to dramatize and exaggerate my own circumstances. I am just stating simple fact. Just because I am different does not mean that I cannot be friends with ABs, or that I have some sort of hatred towards ABs. I am just trying to illuminate how the “I’m just like you” stereotype is flawed and inaccurate. The “unperson” is a reference to Amanda Baggs’ video “Being An Unperson”. Although not all of the experiences of being an nonperson she describes apply to my particular experience, a lot of them do, and just because I am considered “mildly” disabled does not mean that I have not been an unperson.