When you are disabled there is a lot going against you. Not that disability is the worst thing someone can experience. It is not. Disability can be hard and some things can be very difficult to deal with. Some of us need medication and managing this can be difficult; some of us experience pain and this can be energy draining; others might have trouble with sensory processing; some might even need hospitalization from time to time.
Different disabilities require different approaches, and different types of accommodations. What non-disabled people should remember is that we either learn how to live as a disabled person, if the disability is a result of an illness or injury, or we just live our lives the way we know how, because when you are born disabled it is not possible for you to “miss” being non-disabled. We only know ourselves as we are.
But one of the most difficult things a person with a disability has to deal with, and this happens all the time, is the attitude of non-disabled people.
Here is why:
In general, people look at us and feel pity and sorrow because we are disabled. They cannot see us as human beings, with human feelings, human goals, human desires, human qualities. We are seen only as people who need to be taken care of, instead of human beings who need help to achieve some of the same goals non-disabled people have. There is an assumption that we are suffering and that our lives are not really fulfilling. This can lead to a lack of interest in investing on us, giving us equal rights and accommodating our needs.
Everybody needs help with one thing or another, but disabled people usually need help throughout their lives. Somehow “help” became associated with “shame”.
“Help” is also associated with “burden” and we are often blamed for things we cannot control.
Society, through its attitude toward us, resents our existence.
When we want to participate in everyday decisions, when we decide that we do not want to be patronized, when we speak up and show disagreement with people who are also our “helpers”, our competency is often questioned and our wishes ignored.
Being disabled is not usually associated with self-determination, and we are often seen as the ones who should be loudly grateful for what others “do for us”, while being silently compliant, even if we don’t agree with what non-disabled people say is “the best” for us.
Pity. Resentment. Incompetence.
Those attitudes devalue us. More than any difficulties or complications caused by our disabilities, the perceptions propagated by such attitudes create a false assumption that we suffer and that we should not have too many goals or hopes, that we do not have worth, that whatever little support, accommodation, attention and participation we receive, we should accept and keep silent.
We should not complain, demand, try to participate and be included.
“Disability is a natural part of the human experience”, says the ADA.
In practice, though, disabled people are seen as an economical burden, while our social value is ignored.
We are also seen as a burden to service providers and institutions, like schools and work places. Accommodations needed for our fully participation are seen as something that will cost time, money, resources and a new way of thinking.
A new way of thinking. This is the way to go.
Our culture is ingrained with wrong assumptions, misinformation, lack of understanding and unwillingness to change all that.
We need to start to change how non-disabled people see disabled people, and then we can begin demanding a change in attitude. It is not an easy task but we are growing, not only in numbers, but also in self-awareness, self-determination and pride.
Let’s not wait for the non-disabled to offer us what they want to offer for our success – a definition that should come from each one of us, according to what we want for our own lives. We have enough true allies to join and support us, and we can demand what we decide we need to live a fulfilling human life.
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