Yesterday was Blog Against Disableism Day.
I would have liked to have blogged for it, but unfortunately the days before were busy ones and I’d overdone it, so I spent most of yesterday in bed suffering the after affects. Gone are the days were I can blog, lying back in bed with my laptop on top of me, crushing into my ribs.
Shame really, I wrote some of my favourite blog entries with my laptop crushing into my ribs. (But remember, correlation is not causation!)
Anyway, so that’s why I didn’t blog yesterday, on the day, despite it being a topic I’m very passionate about. This topic is, as they say, very much up my street (dropped kerbs implied). So I’m blogging now. I feel like nothing shows how life in itself is disableist than missing disabled-related events because of a disabled-related problem.
And that’s largely the way disableism is for me, and for a lot of people no doubt. Disableism isn’t just about offensive opinions and words, insults that can ruin your day or discriminatory actions, it’s also passive attitudes and unchallenged perceptions.
I’ll give you an idea of how living with a complex, fluctuating disability is quite swings and roundabouts, in regards to disableism, from my own experience.
When I could walk, before the crutches became permanent accessories for my arms, I stood hunched over, on the worse days I walked oddly, I was the height of a ten year old, and quite frankly, my conversation skills didn’t really match my appearance, and thanks to many flus, acid reflux and a post-nasal drip, I also have a voice deeper than what I should have. I got stared at, a lot. I mean, a lot. I’m not being paranoid, even friends commented on it. Children would just stand and stare at me, some people would be taken aback when I interacted with them, and just in general, I could tell people didn’t know what to make of me. I assume, to them, I was just all around odd.
And then I was permanently on crutches, and I found that whilst adults took to me better, I assume down to them being able to categorise me better, children’s staring increased. Again, that’s not me being paranoid, this was also something a friend at the time noticed and commented on. I didn’t shave my head or get my nose pierced for this reason, but at least when I did do those things, it gave them something a bit more interesting to stare at whilst they were staring.
I remember on one memorable day, I got ID’d because I didn’t passt for eighteen, my disability was questioned, because I was only on crutchers, and then got referred to as a lady. Not even young lady, a child called me a lady.
I just never knew, during that time of my life, what attitude I’d be faced with next.
And then i was in my wheelchair more, walking less and less. It was the strangest thing, even with my shaved hair, in my purple wheelchair, always by myself, always seemingly a bit out of place, I got stared at a lot less. Again, something that friends noticed on my behalf.
Pretty much everything else. Everyone around me just didn’t expect me, now wheelchair bound, to want to carry on as normal, seemed to think I was expecting too much when I expected to be able to carry on as normal. I still took the bus, but god forbid I ask the driver to put the ramp down, god forbid I even expect a ramp in the first place! I tried to shop, and in some ways it was suddenly easier in a wheelchair, but it was also more difficult. I realised I could carry things on my lap, whereas using crutches meant I never had a free hand to carry things with, and I was always too frightened of being mistaken for a shoplifter to put things in my pocket until I got to the til. The one time I asked for assistance, I practically overcame crippling social anxiety to do so, it was for one thing, he picked it up and carried it all the way to the fil for me. It was a beautiful moment.
I did not have the same experience when in my wheelchair. I won’t name the shop, but I went in for a jar of dip. It was on the shelf that was just above my reaching height, and I flagged down a middle-aged man, who did actually work there not just a random stranger, and asked him if he could pass me the jar down. He did so after a sigh, and pointed out, ever so helpfully, that if I need help, I should get a carer.
And that’s the crux of my experiences with disableism. People in general do not understand complex, fluctuating disabilities, or that disability is a spectrum.
At that point in my life, I did not need a carer. I needed people to do their jobs and a jar of dolmio salsa dip. Disabled people are only seen as a burden, people you’re made to go out of your way for, because we’ve not been given the opportunity to be independent.
Now I do need more help, and I have a support worker. My condition is worse, and sadly I find people’s attitudes towards disabled people worse. If I could go back to the days were being stared at were my most upsetting experiences, I would in a second.
But that’s not reality, and reality is getting worse. The disabled are fighting a war we’ve been set up to lose. We’re meant to have jobs, but we’re not expected to want to use public transport to get to them. DLA is switching to PIP, a lesser benefit that is insufficient and it’s taking motability down with it, and Access to Work has been cut. Lately I’ve been in arguments that have started because an able-bodied person has refused to give me access to the wheelchair accessible facilities I require, because it puts them out, my well-being be damned. They wouldn’t even have such facilities to appropriate if it wasn’t for disabled people demanding equality.
DSA is changing, at risk of going completely. So disabled people are meant to have jobs to pay their way, but without the education and qualifications to qualify for them? There’s the attitude with ablebodied people that if they don’t go to university, at least they can try for manual labour type work or retail. The chances of a severely disabled person being able to for that type of job are low, and if they could, the chances that they’d be hired are also low.
Negative comments, insults, threatening behaviour, ignorance, refusal to act in a helpful manner, online harassment, I’ve experienced them all. But there’s something deeper and darker at work. If you’re well enough to play along with the system like I once was, you feel like you’re fine, that it’s not that bad for you, but it is. Because you have to play along with the system. When you stop being able to, you realise how broken our society really is. And the foundations are in the disableist attitudes.
We can’t correct people’s derogatory comments until we have the support and understanding from the government to flourish. The systematic break down of a disabled person’s life needs to end, not the disabled person’s life.
And one more thing, can we knock the term “differently abled” on it’s head, please? I can’t think of a more patronising term for disabled that makes me queasy, and I’ve heard a few! It completely erases the existence of disability, and it’s as harmful as the phrase “the only disability is a bad attitude.” No, disability is disability, bad attitude or not.
I’ve learnt to adapt because I’ve needed to, and it wasn’t easy. I life my life very differently to what I used to, and it’s not easy. I can no longer go for long walks, it hasn’t given me the ability to fly, blow up things, or see ghosts. I’m not a member of the X-Men, i’m disabled.
All the term “Differently Abled” says to me is that it’s more important to put a positive spin on disability than it is to understand the complexities of disability.
I am disabled, and I’m proud at working around my obstacles, but if i do things differently, it’s because I’m just that good adapting. But I, and many other disabled people, adapt out of necessity because the greater society fails to adapt to us. Most buildings are still built with stairs, lifts are still mostly an afterthought.
Calling disabled people Differently Abled isn’t just insulting to many disabled people, it’s also insulting to able bodied people.