Recently, someone questioned my use of the word “ableism” to describe society’s tendency to favor typical people over those with disabilities. It’s a real thing, y’all. For example, everyone can use a ramp (including people with handcarts, strollers, etc) but only the able-bodied can use stairs. In spite of this obvious fact, stairs are the rule rather than the exception, often limiting where people with disabilities can work, live, eat, shop, worship, go to school, socialize and pretty much everything everyone else does..
Inevitably, when I start talking about this sort of thing, someone will feel compelled to tell me a story about how their brother’s girlfriend’s neighbor knew a guy (not a guy, a kid. It’s always a kid), who overcame his disability and learned to drag himself up the stairs, and he’s SUCH an inspiration.
The only thing a story like that should inspire you to do is demand more practical accessibility standards so no one has to resort to becoming a spectacle.
We appreciate your support, but I’ll take dignity and independence over fleeting, warm fuzzy admiration any day.
* I’m not sure of the exact date, but I remember the moment. The following post is a throwback, written within my first couple years of living in California. It was a bittersweet time filled with life-changing revelations.
This is one of the happiest:
I was just thinking of all the friends over the years, people who have been close to me, and learned to anticipate my clumsiness. You automatically extended your hands when we approached a curb. You learned NOT to open doors for me, because I use them to catch my balance. You naturally and graciously filled in the gaps, indulging my need to feel I was maneuvering smoothly and inconspicuously through the world. I LOVE LOVE LOVE you for it. I have yet to develop that kind of intuitiveness in my California friends, though they’re always willing to lend a hand. When I first left Texas, I panicked, realizing for the first time that I had humored myself with a false sense of independence, when it was really all of you who had adapted to me. I was forced to learn new navigating tricks, and how to accept when it doesn’t go to plan. It’s no revelation, but I’ve really had to re-accept that,just because I cant always do things the way everyone else does, doesn’t mean I can’t do it. Having to fill my own gaps has caused me to FALL IN LOVE with my ability to create my own way and always see the humor. I just splashed a coffee trail across the office. There was a time I would have been mortified, but I cleaned up after myself with a giggle, and most importantly without embarrassment, or feeling compelled to explain myself. That’s just how I roll, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Today I’m thankful for independence and self acceptance.