Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Disability as a Game

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Above is a screen shot from Pokemon Pearl.  As you can see, Empoleon is paralyzed and apparently this is a feature in at least five different games.  My children love Pokemon and play the games quite a bit. It was not until they started pretending to be paralyzed, that I realised what they are being exposed to.  Disability is not a game and it effects real peoples lives.

Disableism happens everyday and it is often over looked.  The common social belief is that we are kind to the differently abled and yet, a brief conversation with someone whose body does not conform to the supposed norms would reveal the myriad of ways in which we are “othered,” silenced, and in many cases abused.

What does a game of paralyzed teach children except to wallow in their able bodied privilege and to downplay the seriousness of the challenges that the differently abled face?   In this little game, paralysis is something that is only temporary, much like what often happens when someone is portrayed as differently abled in the media.  The idea that there is a magic cure or that a disabled person just has to try harder and then the disability will magically disappear is a common theme. 

I watched this morning as my children played paralyzed and I do not have the words to convey my absolute horror.  The unhusband and I stopped the game immediately and explained why this is disabelist and hurtful, but I cannot help but wonder how many kids are playing this without any kind of intervention from their parents.

When we talk about radical parenting, it is often connected to teaching children to understand race, gender, class privilege, or even sexuality, but disability is something that is often left out of the conversation.   I know that when it comes to issues regarding homophobia, my child is already an advocate, as he has taken the time to correct his friends for using the word f@ggot.  I know that he has spoken out against racism, as well as been a target of racism; however, even living with a disabled mother has not been enough to passively teach him about the privilege his able body gives him.

On the playground it is common to hear children scream words like idiot or moron without an objection, but let a child say the word fuck and clucking begins about how they are not being raised properly, or how foul their language is.  Well idiot, moron, and lame are in my mind a good deal more foul than the word fuck, because they exist to other and reduce people. They are absolutely hurtful words.

Teaching children to recognize their various privileges is  absolutely essential because as we know, the world has no problem conveying to them that hierarchy is not only naturally occurring, but that it is essential to social stability.  It is not enough to say that everyone is the same or equal, because we are not.  We are all different, but there is no reason why difference cannot be appreciated or even celebrated.

In the coming months my children will come to know the terms disablest and able-bodied privilege, because it has become clear to me that while they are empathetic of my personal circumstance because they love me, they are not aware that this very same empathy needs to be extended beyond our little family. Not only do the differently abled have a right to take up space (a struggle they have seen first hand), we deserve not to have our lives mocked for the purposes of entertainment or to deliver a cruel retort.