Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What Disability Has Taught Me

Nothing in my life prepared me for the challenge that disability has become. As a woman and a POC, I thought I understood what oppression really was, but dealing with this new identity is extremely difficult.  It would be much easier if I could find a correlation to other isms that I face, but I find it difficult to make that connection.   I find myself looking outside of the communities that I have always been a part of to try and understand the ways in which my disability is perceived.

I found that the desire of the able bodied to receive a cookie is beyond blatant.  When I don't need help there are ten people running to hold a door open for me and they all wait like puppies for a thank you.  I can almost see the tails wagging with glee.  When I need basic human respect, there is no one to be found. I have learned that I don't have the right to take up space.  I have learned that my very existence is an inconvenience. My disabled body seems to exist to reify the paternalistic nature of  the able bodied  and to satisfy curiosity.

When I suddenly have to stand to reach something off of a high shelf or to enter a building because there is no ramp, the stares are not only obvious, they are a accusatory.  It seems that if one uses a wheelchair or a scooter, having partial mobility is a sign of faking disability.  Every time people stare it makes me want to scream have you never heard of the term limited mobility?  For far too many able bodied people, there is no middle ground - able bodied or paralyzed.


If that were not enough, I also have to deal with intimate questions about my medical conditions.  Why people think that they have the right to know what is going on with my health is beyond me.  What makes people think they have the right to ask me about my diagnosis, or what doctors I have seen?  The truth is, no matter what answer I give, it will be quickly forgotten as they go about their day, but hey, at least they will have their curiosity satisfied.  When I am visible, I am a curiosity because normal bodies, able bodies, don't require explanation -- they are simply accepted.

This is what I have learned from being disabled for three years.  None of it is pretty and all of it is hard to deal with.  Not only do I have to cope with the way my body has changed, I have to negotiate disableism.  A times I feel surrounded.  Every where I look there are able bodied people and it becomes an assault to the senses. This experience has reaffirmed by belief that marginalized groups need their own spaces to have private conversations.  This week I sat and chatted with a man who uses a wheelchair for about 45 mins while he fixed my scooter and he understood my frustration.  He knew what I meant when I complained about the lack of curb cuts and the damage that it is doing to my scooter.  He knew about the stares and the rudeness I encounter daily.  The affirmation of another in your group is important, because it lets you know that you are not alone and that what you perceive is actually happening. It provides a shelter from the storm and I believe only someone who is purposefully obtuse could deny this.

Where all of this new knowledge leaves me I do not know.  Understanding the nature of disableism and how it effects me, does not change the absolute horror of it.  I cannot live a life that keeps me trapped in my home to avoid the ignorance of others.  The unhusband tells me that each person I reach, is one less person determined to be my oppressor but that approach takes more energy than I have.   At this point, I have no answers only many frustrations.