Thursday, January 3, 2008
Wearing disability: addressing ignorance about disabilities
I found these wheelchair dangling earrings on ebay. At first I thought I was looking at my parking placard, with the wheelchair stick figure logo cut out. And I thought - how convenient! Much easier to wear these than bring along a placard. It certainly opens up ideas about ways to "wear disability".
People "wear disability" differently. Some people have invisible disabilities and this creates its own issues and dilemnas because there's still a lot of ignorance about invisible disabilities - and a lot of misconceptions, better addressed by someone with an invisible disability.
But I know that if someone sees me coming at them in a power chair, people "know" I'm disabled. They may not be able to guess what my disability is, but they can guess I have a mobility impairment. When they see my paralyzed hands, they realize that it is more than my legs that are paralyzed. That's the point when some people experience a recoil reaction and pull away from me or turn their heads. (I've been told it's very difficult for them, but we have to be careful in areas like this - and I'd like to try to explain why I think this is so.)
Although there's not a lot I can do about how my disability "looks", I can choose how to adapt to the environment around me and the positive, empowering choices I make may get lost on someone who remains "stuck" at a recoil reaction level. That's their choice and there isn't much I can do about it since even discussing this topic sometimes elicits a response that recoil is to be expected, understood, etc. or at the other extreme I'm told I'm imagining the recoil, as if I haven't 'adjusted' to my disability. Perhaps we could at least work toward taking "blame" out of the equation so discussion isn't silenced on the topic.
But having an invisible disability is no picnic because it requires dealing with the attitude of "if you can't see it" it's not a disability. That's absolutely ridiculous but it's still a belief that people act upon, if you consider the reactions some of my friends get. When they try to get accommodations for their invisible disability, they are questioned as if they are imagining /exaggerating their disability. Because no one can see their disability, they face grilling which on some days resembles an inquisition.
So this issue of wearing disability is not some frivolous thing. Maybe they should sell jewelry like this with the logo "The person next to you might have a disability" or "Some disabilities can't be seen" to raise awareness of invisible disabilities. Because those with invisible disabilities shouldn't have to battle just to be accepted as people with disabilities in either the disability community - or the community at large.
As for me, I don't need earrings for anyone to see my disability. But perhaps the Beast (my powerchair) might like to have a few earrings dangling off the back. After all, I just took off the red holiday bows.
[For my visually impaired readers, the logo of the wheelchair that is used on many signs, an outline in blue of a stick figure in white in a wheelchair, is on the earrings. The logo is round].