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].


Meredith Gould said...

Ok, I played with your cat widget and Louise snapped right out of her nap when the online purring started. She looked confused but that's not exactly news w/Louise. Anyway, 10 seconds into playing with this thing I came to my senses and realized that I could play with the Fluffernutter in person.

As for "invisible disablities," I imagine that those of us who have these would be at the bottom of the disability community's caste and class system. I think we're in a special disability ghetto all of our own. Imagine getting yourself and everyone else out of denial about a disability that no one *sees*!!! Stinx.

Ruth said...

It's really sad when people who could be allies choose to build walls instead. There's writing about disability 'hierarchies' within the disability community and probably different points of view about how those hierarchies work. But increasing awareness of the barriers we place in front of those with invisible disabilities is a positive thing.

I was just over reading Ballastexistenz, Amanda's blog where she links to a blog that talks about how "accessibility" has been primarily defined as wheelchair access and hasn't taken into account other needs, such as florescent lighting. It's clear that we've only just begun the dialogues we need to have within our disability community!

As for the cat widget, Buddy isn't too happy with his cyber twin, particularly when he meows or purrs.

Anonymous said...

As a mother, I see this as an opportunity to explain to my kids that you need to have respect for other people and not be so quick to judge them! When you stop and think about it, we don't ever know what's going on in someone's life because we can't see that either.

The cat widget is fun. My five year old just played with it and had a great time.God bless,