Wheelchair Dancer's post Body Matters was in my google reader this morning.
I'd like to share part of it with a few comments of my own:
WD: With regard to work, exercise, and life, a person with a "slipped disk" could easily be regarded as disabled. But our culture treats someone with this impairment very differently from someone with, say, spinal cord injury. And I don't know why. Perhaps, it is in the way the impairments are legible/visible to the external viewer. Perhaps, the difference lies in the possibly mistaken understanding that it is "just" a disk. Recovery is around the corner. Whatever the reason (and to be honest, I don't care), I do know that one set of back impairments allows the person to retain social value and capital -- even if they aren't working -- while another strips away humanity and leaves the person vulnerable to all kinds of prejudice and stereotyping.
WC: At a dance recital for my niece years ago, I was sitting in my wheelchair next to a woman in a wheelchair who had her leg in a cast - a temporary injury. We were both in the aisle next to the folks we came with in the same exact spot, just in rows feet apart. I was told I had to move because I was a fire hazard and she was not. When I refused to move because of the disparate treatment, I was told that 'it was different for her, because it's just a broken leg'. Yet she was sitting in a wheelchair larger than mine, blocking more of the aisle.
WD: And that is part of it for me. Regardless of their medical complexity, some impairments are just medical states, while others plunge their person into a membership in a group of people who experience prejudice, oppression, discrimination, higher rates of unemployment, violence, ... and, on the good side, a wild, wonderful history and culture. Some impairments, no matter how visible they are on the body, allow their person to continue to participate in society, while others leave their person vulnerable to such idiocy as the commentary of my stranger.
And if that is you out there, bowling on up to disabled folk, congratulating us for being out, blessing us for being so inspirational, courageous, brave, whatever ... please, just don't. You know nothing of the complexities with which we do and do not live or even of the joys of our bodies. You are on autopilot, mindlessly reaffirming cultural fears and prejudices which, actually, we can do without. Shut up. Go away.
WC: This is why I hate the word inspirational when it's applied to people with disabilities, e.g., just for being outside. It comes across as patronizing if someone walks over to me when I'm out and says "Good for you for not giving up!" I look over my shoulder to see who they are talking to.
People need to remember that just because my disability may be novel to you, I live with it every day. When you act that way, it sends the message that my disability is the only thing you see about me. It's alienating.
I'd rather someone encourage me for working hard, for achieving success in my career, for any of the accomplishments I've worked hard for. But people don't have that on their radar if they remain stuck at a level where they congratulate me for being out.
When I have time, I'd like to blog about the differences in reactions toward my disability that I've seen since I started using a power chair in public. There's a social hierarchy of disabilities without doubt which, although it may often go unspoken, exists. I'm not saying that those of us with disabilities allow us to keep this hierarchy down. In fact, often the opposite is true.