I need to rearrange everything I moved earlier this afternoon in order to fit my SUPER COOL AWESOME FANTASTIC NEW WRITING DESK WHICH IS ALMOST A HUNDRED YEARS OLD, K into my living room. And I am going to attempt to go do that in a second.
But first, I wanted to attempt to put down in words something that’s been rolling around in my head for quite a while. I’ve already tried to write this a couple of times previously, and then erased it because it didn’t come out right. I’m not sure it will this time, either, but we’ll see.
Sometimes in articles about an individual person with a disability (as opposed to a group), you’ll see a quote where the person says that they don’t think of themselves as a person with a disability. In Deaf culture, I’m learning, many people feel that being deaf is not a disability, and adamantly and loudly say so. Just recently I saw a quote that said the only disability is a bad attitude, or something close to that.
While I understand what the people making those statements are trying to say – “I am not less-than, I am not broken, and I don’t want to be labeled as less-than or broken” – I cannot help feeling a little sad and hurt when I read these statements. Why is “disability” an insult? Why is it something less-than? It’s not, not to me. In the same way that many who are D/deaf are proud to be D/deaf because it’s a part of their identity, I am proud of who I am, too. And I do have a disability. It’s not a bad word. It’s the same as a post I read recently about how it’s okay to say “deaf,” it doesn’t mean something bad. It’s not something to whisper, or to avoid saying, because it’s not something to be ashamed of.
I am not ashamed of who I am. I love me! I’m a pretty great person! And so are my friends, many of whom also self-identify as having a disability. We are smart, we are funny, we are creative, we are involved in our communities, we work toward goals, we celebrate and grieve and obsess over tv shows. And we also have disabilities, and that is part of our whole, and it is not a bad part of our whole.
I know nobody wants to be thought of as broken, or less-than, and so I absolutely understand the desire and instinct to distance oneself from a word that, because of widespread misconception, can be seen as something negative. But you’re fighting the wrong battle, I think, because it’s not the word that’s wrong, it’s the perception of it.
I identify as lesbian. Because of the time and place and community in which I’ve grown up, I sometimes feel a little hesitant to say that word, because I’m afraid someone will judge me for it. I don’t want them to see me as bad, or weird, or anything else. And I know those things aren’t what the word “lesbian” means, but I’m still afraid of it because I’ve seen that some people still have that perception, that some people don’t understand yet. But I say the word anyway, and I do consider it as part of my identity, because it’s true, and it’s not a bad thing. If I’m going to be in a romantic and/or sexual relationship, it’s probably going to be with a woman. That’s all that word means. That’s it. If other people hear that word about me, and they think bad things, the problem lies with them, not with the word, and not with my identity. I’m a pretty freakin’ awesome person, so I tend to think that by knowing me, and by knowing that that word is a part of my identity, they will come to understand that the judgments we have learned to make about some labels are just silly and unfounded.
In the same way, “disability” is also a part of my identity. It doesn’t mean I’m broken, it doesn’t mean I’m less than, it doesn’t mean that I’m to be pitied, and it doesn’t mean that I’m sad about who I am. All it means is that there is something about me that makes me work a little differently than the majority of the population. If you took all the stats of all the people in the world, and you used them to make a pretend average person, I would probably be different from that person in some way. That. is all. it means.
I don’t make this post to condemn anybody who chooses to distance themselves from the word “disability.” We’re different people, and different things feel right to us for different reasons. And it’s fine. I guess I just want to put this out there, because I feel like there’s this underlying perception, even among the enlightened, that if you’re saying you have a disability, it’s like admitting you have a weakness. And that’s not true. It’s an attribute. It’s a catalyst for certain experiences. But it’s not a weakness.
I am proud, SO proud, of who I am. I am proud of my strength, I am proud of my wisdom, I am proud of what I’ve done and am doing with my life. My having a disability doesn’t reflect poorly on me at all. I have brown hair. I have brown eyes. I like to laugh. I use visual examples a lot when I try to explain things. I am different neurologically from many other people. I think Miss Piggy is made of awesome.
Say you don’t want to be thought of as broken. Say you don’t want to be thought of as less-than. SAY those things! Shout them, for heaven’s sake – people need to hear it! But please consider not using “disability” as a synonym for those things, because it’s not. I know I’m not.