Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Issue of Patronizing

(My sis and me on the first day of second grade)

The issue of being patronized to as a disabled person is serious and real.  I recently saw a post on Facebook where a fellow disabled woman remarked that she was sick of people calling her beautiful.  One response was apologetic, a few asked what she would rather they say, but most made sarcastic remarks, one insisted on continuing to refer to her as beautiful and one called her ungrateful.

It brought back my own experiences with similar remarks.  In second grade, I was called "so cute" (in the way that puppies or babies are) by a fellow seven-year-old classmate.  Two years later, my teacher came up with a particularly off-putting nickname for me: Princess.  Neither acknowledged my requests to not be referred to in those terms, or my discomfort at them.

So, what do we, as disabled people learn, when able people in our lives disregard our requests or our discomfort?  We learn that you, the able person and your intentions, mean more than our feelings.  I hear it all the time, and I saw it in regard to the Facebook conversation: "But I mean well!"

Maybe you genuinely believe that.

But before you defend your actions, think of this.  If a fellow able person told you they were not comfortable with language you used about them, chances are, you would listen.  Because you would receive them as whole people, who are capable of making decisions about what we want and don't want.  

If you "mean well" but refuse to listen to us and honor our requests about the language you use to refer to us?  You don't actually mean well.  You mean to keep us small.  You mean to look at us through a narrow lens.  You mean to choose to dehumanize us rather than choosing to respect us as human beings with voices and opinions.

Whether a disabled child or a disabled adult, we are all worthy of that.

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