Sunday, September 20, 2015

3 Things Disabled People Aren't Required to Provide The Nondisabled Public

1.  Education:
"How can those without a disability be educated if those with the disability feel that it is not their job?"  

Many times, we, as disabled people are looked upon to educate the people around us (at their demand.)  The reality is, we do not exist to educate the nondisabled population.  How can you be educated if not by demanding a disabled person give you an answer to your question?  You can Google, searching for resources specifically written by disabled people.  The information is out there, if you choose to look for it.  If we choose to share information about our community, that is one thing, but we are in no way required to educate you.  (If you are looking for a place to start, try Tonia's Big List of Resources for Learning About Disabilities.)

2.  Explanation:
"Why are you in a wheelchair?"

I can't count the times that I have been out, and been suddenly questioned in this manner by someone I don't know well, or don't know at all.  By asking questions such as these you are demanding to know someone's medical history, which is extremely personal, and not for public consumption.  The existence of a wheelchair, crutches, a walker, a trach, even a limp, is not an invitation to ask this question.  If you have a family member or friend who is disabled and they bring it up with you, then feel free to listen.  Follow our lead with this.  If it doesn't come up in conversation, assume it's off the table.

3.  Inspiration:
"Are you taking your daily walk?  To inspire me?"

I walked out of my apartment earlier this summer to the above question from someone who lives and works the accessible housing where I currently live.  The question caught me so off-guard, I could not think of a response (and because I was concentrating on walking and not tripping or falling.)  But what I wished I could say was, "No, I'm actually walking for me and my health.  It has nothing to do with you."  In short, disabled people don't exist to provide inspiration to nondisabled people by doing humdrum, everyday things.  Looking at us in this way is reductive and damaging.  We are whole, complex people, not objects nondisabled people can measure their own suffering against.  We have days when we're crabby.  Days when we're frazzled.  Days when we are greedy, selfish and mean.  We are not one-dimensional,  and perpetually sweet or positive.  We also have days that are awesome.  We deserve to experience both extremes.  We deserve to be able to live our lives without being looked upon as objects of pity or inspiration.

So, what can you say when you see us out?  Nod, or say hello.  The same as you would anyone else.  

Disabled friends, how do you wish the public would interact with you?