When I first saw news about this campaign on social media yesterday, I was flummoxed:
Now that I've had time to consider it more, I feel even more strongly about speaking out about the problems this campaign exacerbates. I'm sure it was started with the best of intentions, but the bottom line is that it does nothing but widen the gap between people with CP and those without it.
Unless you are an ultra friendly person, who genuinely does greet everyone you see with a "hi", something like this is singling us out unnecessarily. (And as Emily Ladau so brilliantly pointed out in her article #JustActNormally - A Response to The Cerebral Palsy Foundation's #JustSayHi Campaign: ""If you swapped out disability for any other appearance-related identifier, how would this campaign go over? #JustSayHi to Asian people. #JustSayHi to people with red hair. #JustSayHi to people who look like they weigh more than you do.") No one likes being singled out.
Having CP for me means second guessing people's motives a lot. From the time I was very young, I was aware of the fact that some people treated me differently because of my CP. This campaign makes me keenly aware that now, when I go out, and someone does something as innocent as greeting me, I'll wonder, "Why are they saying hi? Is it just a greeting or are they doing it because of that campaign?" I don't want to spend time second guessing why people are talking to me.
Here's the honest truth: if I'm out shopping, or with friends or family and I don't know you? Chances are, I just want to be able to carry on with what I'm doing and not be worried that someone I don't know will seek me out to #justsayhi in order to "start a conversation" with me. Plus, I can't shake the feeling that the whole "start a conversation" business is actually an in to ask really invasive questions. I don't want that.
I hate the fact that a campaign like this even exists, to be frank. The idea that the general public needs to something like this to teach them how to interact with people like me does nothing but make me feel like I am difficult, different, other, and separate. In reality, I am just a person. Just a woman. Yes, I have CP. Yes, my disability is a huge part of my identity. But I don't want people seeking me out solely because of that identity. It's patronizing. It's condescending. It's dehumanizing. Please, just don't do it.
If you want to talk to me, do it. I'm a pretty friendly person. Ask me what I'm reading. What I think of the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy. What I'm passionate about. What I love about my family. About my friends. But talk to me because you want to get to know me, not because I have Cerebral Palsy.
And not because of some campaign.