I have so many thoughts swirling around in my head right now… it’s hard to grab a hold of them, they’re kind of just floating around and clogging up my to-do list.
Recently, a friend of mine had a call with a few feds about cultural competency [ability to understand a person’s background]. The conversation was about whether disability culture even exists. (She wrote a MUST READ poem about it here). What I don’t think people get is when you question our culture, you question our identity. When you question our identity, you question our history and the value of our community (i.e. what do a bunch of crippled folk find in each other?) When you question the value of our community, you question our personhood. What gives a non-disabled person the right to question any of this? It’s so offensive to sit there and discuss whether who WE ARE is valid.
Another thought going on in my head… the whole phrase/sentiment [idea] I hear allies using “oh, in a way, we’re ALL disabled.” It’s frusterating when disability is simply reduced to being something you cannot do. Disability is so much more than a “limited function”… it’s a social status, a history of oppression [one group using power to keep others down], a cultural background, an interaction with nature, a way of life. How offensive would the phrase “Well, in a way, we’re all women” be?? It’s like the lie “Oh I don’t see color” because it ignores the past and current oppression people face, the amount that race plays in every activity, and our own prejudices.
And in an analogy to patriachy [men ruling society] and heteronormativity [straight people deciding what is normal], does disability even have a word for the relationship between disabled people and non-disabled society? I sure couldn’t think of one. That alone makes me angry even though I know the field of disability studies is still fairly new. Hopefully you folks know of one.
Final thought…in feminist literature, Adrienne Rich wrote about how the “special myth” divided women because they all thought that they were better than other women in that they thought like men (and this was supposedly a good thing.) Does this not sound familiar, re: disability? The biggest barrier I think young disabled people face is identifying with other disabled people…from early age, it is engrained in our minds that we are not like other disabled people and there is no need to associate with them. This is grounded in the idea that disability is a bad thing that people suffer and that disabled people only pull society down. People First language promotes this. This was a really big conversation at the conference I attended this weekend in CT and always has been. Some people kept referring to themselves and others as “handicapped” (hello? the word originates from hand-in-cap? as in a beggar?) while others just kept referring to themselves as individuals (then why are you here?). I can understand the reasons people just want to be just an “individual with a disability” (disability has a lot of stigma) but if we are JUST individuals who happen to live with disabilities, how can we have power? This is assimiliation [trying really hard to become a part of dominant culture] at its worst.
Why are we letting non-disabled people determine who we are and what we are called? To me, calling myself “Disabled” is not saying I can’t do this or that. It’s crediting disability as something that shaped my experiences and who I am. And aren’t we oppressing ourselves if we can’t claim our disabilities with pride? By hiding our disabilities, we are denying the long battles our community has fought and is still fighting. That’s pretty privileged—I know not everyone is going to be an activist/advocate/whatever else but it’s wrong to accept benefits and rights without acknowledging the sacrifices our community made to get those rights. We can’t expect society to recognize our community if we are so ashamed that we don’t even want to call ourselves members of that community.
Like I said, so many thoughts…