Friends (disabled and non-disabled/able-bodied/neurotypical, what have you, alike)! Happy UN International Day of Disabled Persons! The World Health Organization has listed 10 basic facts about disability worldwide that are great to know, and this article is a little different in that while it has facts included throughout, it’s more about our attitudes toward disabled people. Here are some of my suggestions for how to better live out relationships. Awareness isn’t everything that’s necessary – it’s also individual acceptance and societal hospitality.
“…Disability does not mean incomplete and… difference is not dangerous.” – Nancy L. Eiesland, The disabled God: Toward a liberatory theology of disability
Reminders on this day:
- Disability doesn’t make someone less respectable or lovable. We shouldn’t see it as rare or unusual when disabled people have meaningful friendships or romantic relationships.
- You don’t have the right to ask someone “what happened” or what their disability is.
- It’s not up to you to decide if someone’s disability is “real” enough to be considered a disability, unless you happen to be an expert trained to help determine proper accommodations for people.
Accommodations for disabilities aren’t “special needs” – they’re just needs. Everyone has a right to an equal playing field.
- There are many different disabilities. Sometimes, people have more than one.
- Functioning labels (high-functioning and low-functioning) are hurtful and should be phased out.
- Yes, awareness is important, but acceptance is even more so.
- Not every disabled person wants a cure, especially when it comes to genetic conditions.
- Not every charity for people with disabilities has people represented on their boards who have disabilities or accept the fact of disability. For example, Autism Speaks is notorious for this. Remember: “Nothing about us without us.”
- If someone prefers identity first language (“disabled person”, “autistic”) rather than person first language (“person with disabilities”, “person with autism”), follow them in that.
- We are neither here for your inspiration, nor for your pity. My job in life is not to make you feel better about yours. My life is also not a tragedy.
“…The telescoping of our lives into simplistic categorizations of good and bad, pain and pleasure, denies that the lives of people with disabilities, like all ordinary lives, are shot through with unexpected grace, overwhelming joy, and love returned. Life is simply a mixed blessing.” – Nancy L. Eiesland, The disabled God: Toward a liberatory theology of disability
- Disability isn’t a binary in which someone is totally disabled or totally not disabled (able-bodied). Sometimes, people can be pretty healthy one day and somewhat to totally incapacitated by symptoms the next. Understand that if you have a person with chronic illnesses in your life, that’s more likely to be the case. Trust what they say about their health and ability level from day to day.
- Disability isn’t always visible. In fact, most of them (96%) aren’t.
- Many abortions are done on fetuses that would have been born with disabilities, which says that we often believe disabled lives aren’t worth living. This is not even remotely true.
- Some people with disabilities don’t consider themselves disabled. For example, people in the deaf community are usually quite proud of their deafness and love the culture of the deaf community.
- There are many ways of defining disability, including the medical model and the social model. Most people within the disability community and the folks who work with us prefer the social model, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily can, or should, just write off disability as a societally-created definition. There are lived experiences of not being able to do certain things, and it’s best not to flatten them in an attempt to be a great ally.
- There are over a billion disabled folks worldwide, and over 50 million people in the United States (we’re the largest minority group!).
- Disabled folks aren’t represented much or well in media. Normalize disabled folks playing disabled folks by paying to see that movie over another movie where they’re not represented well, if you can.
- Many insults in English vernacular originally come from descriptions for disabled people, some of which have gone out of common use but some of which have not. Please consider replacing language that’s (casually) ableist (think retarded, bipolar, lame, slow, crazy, etc.) with vocabulary choices that make no punches! The article from “Autistic Hoya” linked here has words to avoid and some great ideas for words with which to replace them.
- If you have the energy, please write image descriptions for the benefit of blind friends, people with trouble with word processing, and people whose internet connection stinks.
- Some people experience suffering because of their disability. Some people don’t.
- When people ask for accommodations, please accept them at face value rather than deciding it’s up to you to determine who’s “faking it.”
- Politicians have more power than they should over the lives of disabled people. The Secretary of Education and the Attorney General that Trump have the ability to damage disability policy quite a bit. Please consider calling your elected officials at important times regarding harmful policies and asking for there to be more attention paid to disability-friendly choices.
- Be our friends. We rock.
I could write so many more, but that’s just a start. Here’s a page with ideas about how to be a better friend, family member, and citizen to disabled folks.