Someone close to me, once in the middle of an argument, told me that had our positions been reversed, that person would have been a lot better at being disabled… For a long time, those words haunted me. I didn’t think them true, because I was old enough to understand that peoples’ lives and circumstances and experiences, simply can’t be compared, but I wondered if that’s how most people thought of disabled people… Do they really believe that our struggles and the things that bring us to our knees, are exaggerated, embellished by us in order to evoke more intense feelings of sympathy, so we can get a few more handouts.
Not being someone who bares grudges, I moved on, until a while back when I was reading a book about assisted suicide.
The book was told from the perspective of the family and how difficult it was to come to terms with the decision of someone they loved, who didn’t want to live anymore.
What really got me, was how everything was about the feelings of nondisabled people, as if nothing else mattered…
In reality, this is probably true for most disabled people.
If I don’t want to go to clubs, because I find it too noisy, I am being boring and I only get 4 stars on the friendship rank. If all I want to do is go home, instead of to some stranger’s house, where I won’t even know where to find a bathroom, I must learn to compromise. When I leave a social gathering early, because I have to go and take care of my guide dog, I am reminded that it’s just a dog. I am judged because I didn’t find myself a driver’s license/husband who could take care of me and it is predicted that I will probably be a burden on my family for the rest of time. When I complain about the dreadful state of accommodation for disabled people, I must remember to feel grateful for what I do have… I’m not allowed to have a 20 minute pity party for one, as “my life is not that bad and I have so much to live for”.
After reading that book, I remembered that conversation and instead of wondering about how disabled people are perceived, I started wondering if this line of thought isn’t perhaps because those who have never been disabled, simply get frustrated by our limitations, if perhaps some days, they are annoyed by my inability to be this person they want me to be. Isn’t it perhaps that if they live with me for long enough, they forget that I am disabled, maybe I have become almost normal to them and then in one swift movement, one decision, I rip the carpet out from under their feet and with a jolting crash, I remind them that despite my ability to blend in or play my part of so-called normalcy well, I am still just a little bit different in a way that can’t be fixed or looked over.
The truth is, that there are people who seem to effortlessly fit into a community where they are the only disabled people. Large groups, outings where they can’t fully participate or places where they are not accommodated don’t bother them and they find it easy to live among people who aren’t disabled… But that is simply not who I am. Acting like I belong, not looking weird or going about my life, not feeling like a freak when I walk with a hand in front of my face, or feel around for objects, takes so much of my energy. Joining in conversations where I have to figure out body language or facial expressions is exhausting and constantly pretending that I am having a great time when I’m obviously not, is a skill I haven’t yet mastered.
Now I am not suggesting that I would like to seclude myself in a bubble, merely that compromise is a 2-way street. If for example, you didn’t like heights, I wouldn’t suggest a night out on the top of the highest building I could find.
Is it really that hopeless to wish that people with disabilities might live in a community of friends and family where differences are not smoothed over by pretenses. Where instead of being bumped off the friend list for only doing things we don’t like every once in a while, to have the kind of friends who occasionally suggest things that we won’t just have to tolerate. Is it too much to ask for people to respect our choices and at least try to understand where we are coming from? I know that no one can really take a walk in anyone else’s shoes, but it is possible to have empathy, to accept those in our lives exactly the way they are and to remember that no matter how well you know us, you cannot possibly know what it’s like to be disabled… You can never even really imagine.