Disabled people face discrimination and prejudice in a variety of forms, be it the obstruction of an access route, the misuse of special facilities, or even just being stared at because we look weird. However what many don’t realise is that there is actually a lot of judgemental behaviour displayed by people who have different disabilities towards each other, and it is just as insensitive and intrusive as any other kind of judgement. I am as guilty as any other when it comes to this kind of prejudice, and will freely admit that I frequently compare my disability to others’ conditions in a distinctly negative manner. Despite this I still think I have a right to say that this sort of behaviour is unhelpful, perhaps even hindering the progression of those with disabilities within society, and the troubling trend needs to stop.
There are two main scenarios in which the type of judgement I speak of arises.
Firstly the disability benefits that people receive to pay for special equipment and transport are often a cause for jealousy between those with disabilities. I know of people who are far more able-bodied than myself receiving much larger sums of money, and I know people who make me look like an utter wimp receiving far less. I also know that people of roughly the same capabilities as myself can receive drastically different sums of money. Sometimes people may have hidden aspects of their disability that may increase the need for support behind closed doors that the rest of us cannot see. Naturally this causes some upsets; ideally the amount of money given out should reflect the severity of the disability and the amount of help needed, but since so many people are involved in the process of awarding such benefits, who’s opinions, experiences, and budgets will vary widely, these financial discrepancies occur.
The outcome is that people become jealous and mistrustful of each other, questioning the true impact of someone else’s disability on their life, or even questioning whether the disability exists at all. I have faced such accusations myself but I confess that on a few occasions, I’ve been the accuser. I now try not to find out what money other people receive because if I don’t know, I can’t judge them for it.
The second situation is probably the most common; access to appropriate facilities. Many places only have 1 or 2 disabled toilets or changing rooms, which many perfectly able-bodied people choose to misuse. With no way to tell the difference between someone misusing the facilities and someone with a hidden disability such as the discrete bags to collect human waste following certain surgical procedures walking out of the disabled stall, those with genuine disabilities face the same judgement as the able-bodied people. Again I’ve been guilty of this myself, as having to wait an additional 10 minutes every time I wish to use the toilet becomes tiresome very, very quickly.
Admittedly if people didn’t misuse disabled facilities then we would know that whoever came out was actually disabled, and the judgements wouldn’t arise. Similarly if the availability of accessible facilities was increased, the competition for them would decrease, reducing the intensity of the problem.
The judgement and mistrust between those with disabilities can have catastrophic effects on someone’s self-confidence and mental health. It can make people not want to leave the house at all, instead choosing to sit at home idling away the time. It also reflects badly on disabled people, giving those who aren’t disabled a reason to treat us with scorn and judgement themselves. Perhaps the time has come to accept that the term disability can mean thousands of different things, effecting people in thousands of different ways. Instead of sticking our noses into other people lives, perhaps we should be more interested in our own and how to improve our own circumstances, instead of trying to derail the livelihoods of others.