Before we get to the blog post, I’d just like to say a big Happy Birthday to my dad, who hits a milestone birthday today whilst social distancing. No doubt under normal circumstances we’d be meeting up, but in the meantime, enjoy that card and present delivery!
Of all the marginalised groups out there, disability has a unique quality. Most characteristics that lead to discrimination are present from birth, & are not developed later in life. Non-white ethnicities will have to deal with racism from birth. LGBTQAI+ people, even if they come out later in life, will have still lived with discrimination that stopped them from coming out or even realising their identity, from birth. Women will have to deal with sexism from birth, or from the moment they came out as a woman. In fact, many disabilities are present from birth.
However, it is also possible to be born able-bodied & become disabled later on in life. It could be the result of an accident, a severe illness, or the development of something chronic; in all, a transition from able-bodied to disabled is involved.
As such when discussing ableism, one of the most common reasons stated for being kind to disabled people (note: this type of “kindness” often results in pity, infantilisation, & inaccessibility) is that;
“It could be you one day.”
Just in case you hadn’t figured out where this post was going; I HATE that phrase.
There are many, many reasons why equality is good. Who knows how many life-saving discoveries or inventions have been missed purely because someone had the wrong genitals, liked the wrong genitals, or were ostracised for some other, equally ridiculous reason? How many political or cultural progressions have been missed? A diverse team will produce work of a higher quality, identifying & solving more problems along the way thanks to their collective range of perspectives. Above all, it is ethically the right thing to do.
Therefore, touting the idea that I should have rights on the off-chance that in the future you might become disabled yourself is lazy, patronising, & offensive. Surely, I deserve equality independent of other people’s circumstances.
This logic highlights a selfishness often encountered by disabled people; suddenly the debate around our rights becomes about somebody else. It also highlights exactly how we are perceived by society; with pity. Our meagre existences are only worth something when the able-bodied assume them.
While the intent here is to keep people humble & ensure that they are considerate to others, children brought up with this view learn only to pity & fear disability, leading to misconceptions about our lives not being worth living at all going into adulthood. This keeps ableist stereotypes alive for another generation, & each one passes it onto the next.
The rights of disabled people are just like the rights of any other marginalised group; it shouldn’t matter whether or not you display a certain characteristic, you shouldn’t have to put up with discrimination & additional barriers placed in your way because of it. While the possibility of becoming disabled may not even be as remote as you think, you may also find yourself never experiencing it at all. Quite simply, this series of probabilities should not impact your behaviour towards someone who is disabled in the present.