Able-bodied people absolutely love to describe disabled people as a burden so that they can complain about us. Dr Phil, the struck-off psychiatrist who likes to exploit vulnerable people for entertainment and cash, said on his show that all relationships between someone able-bodied and someone disabled were doomed to fail, as the burden of care would put too much stress on the relationship. The New York Times, supposedly a reputable newspaper that seems to be publishing increasingly toxic opinion pieces, allowed a developmental paediatrician to write about the burden placed on parents of disabled children during lockdown, which only serves to highlight how little this doctor actually knew and understood their chosen field of expertise. The parents didn’t exactly get much say on the topic of the burden supposedly placed on them, let alone asking the disabled kids how they felt.
No one seems to consider the impact of labelling an entire group of humans as burdens. We’re disabled, so we don’t have feelings or opinions, right? WRONG.
Not only is it insulting to me that my existence is deemed a burden on society simply because I sit down more, no one seems to be able to comprehend that I contribute to society in professional expertise, social activism, and taxes. I more than make up for any perceived burden I place on a society which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is crumbling around us anyway. In this case the argument that “most disabled people don’t work” is usually thrown at me, to which I say that there would be a damn sight more of us in jobs if we could get through the door. While not every disabled person can work, inaccessibility squanders our potential, not our disabilities.
The perception of being a burden is not limited to employment or education either. There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting outside in the rain, getting soaked to the skin, while waiting for a member of staff to finish their conversation behind the counter and unlock the accessible entrance. If I’m really lucky, they have to go and fetch a ramp, which is inexplicably stored on the other side of the store, before I can get in too. Sometimes, it’s a lift that needs unlocking, and the control panel is fixed to the wall outside of the lift so that I can’t operate it myself. The absolute pinnacle of the experience, however, is when I hear the staff grumbling about how inconvenient and time-consuming it is for them to have to baby-sit me moving around the building. It would be so much easier for them if I didn’t come at all.
Why is it that the solution is disabled people hiding indoors, rather than making things accessible so we can be independent? If I could get through the entrance and operate the lift on my own, they wouldn’t need to spend time looking after me. The burden of my presence could be eliminated with a few very simple changes, yet people would rather complain about me than solve the problem; complaining is easier and it doesn’t cost as much.
By making society more accessible, both physically and online, disabled people could navigate the world with independence. We wouldn’t need people holding our hand all the time. We wouldn’t need as much help. We’d place less of a burden on those around us.
What it boils down to, and you can deny this all you like but it IS true, is that disabled people are seen as less than human. We aren’t deemed worthy of independence, so we are forced to rely on others, and when we do just that we are burdensome. What choice do we have?