When talking about a disabled individual, it’s not uncommon to hear them being described as “suffering from X”. On the surface this seems to be a harmless way of telling someone else the way in which that persons’ body malfunctions, but upon closer examination it becomes clear that this type of language only serves to amplify the notion that disabled people are tortured souls in need of pity. In reality, what we need is access.
Disability is not something that I battle, suffer from, or need to overcome. Having to use a wheelchair is not innately bad, it’s just different. A large portion of the deaf community find lack of accessible communication to be a far greater problem than difficulty detecting the collision of particles in pretty patterns, and almost the entire neurodivergent community abhors the idea that we need to be cured. Why fix what isn’t broken?
Now at this point some of you might be thinking “wait, I’ve seen the word suffer on Diary of a Disabled Person before”, and you would be correct; prior to this blog post it has appeared precisely 62 times. That’s because I am of the opinion that there is at least one circumstance within the disability community where words like “suffer” are more appropriate; chronic illness. To deny the misery caused by being in constant pain, dealing with endless fatigue and nausea, or coping with constant depression and anxiety would be like denying the existence of the diseases that cause them in the first place, something which is actually more common than you’d like to think. Handling the gut-wrenching pains of endometriosis has caused me far more trouble than using a wheelchair ever has. I feel relatively neutral at the idea of never having to use a wheelchair again, but I’d slowly and painfully leap at the chance to never have to deal with myalgic encephalomyelitis again.
At this point it’s worth pointing out that I still find the battle analogies a little cringe-worthy, though.
Of course, the lash-back against “suffering” terminology is not to deny the problems disabled people face. Being treated like little children or like we don’t exist at all, and having near constant arguments over accessibility measures would wear down the most stoic among us. However, this experience is simply the disabled equivalent of the discrimination queer people face on a day-to-day basis, and I’ve yet to hear someone be referred to as suffering because of their queerness (after the turn of the millennium, anyway). Certainly, I have never been told that I suffer from bisexuality; if anything, I believe straight people suffer from delusions of normality, but that’s besides the point.
What is well within the point is that disability is just a characteristic displayed by a proportion of the population, in exactly the same way that some of us don’t let the genitals we were born with define our identity, and some of us really don’t care what those genitals are when it comes to forming relationships. There are a few people who can be described exactly as above, like me. There are some who share some of those features, but not all. There are some who completely differ from me. While being me is certainly quite fabulous, I wouldn’t describe the people who are not like me as suffering because of those differences. They’re probably suffering from the discriminatory practices that humans love to arbitrarily prescribe to particular groups, but not from the characteristics themselves.
In short, and in seriousness, if disabled people suffer from anything it’s not disability; it’s ableism.