A few weeks ago, model and disability activist Lucy Dawson (@ludawinthesky) tweeted about various instances of total strangers offering her favours and gifts purely because she was disabled, sparking a friendly discussion about the perks other disabled people have been offered due to their marginalised status. Disabled people from across the globe were swapping stories of being bought everything from drinks to doormats, and then came the question as to whether or not we should accept these perks. The almost unanimous answer was yes.
Being singled out and given things for free purely on the basis of being disabled is usually quite awkward, sometimes harbouring dissent from the able-bodied, and almost always being somewhat patronising. The majority of these “perks” are offered because people feel sorry for us, reinforcing the idea that disabled people are to be pitied and don’t have lives worth living. The fact that we get “special treatment” is also used to undermine the drive towards equal rights for disabled people, with some rather bigoted individuals claiming that we get enough special treatment as it is. Despite all of this, most people still felt that accepting these perks was appropriate, myself included.
For starters, being disabled is expensive. Accessible homes and transport are often more expensive than inaccessible equivalents, and then of course there is the cost of medication, care, and accessibility aids to factor in. Charities like Scope have also often pointed out that for those of us in employment, there is a substantial pay gap between disabled and able-bodied employees. While benefit schemes are supposed to redress this balance, the reality of the matter is that the sunk cost outnumbers anything regained by benefits. With all of that taken into consideration, occasionally not to having to pay for a drink (or a doormat) is definitely not going to make disabled people disproportionately richer than the rest of society.
It’s also true that these freebies don’t just provide financial relief, but emotional relief too. Constantly having to battle for accessibility in public spaces and on transport is draining, and the stares and whispered comments don’t help either. Perhaps most difficult of all is knowing that at any moment, someone could be actively looking to “disprove” that you are disabled at all, because as we all know being able to walk a few steps is the same as being able to walk several miles. Whether it be criticising someone visually impaired for using a mobile phone (as if screen readers aren’t a thing), or criticising a wheelchair user for briefly standing up, having to explain and defend your disability is invasive and even traumatising. We all know how a small act of kindness or generosity can turn a bad day around, and that applies to disabled people too.
Disabled people are not saying that we expect to be offered freebies or given special treatment wherever we go by accepting these perks, and it’s not like we asked for them to begin with, but to turn down something good for the sake of appearances would be silly. It’s often joked that offering free food is the best way to ensure that people will attend an event, and with disabled people being actual human beings like everyone else, it should be no surprise that we like getting things for free just as much as everyone else. We shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed for making the most of what can often be a tough situation.
So, with all that said, if anyone wanted to buy a coffee for me…