Friday, 1 May 2009

A bit of a verbal meander

This is my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism 2009.

I kind of agreed to write a BADD post a little while ago, but have very little idea about what I should write. I want to write something deep, meaningful and thought-provoking, but I get the impression that one should be deep, and have meaningful thoughts, in order to fulfil that brief; this post will not be deep, meaningful, nor thought-provoking.

Of course, this post would be better if I had any personal experience of disablism, but I don't: my temporary able-bodied* status is still going strong. As such, disability issues are not at the forefront of my mind. I also feel that I don't really have a right to join in with this event - the closest I have ever come to experiencing disablism is getting salad for lunch while everyone else eats lasagne, because nobody has bothered to order me a decent gluten-free alternative** (although the vegetarians were catered for; that's not even a dietary requirement, for goodness sake!). I did, of course, get the smug satisfaction that they were getting fat while I was not, but this was tempered with the fact that I was eating lettuce for lunch. Alternatively, I occasionally get a big, tasty-looking meal while everyone else gets crappy sandwiches, and I end up feeling conspicuous and guilty - as though I am trying to make a point that I am more special than everyone else.

I suppose that this does have some bearing on disablism, though. I mean, it's a thouroughly trivial example of a petty discrimination which ruins a few meals for me (seriously - I had to eat salad!), but it does give me a tiny insight into what people with an actual disability might feel when their needs are not being met, and also when their needs are being met. I mean, there is a certain amount of stigma attached to being disabled. I gather that some people do not want to advertise their disability, and that receiving accommodations for this can be tricky. I don't necessarily want to tell people that I can't eat gluten - it makes me sound like a faddy eater, possibly the sort who wants attention. Logically, I think that very few people look down on me for not eating gluten (although those who decide to cater for me have to be at least a little bit annoyed), but I still don't want to single myself out. Although I would rather do that than make myself ill, of course.

It's all about exclusion, isn't it? When adaptations are made readily and with the minimum of fuss, people can feel included and welcomed. It is so exciting going to a barbecue where there is food that I can eat (i.e. probably not sausages or beefburgers), as I don't have to stand on the sidelines feeling hungry and wondering why I bothered in the first place. It shouldn't be exciting - it should be normal (although this is an extremely trivial example - it's just a bit of food. I often bring/make my own now. The best beefburger I ever had was one I made myself). It is presumably the same with an actual disability; quietly facilitating what needs to be facilitated without making a fuss should make a big difference to how that person experiences things. Anyway, one should be kind to people. If everyone were just kind, disablism would be much less of a problem.

So yes, I have a, erm, useful perspective, and can contribute ever so much. Hmm. Perhaps I had better stick to expanding my own mind.Oh, the joys of having such a narrow and limited perspective.

So, what should I be doing to be less disablist myself? I sort of feel that I am doing OK - I try to offer to help people when they look as though they are struggling, and stuff. I often feel that I have so few interactions with people with a disability that this is not an issue which concerns me, in general, though. Having said that, I don't necessarily know whether or nor somebody has a disability; it is not as though a special badge or uniform is required, is it? I don't see that my role is to do any more than to treat other people as I would like to be treated if I were in their situation, being mindful that their situation may be more difficult than I realise; I should be as tolerant of other people as they are of me! I think that if this rule were to be applied, the only disablism which survived would be due to ignorance of other people's needs. I suppose that this is still a bit of an issue (to put it mildly), which is where Blogging Against Disablism Day comes in. I shall take a lot more out of today than I am putting in. Well, I suppose that I could hardly take less than this measley little post.

Do I have a greater responsibility? Should I, rather than simply trying to be good and kind, and to include people wherever possible, should I be campaiging against disablism? Or working towards pointing out things that need changing (in that way which annoys people so effectively) and making what changes I can.

So, people, apologies for my uneducated stance. Do let me know- other than not being quite so shallow and thoughtless, what should I be doing differently?

Oh, and it has become apparent to me that I do have a bit of a problem, known as "inability to construct an argument". Sufferers have to endure the jeers of unenlightened people saying that their blog post is rubbish, and they often get poor marks in their essays. They may also put their foot in their mouth and, only slightly knowingly, say something rather offensive. Sorry about that. The accommodation that I require is for people to prevent me from putting my "thoughts" on the Internet.*** Alas, this is not one I have received today, and I shall have to endure the consequences (as you have already done). ;-)

*I expect it is my mind which is more likely to be a cause for concern, anyway.

**Full disclosure: eating gluten causes (engage euphamism mode) my digestive system to run a little more quickly than usual (disengage euphamism mode), with the sort of discomfort which can come with that, it makes me feel slightly sick, and sometimes gives me a headache. It helps me to lose weight, though, as I don't feel like eating when I feel sick. None of this is the end of the world, and I will eat gluten occasionally (especially if, for example, I have turned up at a wedding and forgotten to tell them about my dietary requirements. Not that I would do that, of course; that would be irresponsible), but in general I prefer not to feel sick, and I dread to think what it does to my micro-villi, so I try hard to avoid the stuff.

***'Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865).
Conversely (and my justification for joining in)
As you grow older, you'll find the only things you regret are the things you didn't do.
Zachary Scott


narrator said...

It is indeed all about exclusion. When we believe in a "normal" we refuse to build a universally designed world which would welcome everyone.

Very powerful post.

Ira Socol

Léa said...

Asking people whether they need help is a good thing. Just make sure you accept a no. People who won't accept that one doesn't need help are just as bad, if not worse, than people who don't offer it.
But I'm sure you're bright enough to know that. Just making sure.
Great post!

Abi said...

Ira, I think that "normal" can be a useful concept, especially when used by discerning medical professionals who have a good idea of how to help non-normal things, when this help is what is required. I am not a medical professional, though, and so I can see that this is a concept which has little use for me. Good reminder! :-)

Léa, that is an excellent point. I know that I, personally, get a bit more possessive of my independence when it looks more like I might need help, and I can understand others feeling the same (and also I can understand that sometimes disabled people actually know how to do things best for themselves, having had much experience in that sort of thing). It's just that sometimes it is nice not to have to struggle. Sometimes it is nice just to be left in peace!

Thanks for your comments, and for your encouragement!

FridaWrites said...

Thanks for writing! I'm glad to see TABs writing too. Having to ask for gluten free meals is similar to the kind of requests I had to make when I was invisibly disabled--it could be difficult and people could be nonunderstanding. I often hesitated to ask because I didn't want to draw attention to it, and yet I also felt I needed to explain some of my odd behaviors.

Never That Easy said...

I think you did a great job of relating your own experiences to the experiences of PWD (while still making it clear that you are aware that you do not completely understand all aspects of it). I really appreciated your perspective, and am glad that you participated.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks for writing, and for doing so when it was clear you were feeling a bit out of place, which mid way through came together as you got that the feeling was the same as you get when you are NOT accomodated, and that you get to look forward to places you know people WANT you, will accomodate you - and I want that to in my life, to go where people want to know ME, and where a little ramp is not such a big thing and there are not many people called to carry me in - because I am a giant bother by existing.

I think it is like the keys. Even when you got them, the pain, the stigma is still there because you knew that they were not given in love (much the opposite) and still you have to face opposition. So it is with my manager, who I find has been complaining about how much financial damage I cause by using a wheelchair on rainy days and putting two lines of wet on the communial carpet (not as much damage as dragging myself places and leaving a mud and blood smear on the way to the elevator I am thinking).

Thanks, a great job!

Abi said...

FridaWrites, yes; I feel really stupid eating the top half of quiches and leaving the base - very odd behaviour indeed! I feel silly justifying myself, because I sort of don't feel it's important enough (and also, what if I made it all up and I can actually eat gluten? How stupid would I feel then?).

Never That Easy, thank you for your encouragement. It was a bit scary putting myself out there, but it is important to work towards reducing the amount of disablism that exists. I feel that the least I can do is show a willingness to learn, and to change my behaviour where applicable.

Elizabeth, I have just figured out how to make the ground floor of my house mostly wheelchair accessible (it turns out I have the materials needed to make ramps) - you can come round now! I want to know you!

With the keys, I just think "yay! I have them! I can get in whenever I want, and they can't stop me!" I am not really that upset that they didn't want me to have them now that I do have them - life's too short to worry about what other people think. Remind me of that next time I worry about what other people think of me!