What a Lovely Surprise

I was recently reminded of the importance of noticing, appreciating, and celebrating “good disability moments” – those times when someone responds to me or treats me in a non-ableist way. This is more than the lack of discrimination or oppression, this is someone treating me as I want to be treated. Although these moments aren’t as routine as I would like them to be, they certainly come along, and I think it’s important to remind myself that not everyone will respond to my disability negatively or with fear or anger. Another side benefit is demonstrating how easy it is for people to act with compassion and caring on disability issues.

I read a post at Rolling Around that highlighted a recent “good moment”:

A Wheel-trans driver just came to pick up one of our members (a bit late, but understandable). While loading the member onto the bus, this driver took the opportunity to have a conversation with our member (she didn’t even realize that I was there). This member has a profound disability, he’s also blind and can’t answer back verbally. She spoke to him with kindness throughout the loading procedure, reassuring him he was going home, letting him know what she was doing and she was joking around with him. This driver has a huge heart and smile and made sure that no matter how stressed she was feeling due to traffic, she didn’t let that ruin someone else’s day. Too often people with disabilities are passed off and are not seen as “normal human beings” that have emotions and feelings. It’s a wonderful thing to see it when someone takes time out of their day to talk to members, be friendly, maintain professionalism and make someone smile with such a simple act of kindness.

I recently had a “good moment” of my own. I was at work, eating lunch with a few of my co-worker friends, people who know my disability status and whom I trust enough to feel comfortable discussing my disability issues. I mentioned how I had seen a lot of recent articles about lithium mining, spurred by the recent discovery of huge lithium deposits in Afghanistan, which prompted lots of articles analyzing lithium mining industries in Bolivia, and so on. I laughed that every time I see one of these articles, I have to consciously remind myself that the lithium they’re getting is to use in electronics and industry and that it isn’t being mined for pharmaceutical reasons. Partway through the story, I realized that one of my newer co-workers was sitting with us and remembered that I had not discussed my disability status with her, so continuing my story would basically be outing myself to her, but I was so far into it I couldn’t stop without also calling attention to my disability status. So I plunged ahead, saying that my reaction to those headlines is always to think “I don’t need that many pills! You all can stop mining the stuff now! I’m all set! Thanks!”

New co-worker laughed at the punchline and then the conversation moved on to other things. She didn’t stop the conversation to say, “wait, you’re on lithium? Isn’t that for crazy people?” or any other questions. She didn’t ask me what I take it for. She didn’t ask me anything, in fact, but continued to chat and laugh with me and the others with absolutely no change or shift at all. Since then, she’s continued to treat me exactly the same as before – griping about World Cup officiating, wondering if the A/C in our office will ever work reliably – and hasn’t mentioned or questioned my disability issues at all.

It is difficult to say how much this means to me. The ability to talk about myself, to share those jokes, without encountering negativity, curiosity, or even stares, made me feel like my disability did not set me apart from the group. That mentioning my medication in that context was equally mundane and non-notable as mentioning I have a cat, or drive a Honda, or don’t like beets. It was the feeling of acceptance. Of equality. And it was amazing.

2 Comments

  1. I love it when things like that happen.

    “It is difficult to say how much this means to me. The ability to talk about myself, to share those jokes, without encountering negativity, curiosity, or even stares, made me feel like my disability did not set me apart from the group. That mentioning my medication in that context was equally mundane and non-notable as mentioning I have a cat, or drive a Honda, or don’t like beets. It was the feeling of acceptance. Of equality. And it was amazing.”

    I agree so hard. If it’s okay to share stories of good moments, I had something pretty cool happen last month.

    I headed down south to hang out with some friends and go to a convention and after we went to Denny’s. My friend N brought along one of his friends I had only met that day, so I was a bit nervous. Somehow the topic of ADHD came up and I mentioned and I had it and N’s friend M said he did as well. All of us got to joking around about horrible med side effects we had dealt with and then after a while talked about other things. No one acted like being on meds, even though I mentioned some of my stigmatized conditions, was a big deal. When I talked about something without saying what it was for, as in your post no one asked.

    I got treated like taking pills was just a normal part of who I am. I never realized how nice that feels.

  2. Yay for good stories! I have always felt in circumstances like the one with your co-worker that her approach was blatantly the only acceptable one. I do not know exactly how that was taught to me but I have been shocked navigating the world as an adult exactly how few people seem to have retained that lesson.

    Apart from anything else, if you end up getting on with the person, it will come up. It’s as much your business as anything else personal – relationships, financial situation, etc – they share exactly as much as they feel comfortable with, and you have no entitlement for them to spend their energy enlightening you.

    FYI I have depression that is pretty disabling right now, but I’d say I’m pretty much TAB.

    It’s still great to read good stories because ableism is so insidious, it tires me sometimes to be aware of it, and beat myself up over the fact I so seldom have the energy to call people out on their prejudices because there’s just so much to combat. 🙁

    Thank you!