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In the realm of disability, there is a lot of terminology like: assistive device, accommodation, care services, mobility aid, various sorts of therapy/treatment (physical/behavioral/occupational/speech/etc.); and so forth, about things/people/services which fill various common needs that people with disabilities share. The unfortunate thing about these terms is that they imply particularity to disability. But in truth, these things are not special to disabled people.
What are the needs being met? Things like: mobility and transportation, mental function, physical wellness, self-care. But we do not name the things abled people use to fill those needs as being special to abled people. This is because ability is an unmarked identity. That is, ability is seen as normal. The needs and behaviors surrounding ability fade into invisibility; they are not about ability, they just are. But disability is marked — it is special, notable. It can never just be; it is always about something, always representing and signifying something particular.
Along those lines, consider these examples:
- When an abled person wears shoes, they are not called “mobility aids.” Shoes are just things that normal people wear to do normal things. But canes, wheelchairs, and braces are special “mobility aids,” rather than just being things that normal people use to do normal things.
- When an abled person rides in a car, bicycle, or public transportation, they are not using “mobility aids.” They are just using transportation.
- When an abled person gets their hair cut, the stylist is not called their “personal care assistant.” Only disabled people need assistance with personal care tasks.
- When an abled person eats a meal cooked for them by someone else — a spouse or parent, a cafeteria or food court, a restaurant — the person preparing the food is not their “personal care assistant,” despite doing for the abled person the same thing PAs do for PWD every day.
- When an abled person uses a remote control on their television, this is not called an “assistive device.”
- When an abled person types out words on a plastic board with small key blocks indicating letters of the alphabet while staring at a screen, or speaks words into the bottom area of a plastic-and-metal hand-held electronic device while holding the top to their ear, this is not called “facilitated communication.”
- When an abled person is put through training at their place of work so that they can learn the tasks they will be performing for pay, this is not called “occupational therapy” or “vocational therapy.”
- When an abled person wears a bra, or a jock strap, or any clothing at all, this is not considered in the same category as slings or braces.
- When an abled person climbs the stairs, they are not considered to be a special device thought up just for abled mobility.
- When an abled person takes the escalator, they are not considered in the same category as the elevator or wheelchair ramp.
The trend evident here is that there are all sorts of things that help people live their lives. Having help to accomplish things — basic or beyond — is not special to disability. It is a fundamental part of humanity. Our society would not exist without all the little things we do, from products and tools to techniques and tricks to other people and relationships, to help us get through this world a little bit easier.
I want to emphasize this for a reason. A common trope in mainstream discussion on disability is that disabled people are helpless, and abled folk must take on the noble burden of keeping them alive, afloat. Disabled people need help with doing things, and it’s such a pitiable condition to be in, dependent on other people and things to get through life. Abled people pat each other on the back for the strength and courage and sacrifice they make in helping disabled people in their family or community. They often lament that would kill themselves before living as a person who needs help with things! And some of them take their considerable platforms to argue that because disabled people need help with doing things, their lives must not be good-enough-as-they-are, therefore their lives are not worth living at all, and we (the abled world) should withdraw all help and let them all die like they should have done as infants. (No, seriously, if your name is Peter Singer and/or you are the New York Times, this is what you say in all seriousness.)
In short, this idea of help-as-special-to-disability can be dangerous.
This is why I’ve come to like Things That Make My Life Easier: because that’s what they are. They aren’t super-special things that only people with disabilities can use. They aren’t super-special things that only people with disabilities need. They also aren’t things to be ashamed of. It shouldn’t be a hit to anybody’s pride to take shortcuts or to do things in an unconventional way. It shouldn’t be a possible insult to disabled people to associate themselves with icky, pitiable disability, and it also shouldn’t be a point of anxiety for disabled people who have concerns about admitting any sort of dependence or need for help. We can admit that we need things — or even just that those things are nice to have around — without it having to be a referendum on our identity, on our worth as a human being.
Or at least, I’d like it if we were able to!
So some of the things I post about are silly little things. Because they help me. Some of them are things that are particular to my disability — things that an abled person will likely not have to ever deal with, and may not be able to relate to — but that’s part of the human experience. I am a human being; there are other people like me who share these concerns, and they are human too. Part of the human experience is our experience. Because we are human. It shouldn’t have to be repeated like that, but it does. Disabled people have claim on the human experience. We can talk about our experience as disabled people, and it is not only about disability-in-particular, but about humanity itself. No matter how much it flames the insecurities of abled people, this is truth.
Next: An Invitation