Disability 101: The prison of ‘special’
Society expects that all people with disabilities will be loving and joyful and cooperative and that our very presence will bring inspiration and hope. That is our role. Everyone around us can feel good because of our loving presence.
Bull hockey. It is our prison.
We are not allowed to be contrary. We are not allowed to formulate an opinion that might be controversial. We are not allowed to protest. We are not allowed to complain.
No seat for disabled students on AMS Council [University of British Columbia, Canada]
Arts representative Matt Naylor explained that he opposed the motion partly because he was concerned that creating the seat would be out of line with the faculty-based system of AMS Council. “Creating any kind of non-voting seat for a specific constituency that isn’t one of the faculties has a lot of problems. We, as faculty representatives, should be the voice for all of our faculty, and we should be considering what is best for the society holistically,” he said.
“Creating special seats for special groups specifically dissuades that because they are responsible for articulating a viewpoint, and not articulating what they think is best for the entire society, so it creates a really fractious system.”
Naylor added that problems regarding representation lie in representatives’ engagement with their faculties, and not necessarily the structure of AMS Council. Councilors should make a larger effort to engage their constituents to make sure everyone’s voices are being heard.
I’ve only ever used a wheelchair for a few weeks at a time, but I have made extensive use of walking aids like crutches and sticks. You have no idea of the panic that used to come over me whenever someone took my crutches away, saying, ‘I’ll just put these over here, out of the way. Just ask me when you need them.’ Because no matter how helpful and well-intentioned the person, taking my walking aids away took away my independence; my autonomy as a person. Without them I might as well have been tied to whatever chair I was sitting in. Taking my walking aids away made me dependent on THAT PERSON, and if they left the room or were busy or distracted (because this was most often said by a teacher in a classroom setting) I was left immobile and helpless. And yes, from time to time we all find ourselves in situations where we’re dependent on others, but for disabled people dependence is so often all that’s expected of them, so often the norm, that any time someone takes away some of their hard-fought-for Independence, it’s that much more hurtful. It’s bad enough when you’re prepared for it – when you’ve made the conscious if reluctant decision to trade a little of your independence for someone else’s convenience. When it’s unexpected, sprung on you because ‘those are the rules’ that can’t possibly be modified or tailored to your individual needs, it’s unbearable.
When you’ve been been taught thoroughly enough that you’re Just Not Trying Hard Enough by people sufficiently different that they cannot tell when you are putting in insane amounts of effort, you may start believing it. You may have trouble telling what your own limits are, much less working out a more suitable way to approach things based on how your brain really works. You may feel like you’re Not Really Trying up to the point that you collapse.
This is exactly what got my mother (not on the Spectrum, but not neurotypical either) into the state she ended up in. She felt compelled to ignore any kind of limitation–including chronic pain from undiagnosed bone cancer–until she just collapsed. Between years of getting dismissed by doctors, and refusing to see that she had any limits whatsoever–which also helped keep her from getting the care she needed–she spent years with a very poor quality of life, then died at 60. That really opened my eyes to the fact that I was running breakneck down the same path, and it scared the hell out of me. Especially since I’ve got the same kind of high pain tolerance, and my reactions are similarly atypical.
Denigrating Self-Diagnosed People Means Denigrating All Of Us
In certain circles of the Internet, it’s become fashionable to make fun of people with “Ass-burgers,” particularly those who are self-diagnosed. (I prefer to use the term “self-identified,” and will be using both terms here.) One needn’t look any further than various snark communities and “humor” pages. When called on their ableism, people who make these kinds of remarks tend to defend themselves by saying something like, “Oh, but I don’t mean to make fun of the real Asperger’s sufferers! I’m just talking about the people who self-diagnose just to have an excuse to act like a jerk.” Leaving aside the obvious ableism directed towards officially diagnosed people–you know, we “sufferers”–there are numerous other problems with that formulation, which I’ll try to cover in this post.