I went back to read a comment I had written on a blog, to see if there was a response, and I got horrified at my own words.
As a shorthand, I had written:
“‘Well’ people don’t SEE disabled people, and they don’t see them as mattering. They don’t see old people. Because every well person is scared to death of ending up disabled.”
I MEANT to say ‘PEOPLE with a disability.’ NOT ‘disabled people.’
Shorthand can be neutral: ‘red-headed person.’
Shorthand can be positive: ‘beautiful people’ or ‘smart people’ or ‘intelligent people’ all convey positive attributes.
But shorthand can be pejorative: ‘ugly person’ or ‘stupid person.’ Or ‘disabled person.’ As if ‘disabled’ were somehow a permanent and unchanging negative attribute of ‘person.’
I am a ‘person with a disability.’ The disability governs my life in many ways: it limits what and how often I can do things, and for how long. It means I have to make special arrangements to go on trips, even for a few hours.
But it does NOT define me.
Somehow, I have never thought of myself as a ‘disabled person’ – not for very long, anyway. But even I forget – because shorthand is an easy, convenient stereotype. ‘Disabled person’ immediately says a whole bunch of things, some of them useful, such as don’t expect me to be able to do everything I look like I can do.
And yet, in the eyes of the world, I AM a ‘disabled person.’ I can’t work. I need accommodations for simple things. I need naps every couple of hours. If you need me coherent, it’s best if you prearrange – so I can take an extra nap.
I helps in some ways that my disabilities – CFS, and the inability to walk properly for very many steps – are, for many practical purposes, invisible. Other people with disabilities don’t have even the possibility of blending in.
It hurts in the same measure that I have ‘invisible disabilities’: other people often don’t see why I’m moving slowly, for example – and honk as if my going slowly across the street at the crosswalk were a choice to annoy them. Late one night in Princeton this spring, after the Easter vigil, FOUR cars sped by me while I was halfway across the street IN the crosswalk.
I had left my walker in my car for the short distance, but I was quite scared – and this was Princeton, where cops are very strict with laws, and pedestrians in a crosswalk have official right of way. My guess – that they had been drinking. I was wearing white pants! No excuses. I instinctively held back from finishing my crossing – there was something in the way those cars moved that scared me; I CAN’T speed up if I need to get out of the way.
So I will be more careful now in my own writing. I will give up the shorthand, and people with disabilities will be people first.
Even those of us who live with this daily have to have our consciousnesses raised sometimes.
My apologies to us.