"I don't think of you as disabled!"
Have we done this one before?
This just gets my ire up, every time. It's said to me in the most earnest, "supportive" sort of way, by the most well meaning sort of people. Which makes it all the much harder that every time I hear it, I want to sock them.
The problem with not thinking of me as disabled is that you invalidate my needs as a person with a disability. You forget to put in ramps, or you put wastepaper baskets in front of the elevator buttons, or you put the sign in sheet for lecture at the front and I can only access the back. You forget to tell me ahead of time that there will be a written requirement to this workshop. You don't give my blind friends access to their textbooks in Braille until the class is half over and you hang up on TTY users.
No, not you personally, but this is the logical extension of not thinking about me as having a disability.
"But there's so much you can do!" they protest, when I say that I am, in fact, a person with a disability and would appreciate being considered as such.
Sure. Having a disability in one area does not mean having a disability in all areas. I can work full time. I can live alone. I can park in regular parking. But I still have a disability. And would appreciate being considered as such.
"But we all have strengths and weaknesses. I can't draw and I'm bad in math. That doesn't mean I have a disability!"
Sure, we all have strengths and weaknesses. People with and without disabilities have strengths and weaknesses. But the strengths of a person with a disability are not magical compensatory superpowers that negate the disability. And as for your inability to draw or your relative weakness in math, those aren't disabilities. Unless they seriously limit your function in one or more major life activities, such as seeing, walking, using your hands or working and you need legislation to get through your day. Some people's math disability is that limiting and for them it is a disability. I suspect yours is not.
Would you say "I don't think of you as female?"
"No, that's totally different!"
And there you have it. The reason they don't want to think of me as disabled is that they equate disability with something inferior and bad. And they think they do me the compliment of not wanting to equate me, a peer and colleague and perhaps even someone they genuinely like, with something inferior and negative. And that elevates me comfortably in their heads as more like themselves, and less like those people who are "really disabled."
Not thinking of me as disabled, in addition to limiting my access and accommodation options, means not thinking of me as me. It's like pretending I'm a different gender, race or religion, all of which would also make me someone else. My disability isn't bad, and it isn't all of me, but without it, I would not be me. Instead of trying to distance me from this fictitious bad thing, how about learning what disability culture and community means to me? how about learning about my struggles against discrimination and learning how to combat prejudice within your own sphere of influence?
So please, non-disabled people out there, if you want to be my ally, accept all of me. And please think of me as disabled. That makes me think you actually know me, and not just a portion of me. Then help me fight for equality, access and accommodations for those of us who are disabled.
locked post, QWP