(I accidently ruined the layout of my blog, and can’t seem to find the theme I used to use, so I’m afraid it’ll have to stay like this.)
I once read a book about a girl in a wheelchair. A different Life by Lois Keith, if you’re interested. After finishing the book I felt like I knew everything there possibly is to know about people with disabilities, as if the character of that book acted as a spokesperson of her whole community, and every other person in a wheelchair felt exactly like she did.
But really the only thing I learnt was to not stare if somebody who has a disability passed by. I learnt to treat them as people, and not as people in wheelchairs. I learnt to not think of them as incapable human beings who can do nothing but rely constantly on others as they go through life (though there are some people who have disabilities that leave them no other option than to rely on others, I learnt that not *every* person with disabilities has to live with somebody who will look after them). I learnt to talk to them just like I’d talk to anybody else. I learnt to not be afraid of them.
But I shouldn’t have needed to learn any of that. I should’ve already known it; I should’ve taken for granted that a person would want to be treated just like I treat any other person, and not have me looking at them nervously before walking off and looking for something else to do that would make me less stressed. I thought that this way of acting was valid because I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable around them. And I was sure that they wouldn’t mind too much since everyone else pretty much did the same.
Why is it that I’m so blinded by my able-bodied privilege that I couldn’t even see that my behaviour could hurt other people? Why is it that I had to wait until I read a book written from the perspective of a person with a disability to be able to realise and change this behaviour? What if I hadn’t read that book? Would I still walk around keeping a distance from blind people, people in wheelchairs or people without arms? Would I still be scared to talk to them in case I offended them, not realising that I’d be offending them more by avoiding them? What about everyone else who hasn’t read a book?
We are taught that bodies with any kind of disability are inferior to bodies that don’t have any, instead of acknowledging simply that they are different kinds of bodies; neither inferior nor superior. And this is a big problem. Actually, thinking that any kind of body is inferior to another is what causes many of the problems nowadays in (first-world) society. People need to fight to make sure everybody knows that women aren’t inferior to men, that black people aren’t inferior to white people, that trans people aren’t inferior to cisgender people, that people who are skinnier or fatter than society’s image of an ideal body are not ugly (always keeping in mind that anorexia/bulimia and overweight are problems that should be addressed).
I want to see all of this represented everywhere. I don’t want people running away from these problems, saying that they aren’t important enough or ignoring them completely. I don’t want to have to wait until people read a book about a girl in a wheelchair to start treating people with disabilities properly.
I haven’t ever talked about this kind of topic before, but yesterday I found out that every May bloggers unite to talk against disablism, ableism and disability discrimination. I’ll be looking forward to May!