For me, the disabled community’s divisive, fractured state evokes sorrow. It isn’t simply that divided our power is diminished or that any one group trying to raise themselves up on the backs of others is disheartening, rather that I can see the common ground so clearly and yet it remains fallow.
Everything about me and my disability categorizations comes together in that untilled plot of land for I embody many of the ways the members of our community live. Born disabled, I acquired a different type of disability as an adult. I have static disabilities and those that fluctuate. I can accommodate some to the point that they are mere nuisance while another cannot be reduced no matter what I do. some can be seen while others are invisible. One is entirely an artifact of our societal structure and beliefs. Some TABs can easily comprehend whereas others are beyond most’s ken.
Looking back, I cannot pinpoint the moment I went from understanding each of my disabilities separately to identifying with a broader disability experience. Though I can still recognize how aspects of each shape that experience, none exclusively or even mostly defines it. I am not blind. I am not chronically ill. I am not disfigured. I am disabled.
To me, so many aspects of disability are universal defining our common ground. Each of us is acquainted with how it feels when another has lower expectations because of our disability status. With the popularity of the internet, we all can identify the instant someone realizes we are disabled and have struggled with how and when to tell someone. Frustration at another’s inability to understand is familiar to us all. We have all wanted to do something only to realize we can’t. None of us are disabled without that simple fact impacting our lives.
Why, then, do we insist upon being splintered in to factions that struggle against each other? I know part of it is economics and politics for the pie of social welfare doesn’t get bigger when the need is greater, rather we must fight each other for a morsel of it. I know part of it is the different ways TABs view our disabilities. They divide us and compare us, making it reflexive to follow along.
Constantly we struggle to educate TABs that our status as different means we are not the same as the non-disabled community. The idea that different equates to “less than” is one we’ve tried to banish from human thought. So why do we turn around and allow our differences to chop us up into pieces?
I have no answer, but I do have a sense that it is about our subconscious and ingrained socialization so deep that it is instinctive. Our identities – our way of looking at the world – starts from inside each of us. As infants, we figure out that this is our foot and that is the blanket. It seems natural to sort out the world in this way and I believe we do it as adults without thought.
AS we educate TABs that disability is not the end of the world, that our difference means we are not the same as opposed to inferior, and that society’s structure is far more limiting than any anomaly we possess, I wish we would apply those lessons to ourselves. Until we start standing on our common ground and speaking not about my truth or my experience but about our truth and our experience, I think our tendency to divide ourselves will keep us from moving forward.
I am fortunate to have so many varied disability experiences intersect in me. I am not blind, I am not chronically ill, I am not disfigured. I am disabled and it makes all the difference, in a good way. For this I am grateful.