disAbility

Image description: On a cork board a note is pinned. On the note is a smiley face under which is the word ‘disability’ with the dis cross out.

There is a sentiment that I’m hearing more and more often about disabilities but never actually said by someone with a disability. I know what the speaking is trying to say, and even that knowledge doesn’t eliminate, or even reduce, my deep, deep, discomfort whenever I hear it. It has several versions:

… one day there we will live in a world where there is no such label as disability.

… in the future, with full accessibility, we will eliminate the whole concept of disability.

… it is my hope that there will be a time when no one even knows what the word disability means.

Whenever it’s said it is in the context of the world becoming more accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities, a world where employers hire talent regardless of tires, a world where full participation is simply the norm.

These are lofty goals. People need to live in a world of welcome and access – all people, not just disabled people.

But can we talk about these goals that that world without simultaneously speak of the elimination of disabled people.

I KNOW THAT’S NOT WHAT THEY ARE SAYING.

But it is what they are saying.

Let me tell you that in a world with both ramps and stairs, I’m always on the ramp, never on the stairs.

I will always live a reality that is shaped by my experiences and my experiences will always be shaped by my disability. Now here’s the thing, I think that’s a good thing. I think one of the reason why people with disabilities are valuable is precisely because of the perspectives and points of view we have. We see and experience the world differently.
That’s good. Isn’t it?

I don’t hear people suggesting that an end to racism will eliminate black people, or an end to homophobia will eliminate the need for the word gay or the LGBTI community.

In fact, many might even shudder at that kind of discussion.

History has it’s lessons.

But as ‘disability’ the word, and ‘disability’ the concept, and ‘disability’ the lived experience aren’t valued, the idea of ‘elimination’ comes easily. Way too easily.

I too wish for a future with full access, full participation and the sense of welcome, but I do so as a DISABLED person, not as a person who wants my identity and my point of view and my voice eradicated.