I am sitting in my office at work and a fellow with an intellectual disability pops in and says that he’d heard that I’d been sick. I told him that I had been. He said that he’d heard that I’d been very sick. I told him that was true that I had indeed been very sick. He told me that he was happy that I was well enough to be back at work. I thanked him. Then he said, and I quote, “Just remember, getting sick isn’t your fault, everyone gets sick.” I asked him what he meant by that, “All people get sick, not just disabled people, all people.” I nodded and he left my office. Message delivered.
I hadn’t actually thought that getting sick was my fault. Never crossed my mind once. Not once. But since that discussion I’ve discovered that not everyone felt that way. Any number of people were convinced that my illness had something to do with my disability. In fact, I’m afraid to say that I’ve discovered most people had made a connection when none existed. In discovering this, I also found that, in some way, people were making this the result of my disability and that in there somewhere was a personal kind of blame.
Not everything that happens to me happens to me because I have a disability. Not everything is related to my wheelchair or my difficulty with walking. Not everything about me has “dis-” preceding it. And that includes my vulnerability to illnesses. I do not believe that bacteria have an address book listing those people who are ‘just’ targets of their violence.
Yes, I got sick.
Yes, it was serious.
No, it wasn’t because of my disability.
No, it wasn’t my fault.
I shouldn’t have to say any of these things. But I do, and will over and over again. I have spent my entire working life, my entire life as a disabled person try to establish the uniqueness of the disability experience as it’s encapsulated within the commonality of the human experience.
All people get sick.
It was an odd conversation with an important message.
I hope to see him soon and thank him.
He taught me.