All I was doing was being friendly. I had caught your eye as I entered and I nodded to you as I rolled by. The two of you were stopped and had pulled your power wheelchairs off to the side. You weren’t talking, it looked like you were waiting. My nod was greeted harshly and then, you, the one in the light pink parka, said that “We don’t acknowledge lifestyle disabilities.” Turning your chair away from me was your way to put an exclamation mark on that statement.
I’ve not heard the term ‘lifestyle disability’ before, and I don’t know exactly what you meant by it, but my guess is that you were making reference to my weight. And if you were you’d be mistaken, my weight is what most people connect to my disability and most people would be wrong. My disability is a result of a catastrophic illness which led to several surgeries. But, I really don’t think that matters.
Let me say that again: I don’t think that matters.
I agree that the disability community is a community as diverse as it can possibly be. I also agree that it’s not so diverse as to include everyone. I abhor the ‘We all have a disability in some way’ sentiment as it’s intended to be a mark of humility but it’s simply a means to disavow privilege. I see our diversity as a strength of our community, I see it as a challenge for all of us to open our hearts really, really, wide. I see it as a potential source of incredible strength, and power and knowledge and insight. You’re disavowal of me as a member of that community based on your own set of prejudices, saddens me. And, yes, if you meant to, and I know you did, it hurt.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. Several years ago, maybe two years into being disabled, I won a Canadian Blog award and then was attacked by one of the other nominees who thought I should get an award in the ‘fat’ category not the ‘disabled’ category and she stated, clearly, that she did not think that disability status should be given to those who choose to be disabled. She was angry.
Luckily, I haven’t had this experience often. And perhaps that’s why your words cut me so much. I didn’t expect anything back from you, I didn’t expect a nod or a greeting, I just acknowledged you and left it up to your will as to any kind of nod back. I don’t just nod to people with disabilities, I should say, I nod to people who catch my eye, all of them, it’s habit.
You lashed out at me with such anger. You wanted me to know that your community doesn’t include me. Well, okay, forgive me for being really good with that. But, I’m sorry to tell you, you aren’t the gatekeepers to this community, and like it or not, I’m in.