I ended up chatting with a young fellow, to me that’s around 30, with a disability on a ride to work. He asked me what I did for a living and then told me about his job, about which he was quite proud. Without even lowering his voice to become conspiratorial, he openly said that we weren’t like ‘those others.’ And while he is right, the employment rate of people with disabilities is abysmal, it is so because of employers refusing to make accommodations either to their workplaces or to their mindset. I didn’t want to feel like he thought I was in a club with him, ’employed and valuable’ v ‘unemployed and of significantly less value.’ So, I said so.

He vehemently disagreed and did the ‘if I can do it anyone can’ kind of speech that people find so inspirational. It’s not true of course, but people love that shit. Non-disabled people realize that since Chis Hatfield could be an astronaut then so can they. Time and talent and opportunity matter. Not everyone is fit for the same path, we are all resolutely making our own way and cutting our own path. I told him that I thought that argument ‘nonsense’ …which was probably the wrong word to use and he reacted in a manner which I should have anticipated, he got angry.

It was very important to him that he not identify with ‘those people’ and it was clear that he identified with ‘valued working people’ most of whom are non-disabled. He felt that his work raised his status and had him accepted as equal to his non-disabled colleagues. His value as a person was diminished by his disability but then enhanced by the fact that he held a job and was respected at work. He was shocked that I didn’t feel the same way, that I belonged to a, though he didn’t say this exactly, ‘different class of disabled person.’

Then. THEN. He said that it annoyed him when people assumed that he was … and here he used the r word … maybe the first time I’ve heard it spoken in casual conversation by another disabled person. That ‘those people really had no place in a modern society. I challenged him on his use of the word, his hatred of people with intellectual disabilities and his own deeply held self hatred.

It devolved from there.

When he got off the bus, the driver joked that he was relieved that we were bolted down on each side of the bus to keep us from getting into a brawl.

I’ve been bubbling this interaction around in my mind for a long time now. Because what came of it for me is that I do think that there is a ‘right’ type of disabled person, one that his part of the disability pride movement and who values the disability experience and one who lives without need of approval of the non-disabled. He’s not that. I’m having trouble not valuing him less.

That makes me as bad as him.

I need to examine ways to love the disability community, with all its parts, even the one’s I disagree with. I have something to learn from them too, I don’t know what yet, but I know I do.

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