#WheelieAttachment Rd 2

stairs

A couple of nights ago I wrote a post detailing wheelies’ need to be incessantly clingy. It was full of self-negativity and became a scapegoat for my personal attachment issues. My attachment issues still exist–very much so– but below I’ve tried to reconcile with that post by providing a more systemic approach to the attachment issues PwD face. More specifically, I’ve looked at the ways in which the vulnerability stereotype, combined with society’s tendency to blame loneliness, and wheelies themselves, have created unhealthy attachment environments for PwD. Take from it what you will.

Vulnerability Reinforced

It’s my belief that solidifying vulnerability as a part of a person’s identity contributes to a life of overcompensation and clamouring after validation from others. Media stories on disability (few as they may be) generally have 3 subcategories: Inspiration, integration and abuse. The third category portrays us as helpless, unknowing, lonely people, who simply crave connection.

Reports depicting the abuse of people with physical and/or developmental disabilities enforce the idea of disabled people as vulnerable and perpetually lonely. In this news story from October, CBC details the sexual assault of a woman with an intellectual disability, on a bus in Winnipeg. Do me a solid and count the number of times they refer to this woman as vulnerable in the video segment. Seriously, try it. Notice how the first word used to describe the woman, after mentioning her young age, isn’t intellectually disabled– it’s “vulnerability”. The word is then repeated in different tenses by different people throughout the piece, followed by an assault statistic and a quote from an “advocate of the disabled.” (hehe, can I be an advocate of the gayed, please?). If by some form of amnesia, you forget the details of this assault, you can be sure not to forget this woman’s vulnerability, in relation to her disability.

There are a slew of other articles which also focus on vulnerability, but don’t take my word for it, Google ‘disability’ and anything and you’ll see what I mean. There’s this article, describing a number of abuses in ‘care homes’ in Alberta, this stat sheet on abuse of women with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador  and this statistical myriad, exposing that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

What does all of this say about vulnerability and disability? Well, for starters, that it’s a stereotype that holds truth. Some stereotypes are out in left field, used for oppressive, manipulative purposes. But the disability + vulnerability stereotype originates from a place of honesty—you can see from the statistics, that disability and vulnerability are extremely correlated.

It also demonstrates that vulnerability often overshadows the other realities of people with disabilities, like stereotypes often do. The internet is overwhelmed with disability and abuse conversations, depictions, and coverings. What it lacks is the other aspects of disability—or more accurately, the humanity, to be seconded by the disability. There’s a reason the woman in the CBC story was only described as young, vulnerable and intellectually disabled. There’s a reason vulnerable was used at least a dozen times, and was by far, the leading descriptor. The truth is that, while abuse IS rampant within the disability community, so too is our loss of humanity in the name of sensationalization and stereotyping.

Don’t misunderstand, this post is not about to minimize the horrific problem that is abuse and assault of people with disabilities, my point is not about the assaults, it is about our one-dimensional focus on this vulnerability. It’s my opinion that no matter how much truth there is to a statement regarding a certain group, that statement becomes a stereotype when it allows us to lose sight of the group’s humanity.

By way of challenge, I suggest re-framing thoughts around disability and vulnerability. I think we should do what we’ve done for other experiencers of violence and assert that they are, in fact, survivors. This not only blows stereotypes out of the water, but it illuminates the fact that we—PwD and people who have experienced violence—are people….people with strength, even.(I know right? Stop the insanity).

Blaming Loneliness

People often believe loneliness is to blame for the prevalent abuse of people with disabilities, thinking that PwD’s hunger for companionship make them more susceptible to mistreatment—but to blame loneliness is to blame a symptom, not a root cause.

Loneliness is a hated part of human existence, well-understood by everyone on this planet, and probably by intelligent life galaxies away. Here’s a list of the contributors to wheelie-specific loneliness:

  1. Currently, I’m pulling a number out of my butt that says 60% of people won’t really be close with a wheelie because, “yikes what are you?!” Anyone want to do a ‘Would you befriend a wheelie’ poll?
  2. Wheelie’s Personality. So out of the 40% that will even consider being around you in public, only 15% jive with your brand of weird.
  3. Walkie’s Personality: You only care about 10% of those 15% that like you. What number does that leave us at? This blog doesn’t do maths.
  4. Money—All the wheelies I know are broke, except for one, and he’s one of the smartest people I know. Just one of those terribly resourceful motherfuckers that everyone and their mom envies.

Anyways, majority of wheelies are broke for most, if not all of their lives. Google              poverty rates and disability. It’s hard to be social without money.

  1. Accessibility—Nobody wants to kick it with you when you can’t meet them at their friend’s apartment, or go see their friend’s band, or join the after-party that’s atop 3 flights of stairs. You remind them that the world is unfair, that they are not into you enough to carry you around. You make them feel like shit.

The above list is incomplete, but you get the idea (Other contributors: Limited/no access to education, no access to supportive housing, struggles adjusting to social norms, after x number of years of being excluded). The problem is so much bigger than lonely wheelie who just wanted a friend. It’s systemic. And yet, PwD are still blamed for out lack of ability to find ‘normal,’ consistent, securely-attached friendship. Just the other week, The Telegraph published an article promoting, (among other things), that disabled people have help making relationships work. The article focuses on Tibby Owens, an“advocate for the sexual lives”of people with disabilities” . Owens is in her 70s, and has released a book for the caregivers of PwD called Supporting Disabled People with Their Sexual Lives. Her belief is that disabled people ‘mess things up,’ in the realm of dating. She’s positively oozing condescension and wheelie-blaming (that’s a thing? It is now.). Read:

“A lot of what we’re doing is helping disabled people gain the sexual confidence so that when they do meet someone they like, they don’t mess it up,” Owens says. “It’s all about being positive and enjoying it and achieving some sexual fun for the first time in their lives.”

Mess it up? Sexual fun for the first time in our lives? Lady, you and I need to have a sit down. Buy me a coffee ASAP.

The insinuation here is that someone might be able to bring PwD sexual joys for the first time EVAR because we are too lonely, isolated, and socially inept to figure it out ourselves. And again, while I recognize that this is a reality for some, I see no positives in acting like disabled people are to blame for not having all the awesome sex. We’re not. Stigma is. People’s misunderstandings about how our bodies work, what our limitations mean, and what they can offer, is certainly another area where my finger points. But me, my loneliness, my tendency to “mess it up”—damnit lady, if I could solve that, I would have a husband on a ranch by now (just kidding, manure is fucking gross). Please stop blaming me, stop blaming us and our lonely, it’s unproductive. And truly, Ms. Anointed to Help Wheelies Fuck, we were doing that long before you got here.

This post is so long and garbled, who knows why I started. The bottom line is that, stereotypes hurt, and when society perpetually sees us as vulnerable victims, and people who are all about the lonely, or people who don’t know how to fuck, well fuck you. Not in the fun way. Let’s rethink these beliefs and the blame that commonly accompanies them.

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6 Comments

  1. It is upsetting that we’re looked at this way, but only we can change it. True, that particular woman may not be able to do anything to change society’s perception of her, but PwDs in general can. Part of it is in the way we conduct ourselves with others. Part of it is learning how to arm ourselves for the numerous idiots that are out there. It isn’t easy, not by a long shot. But it can be done.

    • Good point Glynis. While I agree that we PwDs must be part of the change we visualize, I think able bodied allies are really important, as they heavily outnumber us. In the process that is getting others to take us seriously, we need to have the pull to have others listen to us. As society currently is, I think that still, often times, means having an non-ignorant ablebodied person give us credibility. I don’t like this, but in my experience, it’s the only way I’ve ever been able to break the most harsh of ignorances. I’m not sure what your experience has been similar, but my experience has lead me to think attitudinal changes by “greater society” are the only way we will move toward PwDs finding and taking their own justices

  2. I agree that stereotypes are harmful to all involved–those they’re being made about and the person stating/believing the stereotype. I currently don’t have anyone in either my circle of friends and family or clients who uses a wheelchair so I can’t contribute to this discussion as fully as I’d like.

    Your comment about accessibility got me thinking though. Maybe the reason I don’t know a “wheelie” is that my activities don’t bring me to places that are accessible. Our flat is on the second story only accessible by steep stairs. Most of the neighborhood bars and restaurants we go to have narrow aisles and a stair or two preceding the door. By virtue of my activities I create an unintentional, inaccessible bubble. In neighborhoods that grew up before the ADA I wonder how diversity can be supported. I don’t have an answer, but am going to try to vary activities to include more spaces that are accessible.

  3. As always, beautifully and passionately expressed post. I never know what to say because I am always so astounded at the way you are able to achieve such clarity through mucky subjects like stereotypes. When is your book coming out? Seriously… I will be your first buyer.

  4. I love the hilarity of this post. I snorted when I read “And truly, Ms. Anointed to Help Wheelies Fuck, we were doing that long before you got here.”

    Much of this post is so so so true.

    And so many people just don’t seem to relate to the challenges of my life, or fundamentally don’t understand them. At times I even doubt my family’s love for me because I worry that I’m an annoying burden, that they are caring for me out of duty rather than love. My mom doesn’t understand why I can’t “just get” a full time job. I can’t “just” do anything! When you’re like us, it all has to be planned. Even my closest non-disabled friends fail to grasp how much my life has been the crown of suckitude since I moved out here to Arizona.

    I was expecting a wonderful new life- and, while aspects have been wonderful, I’m still waiting on the general sense of wonder. The Southwest is the inventor of “urban sprawl”. Everything is massively spread out. Everyone uses cars here. I don’t drive or have a car, nor am I directly “in town”, so most of my free time is spent sitting at home, UNLESS I can persuade a car-having friend to take me somewhere. In which case, I have to go to a strip mall or movie theater. Ugh. If I were directly in town, like I was at my other two schools, I’d feel like a part of the community, like I had a real life, like it wasn’t a hardship to go out and do things. Instead I’m sealed off in this ridiculously stupid enclave.

    An abled friend who I thought was a fairly good friend told me I needed to “do more” with my spare time. Well, no shit, Sherlock. How exactly am I supposed to? Ride my scooter til it runs out of juice? Spend money I don’t have on a ridiculously overpriced cab?

    Sorry. rant over. It’s just… I worry about ever being able to support myself, let alone reproducing. So if I don’t have children, who will take care of me in my age? The Catholic Church? My sister? And many so-called friends wash out when you don’t have the money to go out, or the money to entertain, and when you can’t go to their stupid party in a stupid third-floor-walkup.

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