How The Disability Blame-Game Works

Having a distinctive trait that separates you from “normal” can easily become a go-to excuse for all of life’s problems. When that trait is living with a disability, it can soon mean that nearly everything is fair game to be blamed on physical impairment. Much of this blame may be legitimate, like “Oh, I can’t go to your house because you have stairs, no strong people to carry me, and you’re just another jerk who won’t build a ramp.” Or, “Oh, no, little child who wants to play in my wheelchair, you can’t because I actually can’t get up”

These physical/spacial barriers in life (stairs, small spaces, hilly places, inaccessible bathrooms, secret coves) are the easiest to pin-down as #disability problems, but from there on in things get a little messy. As a wheelie, I have time-and-time again asked myself “Is this me, or my disability?” usually pertaining to issues of employment, schooling, friendships, sexships, everything ever. It’s a burning question, and is always sitting comfortably in the back of my mind.Here’s a breakdown of ways disability can bare the brunt of blame for issues other than physical blockades. Keep in mind that this blog is based mainly on my experience and the experiences of other disabled people who have been kind enough to share their thoughts with me.

Jobs/ Job Problems:

Negative internalizations about disability are a real bitch. In the realm of employment, if you get a job, you often wonder if you only got it because the company had to fill their disability quota. If you don’t get the job, you might wonder if it’s because the company didn’t want to take-on whatever accommodations you may require–be it more office space or general awareness of your disability issues.

Either way, if you’re accepted or rejected in the employment world, it’s almost impossible to figure out what’s your fault as a person and what’s an unchangeable result stemming from your disabled status.

Another thing encountered in the work environment is genuine surprise when you complete a task well. This is not meant to bash anyone, but sometimes I think people are unwittingly baffled when disabled people are actually being useful, as it doesn’t fit with engrained stereotypes, and our perma-spot as the “needy wheelie”. When this happens, it causes the PwD to question themselves in a “Did they expect me to fail?” way. It also plants doubt about whether compliments are genuine, like, “Did I do good by human standards, or wheelie ones?”(which are inevitably lower, since your life is harder—we expect less of you, don’t worry).

If you take disability out of the equation, it’s a little bit easier to breath. When you get rejected, it’s because you weren’t qualified, or your bedside manner sucks, or you blew the interview, like the fool that you are. All of these reasons are manageable things that can be improved upon/changed. Disability not so much.

Relationships:

I feel bad about addressing this, because I write about it often, and also because I suspect I’d be nearly as awful at friendships and relationships if I were able-bodied. The questions around social relations with others revolve (again) around not knowing whether your excluded because of your disability or your personality. I only went to one high-school party in my entire 4 years, and the whole time I was beyond baffled that I had even been invited. Sometime during my high-school period, I had 2 child-like high-school “relationships”, who I thought of as: “people who liked to look at me, laugh at my jokes, and make me terribly squeamish by holding my hand”.  Clearly, thriving in the social world was not my thing, and while I was well-liked, I was never really accepted.

It remains a mystery how much disability has contributed to my social troubles. My inability to achieve peer acceptance could be two parts Kristen’s really fucking intense and one part I’m disabled, how does socializing happen? In truth, I just don’t know what’s what, and it’s really tough to know when I need to take on the task of self improvement.

I originally wrote more, but this post is becoming overly self indulgent, so its ending here. Knowing the lines to draw regarding what is and isn’t a result of being disabled would help me individually, as well as helping other PwD to acknowledge and understand the roots of some of their struggles better.

…And for this reason, they should have shrinks who dedicate themselves entirely to clients living the wheelie life. I’d pay big bucks to be a part of that.

Guest Speaker

Today, in one of my 10 trillion classes, we had a guest speaker who presented as having ARND. To those who don’t make a habit of memorizing acronyms in their free time, ARND stands for Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder. My extremely shallow understanding of this is that ARND represents the spectrum of disorders caused by alcohol ingested during pregnancy, most commonly manifested as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

So anyway, our speaker gave a small testimony describing her experience living with ARND, depicting such symptoms as Dyslexia (which, I assume-but could be wrong- is commonly comorbid?), hypersensitivity( which, as she told us, is a difference in perception of the world–higher sensitivity to sound, light, and an innate opposition to being touched), and differences in learning abilities. At one point, when  discussing employment and its difficulty for a person with ARND, she said, “We just get warn out. Everything that ‘normy’s’ take for granted, takes us twice as long, it takes our brains twice the effort to do what other brains do normally” Of course, one of the nit-picky social work kids in my class pointed out her use of the word ‘normy’ (“What is that?”) Context means nothing to kids these days.

As this woman unfolded her story for us, she spoke wisply, reading from the paper that held the essentializing facts of her struggle. Some asshole girls behind me kept loudly insisting that she was “Saaaa cayyyuuuute!” and proclaiming their love for her, this woman they’d never met that was easily 30 years their senior. Side note: I’d like to start a word revolution where everyone drops the word “cute” from their vocab and replaces it with something else equally useless and airy with a hint of condescention, just so they can feel the gravity of their words. Like…. hmmm…”She’s saaaa rosey. What a muffin.” or “Love that little Strawberry Shortcake”. Actually, I knew someone once who often called me Strawberry Shortcake. It took me a bit to warm up to, and I never really understood it. Words like “cute” especially when applied to people we respect, can be patronizing/confusing or both, and can actually get in the way of whatever grain of endearment is intended. Said the spinster.

Eventually it was time for questions, and the speaker stood patiently at the front of the class looking like Exhibit A, playing with both drawstrings on her sweater-vest at once and waiting for us to throw our ignorance at her. Someone asked for clarification on the categorization of her condition, and I thought maybe people would let her off easy, when someone started with, “Uhm, maybe this is too personal but….” the woman smiled sheepishly and told the bozo to speak. “Well, do you find that your condition gets in the way of finding a partner?”

Eeeyo. Idiocy reared its head.

The woman answered gracefully, explaining that a partner was never on her priority list, that she found relationships work and had “never had kids, thank god”. She admitted that her invisible disability probably had a baring on her ability to sustain intimate relationships, just because she’s naturally impatient and easily frustrated.

This killed me inside. I’m pretty much dead already, but this broke my straw on my humpty camel, firstly because it speaks to the incessant belief that other’s love is a valid cue for societal acceptance, and also because no one should be asked that ever.

It kinda comes off like this: “So, are you worth loving, er…?”

My sadness was amplified when she closed her answer (to the original question of her condition being a barrier to companionship)with, “Surprisingly, I get asked that all the time.”

Clearly, I don’t find this an acceptable lens with which to view a person’s situation. Even more clearly, I am bitter. Maybe I should just end this blog by cutting and pasting the words bitter and spinster 40x.

Night.