#DisabilityPrivilege

For all my bitching about disability struggles, I could stand to blog a bit about disability privilege. No, I’m not talking about getting the parking spot closest to the mall door, or front row seats at movies(though those are definite situational perks), I mean the different ways in which different physical disabilities dictate how we are seen by others. Here, I’ve arranged these in a chart, because, easy:

Societal Hierarchy Of Disability

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Before everybody goes ape snatch over my essentialist pyramid, allow me to make a cluster of disclaimers. Firstly, I made this up, just now…like everything I post here, unless otherwise sourced. Secondly, I am acutely aware of the troubling affects of generalizations, and issues around defining words like “slight,”I use this for definitive purposes only. Thirdly, acquired disability (caused usually by injury or accident, not from birth), can be worse physically than many Forever Disabilities (I term I came up with, to describe disabilities had since birth, that are never ever ever going away) but I think societal approaches to acquired disability are a little less condescending, which I’ll discuss. Quatro: This post will only address social views of disabilities, and how certain attitudinal changes happen with different disabilities. It is NOT (Never! Not at all!) a reflection of the disabilities themselves or the people that live with them. This pyramid is to meant to raise questions, bring about brain synapses, and maybe start mouths flapping. Let’s talk about it.

Claiming Personal Privilege

Of course, my vantage point as a person in the second -to-bottom category brings about an inescapable personal bias—and that’s also where a lot of my privilege comes in. So let me disclose quickly, in the interest of fully “claiming” privilege. I’m a white girl, who lives in Canada, and doesn’t need to have her parents help her with personal care. I’m mildly conventionally attractive (Thin? Nice teeth? Apparently I’m also conceited.), and I have full verbal capacities. I’m also educated and have part time employment at my disposal. I’m pretty damn privileged.

CP Privilege,

Since Cerebral Palsy is my story, I’ll use it as a starting point. Ever since undergrad, my friend Andrew and I have titled our type CP the “jackpot” of disabilities. It’s not, actually, we were ignorant fools in undergrad (ok well, at least I was). But there are a few positives to this disability as I experience it:

  • Some of the symptoms of CP, such as rigidity and muscle spasms, can be improved through therapy. If therapy is maintained (hah. No.) then your ability level can increase a fair amount, relative to how you define fair and the severity of your CP. It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure for disabled fitness.
  • People often think you’re paralyzed. Again, limited to my type of CP, which is experienced mainly in my legs, but not actually, it just takes a while longer to notice the other weird spasms happening everywhere. Keep in mind that I have “full” mental capabilities and am markedly free of speech-impediment. As such, I often “pass” as someone who used to be able, but no longer is. This is great while it lasts, as most people don’t question your intelligence when they think you once walked. Which brings me to…

Acquired Disability Privilege

I can only tell you what I know from being mistaken as paraplegic. A few years ago a coworker of mine approached me, saying he had a personal question. He sat down, slouched comfortably in front of me and said, “You take really good care of yourself and you seem to like it here. You’re always pleasant, but I…” He trailed off.

Anticipating his question I said, “You won’t offend me, just ask.” (OOPS, YOU’RE IN MY BLOG.) He laughed nervously and then said, “You’re accident must’ve been hard to deal with.”

I smiled and explained that I wasn’t paralyzed, but that depriving my brain of oxygen at birth was probably pretty rough. I told him I was born too early, that my brain had taken the bulk of it, and that brain damage was the result. In the milliseconds that followed, I watched him go from confused, to understanding, back to confused, to generally awkward. He shifted in his seat and said the ever-famous, “But you’re sharp…and good at your job.” When people say this, I have half-a-mind to punch them, but they mean no harm, and some people that have CP are affected intellectually, so a simple, “my intellect is intact” is usually all they get.

Point is, in finding out I didn’t used to walk, this guy started doubting my intellect, and my capabilities. It no longer made sense to him that I could excel without having been a walkie. And in a way, that’s acquired disability privilege.

Severe, Purely Physical Forever Disability Privilege

Say what? I see this newly-made-up category as those people that have severe physical disabilities, from birth to beyond. Generally, when society finishes treating them as a tragedy (as is sometimes incurred with many and most physical disabilities), they can then move on to doing whatever they do, without questions about intelligence, because their disability is purely physical.

I’m stopping there, because I don’t fit this category, and writing as if I know a damned thing is causing me to break into a nervous sweat. I do not want to minimize other barriers that those failing into this category may face, only to mention that when your disability is “purely physical” (as mine is not) I should hope that people don’t constantly question your noodle’s capacity. Noodle.

And here lies the end of this likely offensive post. If you take nothing else away from this, I hope to stir your mental cauldron on how different disabilities are received and perceived. Thoughts welcome.

Disability 101

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Disabled ppl have friends?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being in a Social Work Intensive program means writing a reflection of self roughly every 5 seconds. In my last short reflective interval, I was was required to write about cultural influences and the culture I identify with.  Naturally, I wrote about what it’s like to be a black man, and a few friends have asked that I make my mini-paper accessible. So here it is. Please don’t expect mind-blowing. This is the basis for what it’s like for any oppressed group ever. Nothing that hasn’t been done before.

I’ll admit to being one of those students, who, before this class, never gave much thought to the culture in which I belong. The textbook tells me this is a symptom of being part of the dominant culture, and I guess it must be, as humans are only apt to look for points of difference and are ignorant of privilege until they are deprived of it.

As you might have guessed, I’m a white girl, born in raised in a little suburban white town with white fences and bright white church steeples. As is such, I have never felt discrimination for my fair skin tone, or the culture that I unknowingly practice, because it was the culture of most of my peers.

This does not mean, however, that I escaped all accounts of cultural difference, as I am also physically disabled. I debated whether or not to include this aspect of myself in my reflection on cultural identity, simply because hard evidence that disability in and of itself has a “culture” is hard to find. But to not include my disability in the making of my cultural beliefs would be to leave out one of my pivitol drives and factors that influence how I see others and myself.

When discussing whether or not disability is a culture with one of my disabled friends, he was quick to answer,

“Disability is not a culture. No.”

I challenged him, saying that a culture is a way of life which a group of people express similarly. He looked at me puzzled, but with conviction and said, “Well then disability is an anti-culture.”

I am not much for technical terms, but “anti” being synonymous with “against” or “opposed to” indicates that my friend thinks of disability as an oppositional culture. Personally, I see disability culture as one rooted in such shame that many members deny or hide their affiliations with it. As our textbook very briefly discusses, stigma behind disability includes weakness and inferiority, something that is counter to the ableism which is so prevalent in Canadian society.

My own admission to being part of a disabled community was a long time coming. Right up until late adolescence, I grew up being the only disabled person in my community, fighting disability constructs constantly with assertions of intelligence, academia, and, when really grasping at straws, wit an an oh-so-persevering spirit. This is the anti-culture to which I believe my friend referred, as it is never good enough to simply be disabled, you must have to compensate for such perceived weakness or be exceptional in some way.

As a way of forming connection with able-bodied people, I often look for people who are physically able but are part of another  minority, or have an obvious point of difference. In my experience, two people who have experienced oppression and marginalization are more likely to relate to each other, as they are both looking to be treated equally. Though this is specific to my experience, I have witnessed similar paths of connection with other members of the disabled community and believe it to be quite common and natural.

This is the point at which my assignment wrote itself into the positive elements my difference will bring to SW. I wish we had more than 500 words…but, save that for another reflection.