#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

 disabilityhierarchy

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.

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Lego my Wheelchair

This morning, I was prowling Facebook for pics of cats (which I can spend all dayyy going through, but am too lazy to find myself), when I came across this gem of information. In case and suffer from extreme laziness like me, and just can’t bring yourself to click the link(“Screw this, I need to go skim BuzzFeed and forget about my pain”), it’s a webpage supporting a Lego Idea, specifically, one where the little Lego man is in a wheelchair and chilling in front of a blue-stickered ramp. The hope is that this Lego’d disability scene will get enough support to be created and sold. If you’re still too much of a douche to click the link, you’re probably a lost cause, but you should know that all of the pieces– including the sitting Lego-man, his little but exceptionally detailed beast of a wheelchair (which even has a customized-looking hand control and differentiation where the ‘motor’ is!!Sick man. True representation.) and a  true-to-life handicapable wheelchair door button– are ridiculously cute. Of course, I’m pretty girly and think lots of things are cute, ranging from my friend’s cat to my own selfies, but this is undeniably so. Saaaa cayyyute.

Why You Should Care:

If you’ve never met a wheelie in your life, well, then, it’s really strange that you’d add me on Facebook or WordPress, but good for you for clicking on a blog that doesn’t directly effect your normally overly self-absorbed life. There’s a popular belief with disability rights activists right now that might actually make this feel more relatable to you, as it claims that,”Everyone becomes disabled someday, so care about disability now, sooner rather than later”. While I don’t fully buy into this train of thought, (some people die running marathons in their 80s, like this woman) I see the benefit of its existence. Age happens to everyone (except John Stewart, who looks like a twenty-something wearing a wig.God.), and at the very least, our bodies are expected to slow down with time. And this is why you should care. Because wheelies are just like you, and you might become some variant of one one day.

The other reason this wheelie Lego matters is for the exposure it would give to kiddies all over the world. Kids are incredibly and beautifully malleable, and their beliefs about what is what, are constantly changing. By way of example, I’ll tell you about my little step-sister. She is adorable and smart and feisty and other biased positive descriptors I can’t think of right now. She is 7. She likes Princess Ponies and hamburgers with almost nothing on them. She also has the fleeting curiosity specific to children. As is such, she likes to ask a zillion why questions, assert her opinions and think a bit, and then ask more whys. Since coming into the fam, she has asked plenty of questions about me and my disability, causing reactions ranging from unbearably cute to, “What did you just say, little kid?” to, “Whose child are you??”. She just wants to know. And the longer I’ve known her, the more her interest in my difference has peaked, and waned, and peaked again. Slowly, as she grows and her mind develops, disability is becoming more normalized, because she has been exposed to me and all my disability stuff.

I’m not sure that a Lego set will give kids exposure to a subset of people, bit it will at very least plant the seed. It’ll maybe make them expand their schemas. It might give way to inappropriate statements like, “Hey, you remind me of my Leggo wheelchair guy,” but that signifies the start of learning. What a lovely thing.

Finally, this Lego thing destroys a stereotype that is everywhere. It has an able-bodied person standing beside the wheelie. Yayy–I sure hope that if this becomes a tangible kids toy, that the walkie Leggo is part of the set. You have no idea how many times a month I get asked if my friends/dates/mother is also in a wheelchair. Three hips for integrated representation.

So, support this Lego Idea so it can become a reality. Click this link, and then press the big green rectangular button on the right-hand side of the page. The page will pop-up with an option of signing up with Facebook, Twitter, or regular old e-mail. Takes 5 seconds.  Think of the children.