#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.

The Problem of Privilege

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Hot girl/duckface privilege.

We all know the problem of privilege. Maybe its concrete definition escapes you, but trust me you know it, and you’ve likely experienced the problems associated with its presence. Privilege can be as big as job security, and as small as getting tipped better because you’re more conventionally attractive.

It’s usually a moot point, because its benefit is rarely appreciated, and, in some cases, not even comprehended. Privilege’s official definition looks something like “The unearned advantages given to members of a certain group”.(My lose paraphrase of some textbook i poked my pointy nose through recently). As noted by my girly italics, privilege has an exclusive entitlement tacked onto it. It is, in its rawest form, something we were born into, unbeknownst to us, a power we never asked for, and perhaps would rather not have.

This concept of unwanted power, then, is an extension, or a specific section, of privilege. In its corner, I am reminded of Toby Maguire in that kinda-older Spiderman movie (before he went all fancy-pants geek schmooze in Gatsby), and that actor with the weirdly square salt-and-pepper hair, whom Peter Parker calls Uncle Ben. Perplexed Peter is having his meltdown about having spidey-senses and Square hair uncle says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And then croaks, only a few scenes later, leaving teen-spider tormented and confused. The nerve of fictional death.

Anyways, I’m sure some synapses blasted and you figured out what this now-irrelevant movie referred to: the power attached to privilege. Spidey didn’t ask to climb walls. And psssshhhh, spinning MJ into his infinite web because she always conveniently flies off buildings? Total coincidental perk. In fact, if you could ask him yourself how he feels about being part insect, Parker would probably throw up his arms in protest and say, “I’m just a science nerd. And I actually prefer myself in bifocals.” Privilege, unasked for.

Now that I’ve drugged much too far into what was a light example, let’s go back to reality. Privilege is this unwarranted circumstance, that furthers us (or at least fuels us to act) in some tangible way. The most apparent and deeply-felt example of this for me, and many other gen. Ys, is the capacity to hurt and be hurt. I could go into some hefty examples, but you know the gist. Dude X likes you but you don’t know why/how that even happened. He treats you like there’s an endless stream of diamonds falling out your butt and you can’t even remember his birthday and don’t understand why a half-drank 26er isn’t the best pressie ever. Dude Z treats you like the “marked down for last sale” section of the grocery store. Mmm pre-packaged pasta? Take you today, toss you out tomorrow. (worst metaphor in history of blogs). GUESS WHICH ONE YOU HURT? You dick, you. How dare you succumb to human nature.

Privilege gave you the chance to chose/reject. Privilege gave asshole Z the opportunity to pass you up. Privilege has a cause and effect relationship with both being and causing hurt. And, if we stop and look at the ways we hurt others, as well as the ways in which our own hurt rears, we see fluidity. The ways I hurt are how I’ve been hurt…. and the way i allow myself to be mistreated is how I’ve been mistreated before. Justification? Maybe. But the cycle of violence speaks repeatedly to the idea of learned behavior, and hurting others is a variant of that.

I’m not saying anything exceptional or new, but now another infinitesimal(thanks mother, mother) piece of cyber-space has been occupied by my overdone thoughts. Think about the privileged spots you’ve been in. How can we lower ourselves in such a way that allows for these unwarranted spots to be filled with true credentials? Oh, you like me because I’m smart, funny, kind? Cool. Those things are real, and we’re on equal grounds. Let’s talk.