Do’s and Don’t’s for Disability Respect
For the last four years I’ve gotten to experience the perception of autistic and disabled people in a collegiate community with educators, staff, social facilities, and people my own age. One day when I look back, I’ll remember everything, the good and the bad; the things that would flatter my university and the things that won’t. Disability is certainly talked about a lot in our society no doubt, mostly (varying from case to case) by able-bodied, seeing, hearing, neurotypicals. Disabled people talk are merely just speaking on behalf of able-led groups in things for themselves. Much of everyday student’s commitments to disability rights simply reminds me of the movement of offset rights in the West. By paying a certain amount of money, the credit for a tree that has already been planted is given to you. Like the indulgences of the Catholic Church, ableds are thinking they can by their way out of ownership by hashtagging pictures, electing pageant winners, and going to two-hour seminars, and take it from there. People applaud themselves by giving disabled people temporary niches in the Special Olympics and then go back to their lives of refusing to accept us on our own merit. Large posters go around telling us to “Ban the R-word,” yet they never seem to take claim of the words and phrases they belittle disabled people with on a regular basis. I once talked to an autistic woman who was publicly called the R-word. I understood her feelings were not to be pacified, but respected for their ability to show her the injustice, after exchanging thoughts, we both agreed: the R-word is the corsets women wore in the 1700’s. They are not the oppression. They are simply a symbol of the oppression. Without undoing the world that produced this word, we can never make meaningful change at all. But by living in the world of disabled people for twenty-five years, I’ve found a lot of the source of our trouble beyond bureaucratic frustrations, beyond medical confusion. They are not glamorous. They will not get one laid or paid, but they will make you true friends even if we must leave the false, and we will also see who they are. Without commitment, they can never be adapted, but with genuine effort we will see what we are fighting for. It will not change the world overnight, but it could save lives you do not see, until the time perhaps you wish to feel indispensable. A like, a share, a hundred thousand dollars to promote this post will not replace following these things. They must not be hobbies, but habits, and I know it is a long post to read, but it will still be on this blog tomorrow, so don’t worry about coming back. I have a “Do’s and Don’t’s List for Disability Respect” of ten basic rules, where I have tried to use a positive to balance the negatives, that may not cover every potential thing, but may help you reframe them. This list goes:
-Do not: give yourself or seek recognition, praise, or self-promotion for treating a disabled person with basic human respect you are just supposed to show non-disabled people. Don’t take the low-road and imply that we are less worthy of respect because of our differences. Accepting it when you have done more than your part to make another person’s world better is slightly different, but it should not a) be done for personal gain, or b) to allow you to talk over or ask something in return from us that we did not agree to.
-Do not: base your respect for disabled people on “passing for normal.” Rather than seeing a world of diverse abilities based on them all having to appear as part of the dominant one, learn about how disabled people should be allowed to express and communicate their way of being rather than hide who they are.
-Do not: EVER support or take part in the practices of excluding, limiting, censoring, manipulating, or subordinating the voices of disabled people on any mainstream discussion that in any way affects their image amongst the public or affairs related to their own lives.
-Do not: express, sympathize with, or help to underwrite any eugenic discussion that involves eliminating, preventing, controlling, or limiting the births of those who will be born or grow to have disabilities. Their lives are far more important than their abilities to accommodate to your lifestyle or appear conducive to short-term economic effects. Instead, figure out reasonable alternatives to organizations that support eugenics.
-Do not: base your support for disabled education, services, and employment on projections of their sheer economic potential. Instead, learn about the gifts disabled people have to improve various parts of your life which are often things that able-bodied neurotypical people struggle with or overlook doing.
-Do not: EVER compare disabled people’s desires for supports and accommodation with there being a sizeable movement of people who want special treatment, having things handed to them, or to take advantage of others. Are society is a LONG way from that. Wake me when a disabled person will not be moved down a waiting list for kidney transplants or shot by police at the first sight that might suggest danger. I have yet to mention a complete lack of diversity-ensuring measures on college campuses nationwide, guaranteed fair trials for child custody, meaningful access to higher education, and even clean drinking water here in the United States of America. By the time I got through a thorough list, all my neurotypical friends would be fast asleep.
-Do not: treat disabled respect as a mere matter of human social evolution. Stone-age tribes in Papua New Guinea and rural Mexico have centuries old traditions of disabled inclusion, integration, and roles offered to them. Celtic tribes practicing human sacrifice had homes set aside for severely disabled. Native American nomads invented the first forms of sign language, and Japan has a two-hundred year old tradition of blind spirit mediums. Rather, learn about the think tanks, ill-constructed classifications, and lack of complete study on and speaking of disability in your own society. Please avoid saying or implying, even literally or figuratively, that society is “figuring things out,” or is just going to realize its mistakes as if they are hard to figure out with high-profile openly disabled people such as Temple Grandin, Daryl Hannah, Heather Kuzmich, Muhammad Ali, Bob Dole, Stephen King, Angelina Jolie, John Denver, Daniel Tammot, Alexus Wineman, Lance Rice, Mike Newman, and so many others that you will be guaranteed to all be buying contraception by the time I’m finished. Simply do not sugarcoat the truth about disabled injustice. It’s there. We’ve lived it. We can’t unsee it. We’re basically politicized since day one. Don’t avoid talking about it as if we can’t hear it. Instead, just be mindful of our feelings when these issues are discussed. That’s all. Nothing theatrical or Shakespearish. Just plain honest, non-idle dialogue.
-Do not: tourist-travel disabled people’s lives to make yourself or other people feel better about your’s or their own life. People (seemingly) mean well by this venture, but it causes anxiety for me because it may actually devalue disabled people’s lives. By showing other’s that they are lucky not to live with our condition, societies have very little accountability placed on them to protect disabled lives from law enforcement, health professionals, teachers, spouses, and even parents, the very people who are entrusted to protect them. Instead, learn about how disabled people can adapt comfortably and enjoyably to their own lives without the need to be corrected or fixed.
-Do NOT: promote the idea of the well-adjusted disabled person as 1) the model citizen, 2) the champion of adversity, or 3) someone’s whose place is to debase or belittle struggling disabled people or those least understood or independent
-DO: learn about the connections and cycle of bullying and discrimination. Take a pledge to learn the right thing from the right people, never do the wrong, and encourage others in your circle to change. Let people know that disabled respect is important to you and you do not take kindly to discrimination and dehumanization. Start with yourself, wherever you are, and make a pledge to live in a world with respect for disabled people’s diversity, differences, feelings, and beliefs. If you agree to be mindful neurotypicals and able-bodieds of your thoughts, words, and actions, then I agree to be mindful of your merit in the world. If not, I cannot help you. I cannot bail you out of your misrepresentation, whatever the cost. Learn and unlearn at your own risk, and be warned, we will expect people to follow through on their promises to us once they have been made, and we will know when they have been broken. Stop trying to walk in our shoes and instead walk beside them. The time to start is now.