When I spoke about my uncle in an earlier blog, I talked about how I both saw the obvious physical difference in his situation as a parapalegic in a wheelchair, and the person with abilities and talents that I didn’t have; a man with a unique personality like all people and a love for life. Fact: I could walk and he couldn’t. Fact: That fact didn’t make either of us better or worse. We were just ourselves.
At the risk of oversimplifying, I’d like to make this point: Your child is different in a typical way: In that ALL people have differences which is typical of being human. And I propose that these differences are what give us our unique particulars and make us special. No Gummy Bears is exactly the same. They are different colors and they each create their own taste sensation in your mouth. However, there they share a sameness.
We are socialized to understand and differentiate between what is, so called, normal and acceptable and what is abnormal and undesired. I don’t believe I need to explain how that manifests itself. We see it daily in our lives, on the news and around the world. We are socialized to understand that anyone who veers from this “acceptable,” physical, emotional and behavioral track is broken and outside of, quote, “us.” “Different” has been decided for us before we have the chance to be our true selves, however that may look, without judgment. And If we live thinking we are a part of the “different” we risk growing up believing we don’t fit in and that idea can become our reality. And the story of “us and them” will perpetuate and continue to leave so many of us as unrecognized and cheated out of what we all deserve, mutual respect, recognition and consideration.
Does majority mean the same as normal? Is it because the able bodied and able-minded are in the majority that we come to understand that as the norm or typical? How did it happen that people who did not possess these able qualities become referenced as having nothing to offer this world?
If we accept from the start that every human is different, we might come to see that there is no such thing as normal (in this case meaning societally acceptable), only what is. If we come to accept a “come as you are ” definition of human, then we accept that not everyone has two hands, or can walk, or hear or see or accept change well or tolerate sensory disturbances without stimming to feel better. That not everyone who is cognitively superior is better or worse than their counterparts. Instead of dismissing the intellectually inferior minded person can we simply recognize a different version of human and discover their value?
Is a person only considered significant if they contribute as society deems acceptable? If we can rid ourselves of the notion of expectations for how a person “should” be, accept the person, as is, then there is no need to satisfy some expectations we are raised to understand as more acceptable and more useful or worthy.
In The National Library of Medicine: from an article based on a research study entitled: The person in the disabled body: a perspective on culture and personhood from the margins: Persons with disabilities (PWD) are one of the most marginalized groups in Western societies. These inequalities are manifested through various disadvantages in the psychosocial, cultural, and economic domains. The aim of this study is to identify ingrained, culturally bound assumptions inherent in the treatment of people with disabilities, and how, through renewed dialogue, a shift can take place in their treatment away from a singular focus on their physical condition and towards a more holistic focus on their personhood.
People with Special needs are not broken. They are just a different version of what a human can be. Just like the way I look and behave is my version of what a human can be. What makes me acceptable or unacceptable is how I perceive myself. And “normal” is not going to be defined for me.
From Access Living in an article by Ashley Eisenmenger, she addresses Ableism. She writes, “The world wasn’t built with people with disabilities in mind, and because of that, the world we live in is inherently “ableist.”
So…what is ableism?
Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability. Like racism and sexism, ableism classifies entire groups of people as ‘less than,’ and includes harmful stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations of people with disabilities.
Able privilege refers to the unearned benefits that American society and many other societies and cultures accord to enabled and/or non-disabled people. This privilege is rooted in two cultural beliefs: 1) that a “normal” human being is one who can see, walk, hear, talk, etc. and has no significant physical, cognitive, emotional, developmental, or intellectual divergence, and 2) that disability is “abnormal” and therefore a (social) disadvantage. These beliefs or societal models mean that many cultures, including the US, have set up social expectations, structures, cultural mores, and institutions to accommodate nondisabled and/or enabled people by default and that dismiss and/or marginalize the needs and experiences of disabled and/or differently abled people.
Just as there is a form of skin color and religious privilege in many cultures there is also an Abled privilege and it causes the suppression of the disabled culture. It takes place in the workplace, in social settings and in schools.
In an article from ScienceDirect.com
Inclusive education is a social response to the medicalization of disability. Instead of seeing some but not others as deficient in various ways, the idea is that society makes some people unable to function as they are capable of functioning. Install ramps and lifts in buildings, and people in wheelchairs will no longer be functionally disabled. Change attitudes toward wheelchair users, so that they are perceived as having different rather than impaired mobility and are welcome in society, and we are talking about inclusion.
And therein lies the point. If we can see each other as people with different abilities instead of dividing humans into two camps, desirably able bodied and undesirably disabled, then we begin to focus on the person and what they CAN do and not what they can’t do. I can’t slam a basketball into a hoop. I can’t hold my breath as long as a freediver. I can’t…on and on. But I can shoot the ball into the hoop and I can hold my breath to a certain point. Does this discount me? After all, I can do many things.
Society is set up to condition us towards those camps but so is the system that differently abled persons grow up in by assigning additional labels to the disability. Labels are effective for professionals in differentiating and developing proper support services for an individual. They help a teacher develop an IEP. These are practical reasons that help the system function smoother and I see that benefit. But even though a label is intended to SERVE the individual, does it have that result when it comes to the type of education that person ultimately receives and how they see themselves as a person in the larger world outside of the safe confines of the school?
I’m not answering these questions here but proposing them for consideration. If we identify someone as disabled along with, what I’m calling, a sub-label for a specific disability, do we do the individual a service or a disservice?
Again from the In The National Library of Medicine, came a study in 2020 entitled: Being differently abled: Disability through the lens of hierarchy…, Paul Leshota and Maximus Sefotho write: Despite its acceptability, the term disability has not been able to shirk the sense of incompleteness, lack, deprivation and incapacitation embodied in the prefix ‘dis-’. The current wave of anti-discrimination on disability issues, calls for constant re-examination of the language and the appellations we use in respect of people with disabilities.
The aim of this study was to subject the term disability to some relevancy litmus test … and argue for the term ‘differently abled’ because of its transformative and anti-discriminatory slant.
The study concludes that the term disability or disabled is exclusionary, stigmatizing, and anti-transformational. As such it embodies imperfection, incapacitation and inferiority. Not only is it ominous, it places upon people with disability the perpetual mark of unattractiveness. Against this background the term differently abled seems to convey more empowering overtones than the term disability.
For example, From BrightHubEducation.com: The “learning disabled” label can result in the student and educators reducing their expectations and goals for what can be achieved in the classroom. In addition to lower expectations, the student may develop low self-esteem and experience issues with peers.
Labeling students can create a sense of learned helplessness. The students may feel that since they are labeled they just cannot do well or that they are stupid.
The label can become the person and it’s almost a fait accomple. I quote Dr. Danielle Farrel, Managing Director of (Y.O.U.) Your Options Understood, I recommend you check out her website which I’ll include in my Community Share page. She says, “Labels are for jars.”
From the ADA National Network: People with disabilities are, first and foremost, people. Labeling a person equates the person with a condition and can be disrespectful and dehumanizing.
In an article published in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dept. of Psychology the authors discuss the pros and cons of labeling. While labels can help build communities of people with shared experiences and help others know what to expect from a person with a certain disability, the development of these expectations can also lead people to make incorrect assumptions. “Labels are complicated because on the one hand we need words and labels for things to just be able to talk about issues but then also they can kind of bring with them stigma or stereotypes,” says Dr. Will Cox, a social psychologist.
The article goes on to mention how the Deaf community sees their disability as a key part of their identity. However, from personal experience, the Deaf people I know do not consider themselves as disabled.
Differently abled persons deserve what everyone else deserves in this life; opportunity, respect and recognition. They are not here to make the rest of us feel better about ourselves or to discard as inconvenient or some other negatively depicting adjective. These individuals are just that, individuals with their own ups and downs, challenges and triumphs, just like the rest of us.
Stella Young is a comedian and journalist who happens to go about her day in a wheelchair — a fact that doesn’t, she’d like to make clear, automatically turn her into a noble inspiration to all humanity.
“I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much”
Oda Skasgeth, who is a ‘tad dyslexic’, expresses her displeasure at being categorised as a disabled student for having a learning difficulty that has both been a challenge and a source of pride for her. I have always thought of myself as just a ‘tad dyslexic’. So for me being put in a category just generally labeled disabled was very weird and actually quite funny. I guess I thought it was a joke. I didn’t think that disabled was a word one could or would use to describe me. But apparently I was wrong.
After the initial laughter silenced, I started to reflect on what this actually meant, andrealised that this was a gesture from very well-meaning people at the LSE, but it made me feel really bad. Their attention made me feel like something which I do not wish to be.
Maybe we should let each individual person define who they are instead of the rest of us defining that for them. If we can agree that different is healthy, inspiring and good for a society, then we will have come to recognize the one “same” that we all have in common, our humanity.
Peace and Keep Rising