Thursday, May 01, 2008

Do you hear what I hear?

A post for Blogging Against Disablism Day...started on time, posted a little late. If you happened to jump over here from elsewhere, welcome. I'm an able-bodied, able-minded creative blogger who doesn't often do serious business, but my family and friends mean too much to me to let this one slide.

This post leans heavily to discrimination against physically disabled people only because I have little close personal experience with mentally disabled people, and I admit my language may be out of step, and my understanding
is not complete. So, with all that said...

I hadn't heard of this event before today, and I'm not entirely sure why. Probably because I cut my teeth on the knit-blogosphere and it took me a while to ripple out into other subjects.

But today, Blogging Against Disablism came at me loud and clear, and there was no way for me to skip it...even though I wasn't entirely sure which direction to go. What I was sure of is how important a role disabled people have played in my life - and how much disablism has affected them.

There are too many stories to tell. Like the ones about my Granny (my mother's mother), who had a severe heart condition well before she had to rely on a wheelchair. My cousin M, whose rare genetic disorder folds her more in half - and makes the back pain ever more excruciating - with every passing year. TechieBK's cousin T, who spent her short 26 years in and out of hospitals, frequently unable to breathe, never able to live normally despite her liver transplant. Even my beloved faces a specter of his own, one that requires he never be too far from a bathroom, that leaves him at drastically higher risk for colon cancer and could result in a colostomy late in his life.

My stepdad C has had a greater, closer impact on me and my feelings about disablism. A genetic disorder caused a high cleft palate, leaving him hearing-impaired since birth. And at five, he took ill with polio, which wasted his right leg severely.
He both speaks and signs, has residual hearing and reads lips, lives in a hearing family but is in most ways culturally Deaf.

With C-Dad, the factor is raised a notch because he often doesn't hear these things, either. For some reason, this gives the worst offenders the idea that it's even more OK to be asinine. To talk to him like a small child, though he's almost 60 years old; to not look at him when they speak; to mumble on purpose.

All these well-loved people have had to deal with the usual:

- Staring. (Lesson for disablists: learn some effing manners.)
- Some (not all) getting harassed for having disabled hangtags - and using spaces - because they didn't "look handicapped." (Lesson: you never, ever know.)
- Eye-rolling and heavy sighing. (Lesson: what if it was your grandmother, your dad, your sister?)
- Snickering, commenting, or straight-out mouthing off. (Lesson: learn some effing manners before I deck you.)
- More things too lengthy, too hurtful, too nasty, too illegal to stand.

To overstate the obvious, disablists suffer from a lack of understanding of one crucial point that escapes all bigots (which has been said better by many - check here and look for May 1 to see more) - disability does not make a person less human, or less worthy of respect by their humanity alone. I've read a lot of blogging lately that focuses on our understanding of privilege, our blindness to our own prejudices, our lack of willingness to step up and speak for members of any group to which we belong...or even one to which we don't. For every person that would knowingly hurt someone for their differences, I truly believe that there's another 2, 3, 10 who would never even dream of it.

And most of them would never say a word if they saw it happening. I get this: it's hard to go out on a limb. I try, and I know others who do too; sometimes we succeed, often we fail. And yes, sometimes it's painful or dangerous to do so. And no, we can't win every battle single-handedly.

Even so, we have to try harder at it. Pick your battles if you must...but pick them and fight them. Write to Congress or to the blogosphere. Learn some patience. Learn some sign language. Tell people why words like "retard" or "spaz" are offensive, and quit using them yourself. Widen your public bathroom and its door. Let people use it if they ask urgently, no matter what company policy says. Don't pet the dog without asking, and don't be an ass if the answer is "no" when you do. Don't park in reserved spaces. Don't patronize businesses that find ways not to do equal business with disabled people. Stop staring...but look at people when you talk to them.

Never be afraid to tell the world that prejudice and abuse are wrong. Never dehumanize another human being, whether you love or hate them, evil or saintly, perfect or imperfect.

Here's one hint: we're all imperfect. Fighting disablism (or any other ism) is one good way to be a little less so.

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