I often wonder how I’d answer the question “what’s the hardest part of being disabled?” If I was ever asked. I think my true answer is, actually being disabled isn’t the hard bit. It’s the perceptions and responses of non-disabled people to my disability that I find the toughest. I have seen five general perceptions (these are the five I’ve heard or heard of the most but there are probably more). Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll hear all five of these perceptions in one day!
- Disabled People Are Not Disabled “Enough”
The first perception is seeing disabled people as not disabled ENOUGH to actually be considered disabled or worthy of help and accommodations. This is linked to the idea that disabled people are fakers and scroungers who are only PRETENDING to be disabled for the benefits (both the actual disability benefit and any other perceived benefits such as queue skipping. This can show up in phrases like “oh you can do X, well then you’re not really disabled” or when you comment on a disabled person changing which mobility aid they use on a day to day basis as though variable health conditions don’t exist. This is perhaps the most dangerous misconception as it leaves disabled people constantly proving their disability in order to access the most basic help. It also can lead to internalised ableism on the part of the disabled person. This is something I can personally attest to as I often feel like if I am physically able to do something myself or have the time to then I should do it. Otherwise I feel like I am not doing enough and don’t qualify as “disabled enough” to allow myself rest or assistance.
- Disabled People Are Incompetent or Incapable
This misconception is probably the one that annoys me the most. It’s this idea that, just because we are disabled, we are incompetent or incapable of living independently and need help with everything. This misconception rears its head in the oddest moments. I can simply be rolling down the street minding my own business or pulled to the side and waiting for a friend and someone will approach me and say, “Are you ok?, do you need help?”. And quite frankly my honest answer is “with what?”. If I’m not DOING anything and I’m just here, existing, alone, what can I possibly need help with? I think it’s the alone part that throws people. There’s this idea that disabled people have carers and are constantly attached to them, so if we’re out in the world alone, something must be wrong.
The second part of this incompetence and incapability misconception is when I’m doing something, say grabbing something off a shelf, and a non-disabled person asks if I need help. I’ll usually say no (mostly because I have my own independent methods and I know they work). However, people often ignore my answer and go about ‘helping’ me anyway. This is particularly frustrating and potentially dangerous as well because the methods disabled people develop for completing tasks are something they’ve figured out to live as independently as possible without hurting or overexerting themselves. Therefore, your unrequested ‘help’ as a non-disabled person can actually be more of hindrance, with us exerting more energy as we work around you, and potentially injuring ourselves.
- Disabled People are Inspirational (In the Concept of Inspiration Porn)
This one’s a bit more difficult to explain. Of course sometimes disabled people ARE inspirational. There are plenty of disabled people who inspire me. My issue comes when disabled people are seen as inspirational for doing the smaller, regular things. I’ll be shopping for food, or out at the bar with friends and I’ll be called inspirational. What am I supposed to do, sit at home, and starve? stay inside and not have fun with my friends? And I think that’s the point, most of society doesn’t see our disabled lives as ones worth LIVING, just existing. It’s almost like we’re just expected to sit at home within four walls and cry about being disabled and doing anything outside of that narrative is considered inspirational.
The other part of Inspiration Porn that bothers me is the posts you see on social media of a disabled person (usually in the gym) doing something and a caption along the lines of “if they can do it, what’s your excuse not to?” It infuriates me every time. Disabled people don’t exist as motivational objects or for you to use to put others down and make them feel bad for not being able to do something or choosing not to do it.
- Disabled People Are Angry Or Whiny
I don’t know if you’d fully call this a misconception, but I think that’s the closest term to what it is. There’s this idea that raises its head whenever disabled people bring up an issue, whether that be something as simple and regularly occurring as wheelchair accessibility issues or a bigger more complex issues like the lack of marriage equality for disabled people. Whenever issues like this are raised, it’s always said that disabled people are just angry or whiny and complaining about everything. This is a misconception because it makes it sound like we LIKE complaining, but we don’t. We just want equality and the rights and access to do the same things as everyone else. Acting like we are whining, complaining, or asking for the moon when we ask for equality makes it sound as those equality is not something you expect or will allow us to have.
- Disabled People Are Broken or Need To Be Fixed
Remember when I said that the incompetence and incapability misconception annoyed me the most? Yeah I changed my mind, that accolade goes to this misconception. It often comes from people I call ‘healers’ or more widely those who have some form of religious faith. It is those kinds of people who will approach me, randomly in the street may I add, and ask to pray over me and tell me that their religious figure will fix or heal me. Firstly, saying disabled people will be fixed implies we are broken, which we are NOT. Secondly, I feel that this whole misconception stems from the idea that being disabled is a bad thing, a terrible existence and that if we are disabled there is no way we can be happy. The idea that the only way we can be happy if we become non-disabled. I can speak only for myself here but I can say I AM disabled AND happy. And frankly, since I’ve been disabled from birth, if I suddenly became able bodied, I wouldn’t have a clue how to handle it. My life is a disabled one. And it’s a happy one. And that’s fine by me.
So what’s the message of this blog post? Please think about the perceptions you have of disabled people, and why you have those perceptions, because they may well be misconceptions. And if you’re disabled, what do you think of the misconceptions I’ve discussed here? Are there any I’ve missed?
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)
That was a really interesting read, Em. Thanks for sharing. People often make assumptions without verifying the facts. I’ve heard the comment about someone “not being disabled enough” several times and it just floors me that people think it’s appropriate to make that kind of judgment.
this is an interesting read. even though I am not disabled, I can relate to this. when you say that it is not hard to be disabled but it is hard because of people’s perceptions & misconceptions towards disabled people. I am mixed race & that is how I feel –> it is easy to be mixed race because that is what I have known my entire life but how people react to it is what makes it hard. Same can be said for any other type of life circumstance, such as being left handed or being LGBTQ, or having a body type that is not seen as ideal.
I am sorry that you have experienced this and I hope that this post helps to educate others so that they won’t act that way. in the end, we are all human & deserve to be treated the same no matter how different we may appear or what circumstances we may experience.
thanks again for sharing ❤
Agreed, the misconceptions and opinions of other people is the hardest part. I wish people just kept their thoughts in their heads rather than say things about disabled people like the things I mentioned in the post
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