(This is in response to Astrid’s hosting of the September disability blog carnival. http://astridvanwoerkom.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/disability-blog-carnival-announcement/ Theme: Identity or Transforming Identity)
A Loss of Privilege, A New Identity
A lot of privilege is hard to change. For an instance, I will always be white. I will always have a white privilege. I will never have to worry about being turned down jobs because of the color of my skin. I will never have to put up with stereotypes that only exist because of my skin color. I will never have to worry about being murdered because of my skin color. But one of my privileges did change. And it’s something that can change for everyone and at any time.
I went from being completely able-bodied to becoming disabled. It’s a recent thing, and I think that for a long time it will feel recent because I spent the first twenty or so years of my life being able-bodied. I had an amazing job that relied on my ability to be able-bodied. I had (still have) an anxiety disorder that was helped immensely by being able-bodied.
But while I was able-bodied, I never once recognized the privilege that went with it. I never had to think about how I was going to get somewhere, if I could get in, where I could use a bathroom. In fact, I had multiple ways of entering a building. I could park wherever I wanted, as far away as I wanted. I could go into a store and know that I could spend hours in there without a problem. In public, I was allowed to just be me. I was allowed the usual conversations with strangers at checkouts. I was able to make it to class early or late. If I arrived early, I had the ability to sit on the floor. If I arrived late, I had the ability to sneak into class and grab a seat without too much disruption.
These were things that were “normal”. These were things that I took for granted. My identity wasn’t related to being able-bodied, it was related to just being me. I had that privilege.
It took one day, one accident, and numerous decisions that changed my identity. In essence, I am still just me. But my life, is no longer just my life. It is not as easy to navigate; in fact, it’s not easy at all. Everything has changed and everything will always be changed. I lost my able-bodied privilege, and it is important that I recognize it. It is important that I realize that some people have never had able-bodied privilege. It is important that I recognize that people do not really care about people with disabilities or accommodating in accordance with the ADA.
I have been told by doctors and even friends and family, that I should not think of myself as disabled. That by the possibility that I may get better, means that I am not actually disabled, or that I won’t be forever. It’s true that my disability may go into remission. It is also true that with remission comes relapses. There is no cure for my disability. There is no standardized treatment plan. Right now, I identify as disabled. I identify as disabled because I am disabled. There is no getting around it. It’s even a visible disability, as I use a cane, crutches, and/or a wheelchair depending on the day I’m having and how far I’m going. I identify as disabled because I have certainly, without a doubt, lost all the able-bodied privileges that I once had. My body is public? Check. (https://gimptude.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/but-ithey-were-just-trying-to-help-or-my-body-is-not-my-own-and-i-should-be-grateful/) Can only use certain bathrooms? Check. Only one way in and out of most buildings? Check. When elevators are broken, I’m screwed? Check. Plan out everything to do in the day before leaving the house? Check.
There is no amount of thinking ‘I am not a disabled person’ that will make it so. I cannot just think my mobility devices away. I cannot wish myself back to my job. I cannot wish myself up and down stairs. Thinking does not make it so.
I am okay with identifying as disabled. I wish others were okay with it too. It would make it a lot easier to deal with. And to be honest, I have never found a more accepting and helpful online community than the online disabled community. They tend to be far more helpful and supportive than anyone I’ve ever met in real life. They give helpful advice and anecdotes. They support you when you’re down, when you’re not sure if you’re “disabled enough” or “too disabled”. I have never met a nicer online community of people and one day I hope to be as helpful to the newbies as everyone is/was to me.