An Open Letter to My Neurotypical/Able-Bodied Professor, (but also to all those neurotypical and able-bodied ableist people)
I am not like you. We are not the same. You are the judge who passes sentence on me, yet you have never seen me before, you have never lived the life that I live. My mind is not the same as yours. My body is no longer the same as yours.
My mind is genetically different, hardwired onto the fight and flight system of the brain. Every event is cause for concern. I spend almost every day in a state of heightened anxiety. And no, not everyone gets anxious like this. I have compulsions, but the key word is that they are <i>obsessive</i>. They are something that I do over and over again until they become the problem. My compulsions are not cute and adorable quirks, they’re an attempt to appease my anxious brain, so I can stop thinking that something horrible is going to happen. These quirks affect how I dress, what I eat, the time I leave, and how I act. This is not something everyone has, and it is offensive to tell me so.
Many people will say that I am being too sensitive, that I am overreacting. They say these things to shut me up, to prove that they have issues too, that they have problems too. Everyone has issues. We all know that. But we don’t all have issues that affect our entire lives and the way people look at us.
Sure, you may have “just stress” and think it is the same, but it is not. “Just stress” means that it will go away and that if you just fix the stress-causing problem, you’ll be fine again. In my mind, there is no fine again, there’s no fixing the stress-causing problem, because almost everything is the stress-causing problem. And you can’t fix everything. I cannot fix my genes.
‘But perhaps medication will help!’ you say. It would be great if medication helped. It would be great if we could all take a magic pill and all of our problems would be solved. Perhaps this magic pill wouldn’t even have side effects.
So no, my mind is not like yours. It is not like everyone else’s. I’ve wished for years that my mind would be like everyone else’s but it’s not. It’s a part of me that is not like everyone else’s.
Now, if you cannot understand that my mind is different than yours, let me explain how my body is different than yours.
Our bodies are not the same. Yours is able-bodied, mine is not. Sometimes I can remember where you are coming from, but I like to think that I was not as bad as you are now.
I think that you think that you are progressive enough that you don’t ‘see’ disability. It must be so nice for you. Your not seeing disability leads to an effective shut-down of any discourse related to disability.
I bring up OCD when you ask about anxiety. You shut me down to say “everyone has compulsions”.
My friend brought up HOH and d/Deafness issues that our text did not take into account and you shut her down and refused to listen.
You brought up Kafka’s short story, “Josephine the Singer/The Mouse Folk”, which turned out to be extremely ableist.
I brought up that I found it offensive and you said that it wasn’t because of the time period it was written in (sometime in the late 1800s to early 1900s). You then shut me down and refused to listen.
I hope you listen now. I hope that I have the courage to send you this so you can listen. I hope that if I do send you this, you will not only listen but <i>understand</i>, so that no other student(s) with disabilities will have to suffer your egocentric and ableist opinions.
“Although she limps and leans on her supporters, no one believes that she is really hurt. Granted that her frail body is extra sensitive, she is yet one of us and we are a race of workers; if we were to start limping every time we got a scratch, the whole people would never be done limping. Yet though she lets herself be led about like a cripple, though she shows herself in this pathetic condition oftener than usual, people all the same listen to her singing…
“Since she cannot very well go on limping forever, she thinks of something else, she pleads that she is tired, not in the mood for singing, feeling faint. And so we get a theatrical performance as well as a concert…
This text from Kafka’s short story is what finally led me to dropping the class. I did try to look at it objectively and bring up that it was offensive, but being shut down and then told how wonderful the author was, was too much to deal with.
Here is why: Kafka’s opinion and description of “cripples” is something that I still come across EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It is 2010 and almost 2011 and this is the view from someone who lived in the 1800s. We have not come very far.
The ADA is only on its 20th anniversary. It is still not enforced. There is no manpower used to enforce it because no one cares. No one cares whether disabled people can get into a shop or into a bathroom. No one cares whether disabled people can go enjoy a movie or a play. No one cares whether or not disabled people can get their books for their classes or even if they can make it to their classes.
Elevators stay broken. Fire escape plans say “use the stairs”. Door opener buttons don’t work half the time and it’s considered a usual part of life. Ramps are further away than stairs and often hidden. For every eight flights of stairs, there will be one elevator.
When we talk, we are told that we are whining. That we need to shut up and get over it. We need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and fly up stairs.
And people think that it is horrible if I dare go outside. If one day I can use a cane and the next I use a wheelchair, I am seen in “a pathetic condition oftener than usual” as if it is something to be shameful of. When I point out how horrible accessibility is, how horrible people are to those with disabilities, I am putting on “a theatrical performance” because no one cares.
You know what? Who cares if I put on a “theatrical performance”? I exist outside the norm. I represent what could be. I represent that there is NOTHING you can do to keep from getting a disability. I am young, I am healthy (I think), I’m not overweight or underweight, but I’m still “broken”. Part of my body broke and through no fault of my own. And it can happen to anyone. That is why my very existence now makes people uncomfortable. And you know what? I. Don’t. Care.
Be uncomfortable all you like. Don’t take it out on me. Figure out why you are uncomfortable. Take your BOOTSTRAPS!! ideal and shove it up your ass. We are not the same. Our society doesn’t ignore you, it doesn’t pretend that you don’t exist, it doesn’t pretend that you are worthless. But it does to me. And since you are buying into that, YOU are ignoring me, acting like I don’t exist, acting like I am worthless.
I do not buy into your worthless ableist assumptions. I do not buy into the fact that it is just your opinion. Opinions are not simple thoughts, they have the ability to be harmful and prejudice even if you don’t think you are being so.
I wish I could easily dismiss you. But I cannot. I will not. I don’t want to imagine what other people who have disabilities have to go through to take your class. And in the end, I helped pay your salary and I want my money back. Your class was required and you have no right to act the way you did.
Leaving your class was the best thing I did all semester. I could have stayed. But you weren’t going to allow me my accommodations anyway, and I know you probably would’ve failed me for some reason or another.
Don’t be surprised when multiple people report you at the end of the semester. Don’t be surprised when I fill out a discrimination report.
I do hope that you will receive a physical disability so that you can be in for a huge shock for how the world works.
In the meantime, I will not be silenced. I do not care how obsessive my talk about disability is. There is something very wrong with how people treat us and it needs to be fixed.
The “cripple” girl with the wheelchair and the cane.