Saturday, April 7, 2018

Things You Say to Disabled People - But Shouldn't!

This is an incomplete list of all the stupid things you say to physically disabled people - but shouldn't. It's an incomplete list because there are so many horrible, stupid, cruel, ignorant things people say to us, I simply can't write them all down without writing a book. But this is a start. These are just some of the the things all physically disabled people hear and hate every day, over and over again - from ableds who swear they're well-meaning and totally, completely without prejudice.

I'm invisibly disabled by severe, chronic pain. I've tried not only to list the things I hear, but also the things heard by people with other types of physically disabilities. In doing so, I have drawn on hundreds, if not thousands of conversations I've had with my disabled friends, both online, and in "real life." 

Sometimes, one of them will create a great hashtag about the stupid, hurtful things ableds say to us, and I've learned a lot from them. Imani Barbarin, the wonderfully caustic creator of Crutches and Spice, was the progenitor of the latest of these fun, emotionally cathartic hashtags: #HowToPissOffDisabledPeople.

In compiling a list of shit ableds say - but shouldn't - I found that their comments and questions fall into five, overlapping categories: Unsolicted Advice, Disbelief, Stigmatizing Disability, Disbelief in Ableism, and Ignoring Our Existence.

So now, without further ado, let the fun begin, with Thing You Say to Disabled People - But Shouldn't.

I: Unsolicited Advice

1. Have you tried yoga?

We get this All. The. Time. Most often it's, "Have you tried yoga?" but we've heard every stupid form of advice you can imagine, and many you can't imagine.

So your sister's friend's brother's daughter's back went out for a week once and yoga helped her feel better? How nice for her. I have a permanent back injury, and, yes, I have tried yoga, and no, it doesn't work. In fact, it's dangerous. 

So you "get cramps too" and feel it's your place to ask, "Have you tried Advil." Duh, of course I have. It doesn't work. Because I don't "get cramps." I have Endometriosis. It's been compared to the pain of giving birth.

You need to understand: Everything you're suggesting? 10,000 other strangers have suggested it too. We have to field these questions dozens of times a day. Quite frankly, we're sick of it. But God help us if we're honest and say that your advice is unwelcome and tedious. Then, suddenly, we're the bitches, not you. So we usually smile and waste time pretending to take you seriously.

You also need to understand that we've heard of and tried everything already. We know what works and what doesn't. You don't. Really. You don't.

By insisting that we just need to take your advice to get better, you are implying two things. First, you don't believe that we're really disabled. You think we can "get better." We can't. That's not how disability works. Second, you're implying that we're not trying hard enough to "get better." In other words, you think we're lazy, and our disabilities are our fault.

You're victim-blaming. Don't.

2. You shouldn't be taking that drug. It's just a big pharma scam and/or it's addictive.

I'm not too keen on using prescription drugs and I know all about the evils of big pharma. I also know that if I didn't have these drugs, I would be in such excruciating pain. I wouldn't even be able to roll over in bed without screaming. In fact, even with these drugs, I go through spells when I scream in pain anyway. Are you really suggesting that I should live like that all the time? I hope not.

I, personally, have chosen not to take opioids. As a child, I was badly abused by junkies and opioids scare me to death, so I just can't bring myself to take them. This may well be the wrong decision; I'm probably in more pain as a result. Many of my friends do take opioids, and it makes it possible for them to function, if only a little. 

Don't even think about blaming them for the opioid crisis.

If you don't need prescription drugs, you're not better than us. You're just lucky. Don't ablesplain to me about what I'm doing wrong.

3. Have you tried aura brushing?

I've been told to levitate (yes, levitate), to go to India to meet an obscure guru, to get someone to hold her hands over my head in a triangle, to talk to my DNA. Yes: talk to my DNA. All of this advice is offered in all seriousness and, if I dare respond with skepticism, let alone laughter, suddenly I'm a meanie. 

Basically all this advice falls into the same category as #1, except that the advice is even more stupid. It's still victim-blaming, and it's still completely, totally unwelcome.

Photo from The Good with the Bad: Haunted by Christmas
4. Think positive.

Don't be so negative. Think positive. The only disability is a bad attitude. Don't say your disability is permanent; then you'll never get better.

At physiotherapy
Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off. Have you any idea how hard it is to be in constant pain, day after day, night after night, week after week, year after year? If you don't, you have no right to tell me how to feel about my disability. My attitude is my business. Don't ablesplain the solution to my problems because you really don't know what you're talking about.

Remember the last time you had the flu? How long did it last? A few days? What kind of a mood were you in? When your head was in the toilet for the fifth time that day, how would you have felt if some person, some not sick person, had stood by your side and sternly said, "You just need to be more positive and you'll stop puking!"

Now imagine living like that for years, and hearing those same words thousands of times. 

When you tell a person to "think positive" and she'll get better, you know what you're saying, don't you? "Your disability is your fault." You're victim blaming. Again.

Photo from The Cape, The Colours, and the Mobility Scooter: Disability Style Every Day
Besides, what makes you think I don't "think positive"? I'm able to find joy and beauty and laughter in every day. When you're on day three with your head in the toilet, can you? I didn't think so. 

Wearing my Jewish, Shema prayer pendant
5. You need Jesus.

Oi! You have got to be kidding. Yet again, you're victim blaming. You're telling me that, if I were Christian, like you, I would not be disabled. You're telling disabled Christians that, if their faith were strong enough, they would not be disabled. You may believe in a vindictive god like that, but I sure don't. Even G-d knows there's no cure for my disability.

I'm Jewish. I have my own faith. I don't need yours. You need to respect people for who they are. Disabled people come in all types - Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, Christian, agnostic. Their beliefs or lack thereof cannot cure their disabilities.

Photo from Pink and Green in Pain
6. You just need to get your mind off it.

Think of the last time you stubbed your toe. Did you try just getting your mind off it? How'd that go for you? Now shut up.

7. You just need to lose weight/get some exercise. 

I've often heard abled people smugly ablesplain to one another that there's nothing wrong with a disabled person but laziness. "He uses a scooter because he's so fat," they say, smugly, laughing at their hilarious joke. It's not funny. And it's not true.

Did it every occur to you that he's gained weight because he's disabled, and not the other way around? That's certainly what happened to me. I didn't become disabled because I'd gained weight. I gained weight because I'd become disabled.

Yet again, you're victim blaming - and ignorant. If you just once had to exert the tremendous effort and courage it takes me just to roll out of bed, get to the washroom, brush my teeth, and prepare breakfast in the pain I'm in, you'd know there's nothing lazy about me. 

Me, in my early 30s, a few years before I became disabled
Anyone who knows me knows that. Before I was disabled, I exercised so much, so excessively, I was actually underweight. This is what I looked like when I became disabled. My doctor was worried about me. 

Excessive weight loss is, in fact, a bigger health concern than weight gain. For real.

I can't push the button because I can't reach it. The image on the button actually illustrates an abled person pushing the button for a disabled person. This is NOT accessibility.
8. You need to get out more. 

First of all, you're victim-blaming again. You're saying that I'm disabled because I stay home too much. No. I stay home so much because I'm disabled. I'm too exhausted and in too much pain to go out. 

And there's another reason I stay home a lot: the world is not accessible. I should get out more? Yeah? How? Accessible taxi drivers refuse to actually pick up disabled people; the elevators on our rapid transit are not, in fact, accessible; the snow plow pushed snow into the sidewalk cut again; the cafe doesn't have an accessible door; the sidewalk is so cracked and buckled, it's dangerous for wheelchairs; that restaurant has no low seating; the concert venue has no section for the disabled; that outdoor even doesn't have any accessible washrooms.

If I can't even be assured that I'll be able to take a god damned piss when I go out, I'm not going out.

Instead of blaming me for not getting out more, how about you fight for universal accessibility so I can go out without facing a thousand barriers that most people refuse to even admit exist? There's some advice for you.

9. If he's that disabled, he should never go out.

When our new, rapid transit, payment system was unveiled, disabled people immediately complained. Transit users have to wave their fare cards in front of a little screen and they'll gain admittance to the platform. One problem: Not everyone has the mobility and/or motor control to be able to hold a card and wave their hands like that. 

The response we got? "Oh my God. Are you kidding me? If someone's that disabled, he has no business leaving the house alone."

Wow. Just wow.

Tell that to my disabled lawyer and former city counselor. Tell that to the mother who needs to get food for her children (or just for herself). Tell that to Stephen Hawking.

Photo from Pink and Green in Pain
10. If you don't take my advice, you're just giving up on yourself.

Yup. I've heard this one often. A lovely variation on this is, "You won't take my advice? I guess you just prefer to be in pain then." Yeah, that's it. That's what I prefer. By all means, tell me why you know my body better than I do.

Do I really need to explain why this is a horrible thing to say? You've appointed yourself doctor, expert, and judge, all in one ignorant, abled person. And you're victim-blaming. Again, and again, and again.

Photo from 1930s Daywear:Fashion in Real Life
II: Invasive questions:

11. What happened to you? A car accident?

Most strangers ask me this within minutes or even seconds of meeting me, especially on elevators, for some odd reason. How long is an elevator ride? 60 seconds? 

Why do people always think it was a car crash? Are their imaginations so limited that they think that's the only cause of disability? Even if it were, can they not grasp how traumatic it would be to be permanently disabled in a car crash? Do they really think it's polite to ask a complete stranger about what is potentially the most traumatic event in their lives? 

Usually, when they do ask, it's because I've mentioned my disability. They seem to take this as permission to be rude. They're asking for intimate details about my body, my emotions, my life history. That's not okay.

Think about it: If you mention your husband to a stranger, is that permission for him to ask about your sex life? No? That's rude? Same with asking what happened to me. 

Besides, why do you think anything "happened to" a disabled person? Maybe they were born that way. Maybe they have a chronic illness. 

Maybe it's none of your business.

You know what would be a much better question to ask? "Do you need any help?" Or, "Is there anything you'd like me to know about your disability?"

Or how about this one? "How are you, complete stranger, whose life and body is her own business?"

12. What did you do to yourself?

Again, it's none of your business. Again, you're victim-blaming. Nobody does something to herself to become disabled. That's absurd

For instance, I didn't do anything to myself. People did things to me. I'm disabled because I was a sex trafficked child and pedophiles paid my smother for the privilege of sadistically gang raping me so brutally, I'm disabled. My story is not unique. 

Think before you use a common turn of phrase. Think about what it really means. "What did you do to yourself?" can be salt in a wound.

13. What's wrong with you?

Holy rude! This is one mostly asked of people with visible disabilities. (I'm more likely to hear, "There's nothing wrong with you.") Often they were born that way. Who says there's anything wrong with them? You? They may not look like you do. They may not move like you do. Does that mean there's something wrong with them? It's not up to you to decide. 

14. Can you still have sex?

Really? That's really what you want to know? How on God's good earth is that any of your business? Don't. Just don't. Ever.

Photo from The Female Body in Peril: Rape as Fashion in the 70s and Beyond 
III. Disbelief:

15. Get better soon. 

So the conversation goes like this:

You: How are you?
Me: I'm disabled and I'm really in a lot of pain. It's hard.
You: Oh. Anyway, get better soon. Bye!

Are you even listeningDo you even know what disability is? Do you even believe me? I'm not sick. I'm not temporarily injured. I'm disabled, permanently. I won't "get better soon." I can't. This is my everyday reality. 

When you tell me to "get better soon," you are saying, loud and clear, "I don't believe you're really disabled."

16. But I saw you walking yesterday.

I saw you walking. There's nothing wrong with you. I saw you stand up from your wheelchair. There's nothing wrong with you. I saw you walking without a walker. There's nothing wrong with you.


If I see you jogging, should I then say to you, "I saw you running yesterday, so I know you can run all the time." If I see you swimming, should I then say, "I know you can swim to work. I know you don't need your car?" Of course not, that's absurd! 

It's equally absurd for you to think a person is faking their disability because you saw them on a good day.

Know this and know it well: Disability changes from day to day (and some are degenerative). I have good and bad days. Some days, I'm bedridden. Other days, I can walk a block. Sometimes, after I walk a block, I'm flat on my back with a pain flare - for days. I never know how I'm going to feel from day to day, or even from hour to hour.

If I'm having a good day, it's good for me to build my strength a little by pushing myself and using fewer mobility aids. That doesn't mean I can do that every day. Don't question it! 

I know many disabled people who feel compelled to use their mobility aids in public even on days when they don't need them, just so they won't be accused of "faking it." They're not. Trust me.

17. I saw another disabled person do it, so all disabled people can do it. 

A man at a cafe once saw me struggling to put things into my bag, looked at me disdainfully, and asked, "Do you go to the gym?" When I told him that's impossible for me, he ablesplained that he had a disabled friend who went to the gym, and it helped him, so he knew it would help me to. (Right after that, he mansplained that the alleged victims in a high profile rape case were lying. I walked away from him when he was in mid sentence.)

A barista once insisted that the door to his cafe was accessible because he'd seen a guy in a wheelchair open it manually. It's not.

These are classic examples of ablesplaining: when an abled person explains disability to a disabled person. Naturally, they don't know what they're talking about. 

Here's a crazy fact: Disabilities are all different. Imagine that! 

Yes, my friend Rob can open that door to the cafe. If I'm using a walker, or my scooter, or two canes, I can't. But I can use the washroom in that cafe. That doesn't mean it's accessible. It just means it's okay for my particular disability. Rob can't use the same washroom. Because, wait for it, his disability is different from mine.

But I'll bet that barista told some disabled person, "No, you're wrong. Our washroom is accessible. I know because I saw Charlotte use it." 

This is why most countries have accessibility laws which clearly explain what is necessary for accessibility. Hint: It's about a lot more than ramps. Fun fact: If your public washroom isn't accessible, you are breaking the law

Photo from Ableism: Beaten Down and Fighting Back
18. You can't even ...?

It's just a short walk. It's only a few stairs. Oh, but our chairs are comfy. That door can't possibly be too heavy for you.

It takes a lot of courage for us to tell you we can't do something. Don't question it. If I say I can't walk from the parking lot to the restaurant, believe me. If your friend says he can't get his wheelchair up two steps, believe him! If I ask you to open that door, just do it. 

Many disabled people are already pushing ourselves to and past our limits every day and night. Don't pressure us into pushing ourselves even harder. It could mean a pain flare. It could mean hospitalization. Or worse.

19. You're obviously not disabled. How dare you use the disabled parking spot? 
Do you want to know a secret? Many, if not most, disabilities are "invisible." Many, if not most, disabled people do not use wheelchairs. I know this is a shock. I know you don't believe it, but it's true! 

You are not a doctor. You do not have x-ray vision. You do not have ultrasonic sensory powers. You cannot know who is and is not disabled just by looking at us. 

If we have a disability parking decal, trust us: We had to work hard to prove that we needed it. It's not up to you to decide that we somehow fooled all the medical specialists who helped us get it. 

So please, don't yell at us. Don't leave rude notes on our cars. Don't glare at us as we leave the accessible washroom stall. We are disabled. Really!

Photo from 60s Geo-Prints, Wondrous Whimsy, and a Trip Down Memory Lane
21. But you look so good.  

Oh my goodness, listen to what you're saying. Compliments are welcome. "But you look so good," is not. What, pray tell, does a disabled person look like? Not good? Why are you so surprised when a disabled person looks good, that you don't even believe they're disabled? Do you expect us to look badStrange? Ugly?  

I think what you really mean when you say I look good is that you think I look "normal." Wow, that's super ableist. Just so you know.

Remember: Many disabilities are invisible. Even those that aren't don't prevent a person from looking good. This should be obvious.

22. You're too young to be disabled.

Disability is not the same thing as old age. Some people are born disabled. Some disabilities are more likely to develop in the young. Some disabilities are the results of illnesses, or violence, or accidents that can hit at any age.

There's no such thing as being "too young to be disabled."

23. You use your scooter too much. 

There's a stigma against using mobility aids. People think we can't be happy if, say, we're using a wheelchair. They think we must be walking, aid-free, to be leading a full and joyful life. Nope. Just nope.

I know many disabled people who would rather suffer terribly than deal with the stigma of using a mobility aid. That's just sad, but I get it. Many ableds seem to think using a mobility aid is lazy. That's victim-blaming.

I actually had a physiotherapist tell me not to use my mobilty aids as a crutch! WTF? A crutch is a mobility aid. 

And, for the record, if I didn't use them, I would never get out of the house at all. I wouldn't walk at all. I wouldn't be able to do anything. Using them is the opposite of lazy. As the name suggests, mobility aids get me mobile.

24. You just want attention. You just want to be special. 

Right. So I'm faking it to get attention. Nobody, nobody, wants the kind of attention that the disabled get! Abuse, accusations, stigma, disbelief, inaccessibility, prejudice from employers... We love that kind of attention. It makes us feel so special. 

And, just so you know, we're more likely to get less attention as disabled people. When I'm out in my mobility scooter, I become invisible. That's fun. Especially when I'm stuck in traffic, trying to get up onto the sidewalk, and abled people are standing right in my way. So much fun.

25. You want special rights.

My body works differently. Take the above photo as an example. I'm trying to eat soup. It hurts a lot for me to lean forward at the table, so I end up spilling food on myself. I was wearing a pretty dress so I borrowed Beau's too-big jacket as a sort of bib. I'll bet you've never even had to think of such things. I do. All day. Every day. 

So I need accessibility. I need accommodations so I can simply live a life slightly similar to the one you take for granted. That's not "special rights." That's human rights. 

26. You're so inspiring.

My visibly disabled friends tell me that people praise them for accomplishing the simplest of tasks, like brushing their teeth or feeding the cat. They call it Inspiration Porn and they hate it. It's condescending. It's selfish. Your awe derives from the fact that you're shocked that a disabled person can have a life, a real life, doing normal things, like, you know, a real human being.

We're not really interested in inspiring you when we brush our teeth, or touching your heart when we feed the cat. We're not here to remind you that your own life "could be worse." We're not here to inspire you to have more courage in your own, lesser struggles. 

If you want to be inspired, why not get inspired to end ableism and work toward universal accessibility?

28. I'll pray for you. I'll send you healing energy.

To me, these two are basically the same. In both cases, abled people are offering to do something for us that's of absolutely no help. It won't cure us. Remember: disability has no cure, not even prayer! Seriously, for real.

It's easy to pray. It's easy to send healing vibrations. It's harder to do something to actually help us. Raise money for medical research. Make sure disabled children are able to attend your kids' school (and disabled parents can attend parent/teacher night). Notice us on the street and make way for us so we're not stuck in traffic. Write your local politicians and pressure them to enforce accessibility bylaws. 

Thoughts and prayers? Not so much.

29. I wish I could stay in bed all day.

You look well-rested. You're so lucky you don't have to work. You must be catching up on your reading. It must be nice to lie around doing nothing all day.

If I'm in bed all day, and I often am, it's because I am in pain so excruciating, I can barely breathe. I am not well-rested. I am not lying around eating bon-bons and reading romance novels. I am suffering - terribly. I don't want to be here. I want to be able to work. 

Heck, I just want to be able to get to my own toilet and wipe my own ass without it nearly killing me.

I'd also like you to believe me and stop saying stupid things about how jealous you are of my life of leisure.

30. My back hurts after I garden, so I know how you feel.

No, you don't. You really really don't. I guess when you say things like this, you think you're being empathetic. You're not. Instead, you're showing me that you have no idea how I feel. You are reducing my suffering to a reality you can handle and accept. You are belittling my disability to a mere stiffness, a minor irritation, instead of what it really is: a severe, chronic pain disability. 

If that's what you think my life is, you don't, in fact, believe I'm disabled at all.

31. It's all in your head. So mind over matter.

Those of us with invisible disabilities get this a lot, sometimes even from doctors who aren't competent enough to figure out our diagnosis. Women in particular face this as women's pain is never taken as seriously as men's is. 

Sometimes, we take this falsehood into our hearts and start to believe it really is all in our heads and, if we were just better people, we wouldn't be in pain. All this belief does is add guilt and self-loathing to our physical pain.

Because it's not all in our heads. Mind does not work over matter. You're victim-blaming again. Again.

Photo from The Edwardian Brooch and its Outfit
IV. Stigmatizing Disability

32. Don't call yourself disabled. You'll never get better if you do.

Saying I'm disabled is not a resignation. It's not a statement of doom. It's not giving up on myself. It's a mere statement of a fact. I'm disabled. I can't get better, and trying to do so will only hurt me. 

Now, let me get on with living the life I have, not the "normal" life you want for me. Far from giving up when I say I'm disabled, I'm taking hold of my future by getting mobility aids, finding a good physiotherapist, working with my doctor to manage my symptoms, and generally creating the best possible life I can have. 

If you think calling myself disabled causes me to be disabled, you're victim-blaming - again.

33. Don't call yourself disabled. You're a good, strong person.

Yes, I have actually heard this one and variations of it. So have others. What has disability got to do with whether or not I'm a good person? I know I'm good. I know I'm strong, probably a lot stronger than you are. 

I repeat: "Disability" is not a dirty word. It says nothing about my character. I have hazel eyes, I'm 47 years old, I'm disabled. These are mere statements of fact, with no value judgments attached.

If you think I'm saying I'm not a good person when I say I'm disabled, you're the one who isn't a good person. 

34. Differently abled, mobility challenged, disAbled, etc...

Some disabled people like these terms. Many parents of disabled children love them. I don't. They are mere euphemisms for disability, meant to make ableds more comfortable, meant to gloss over the real struggles disabled people face every day. We are not just like everyone else. If you pretend we are, you're making our lives harder.

35. I'd rather die than have your disability.

Thanks. You've just told me my life is not worth living. Thanks for your kind words. They warm me right down to my disabled toes.

36. [When a disabled person dies.] He's free now.

This one circulated a lot when Stephen Hawking died. Yet again, the intimation is clear: Death is better than disability. It's not. We like our lives, at least enough that we want to go on living. We are not, in fact, better off dead. How dare you imply that we are?

Photo from The Pretty Cripple, or, But You Look So Good!
37. Wheelchair bound.

Wheelchair freed, more like. Wheelchairs mean freedom. Wheelchairs mean independence. (Scooters too.) Disabled people are not bound to them. They are freed by them. You know what does feel like being bound? Not having a mobility device. 

Are you leg bound? Do you long to be free of your legs? I think not! I don't long to be free of my mobility scooter.

38. You're so lucky to have your husband.

Well yes, yes I am, but not because I'm disabled. He is not a saint or a martyr because he married a cripple.He married me because he loves me and I love him. You know, like a real marriage?

Our marriage is not all about him selflessly taking care of me, and me lying around taking and taking. We are equals.

Contrary to popular belief, disabled people are worthy of love, and are able to give just as much love as anybody else. People do fall in love with us, not because they're doing some kind of good deed, but because we're lovable! 

True, Beau does more of the physical stuff around the house, but is that all a marriage is? Of course not! True, he helps me with all the little things I can't easily do, like putting on my boots or carrying my walker. But a marriage is about much more than physical abilities. 

This comes as a shock to most, but I take care of Beau too! I take care of his heart by being tender and understanding. I take care of his brilliant mind by feeding it with ideas. I take care of his body with my gentle touch. In other words, I'm his wife, his partner, his equal.

Whenever Beau hears someone tell me how lucky I am to have him, he interjects, saying, "I'm lucky to have her. She takes care of me too." They never hear him. Never.

39. Let's hope they come up with a cure to fix you.

Not all disabled people think they need fixing. Some disabled people think that, instead, we need to fix the world and the prejudices and barriers thrown in our way every day. Even those of us who would welcome a cure, know that it's unlikely one will be invented in our lifetimes. Meanwhile, we have to live with the bodies we have, not wait for the bodies we want. 

And, while we're doing that, every disabled knows that we are made far more disabled by a world that doesn't welcome us, where accessibility is iffy, at best, and prejudice is constant. So, go ahead, raise money for a cure. But also fight for disability rights, universal accessibility, workplace accommodations, etc.

Fix the world, not just disabled bodies.

40. The only disability is a bad attitude.

I don't even know what to say about this one. It's so profoundly stupid, and cruel, I have no words. No, the only disability is not a bad attitude. Thinking it is? That's a bad attitude.

41. He doesn't let his disability hold him back. 

Ableds love this one. You praise disabled people who have built a good life for themselves, and you condemn disabled people whose disabilities make their lives difficult. You give us all the credit or blame for the the quality of our lives, therefore absolving yourself of any responsibility for building a world that doesn't actively, systematically hold us back. 

It's victim-blaming, yet again. Our attitude about our disability is not the main thing that holds us back. Ableism is. I can't choose to "let" an inaccessible entrance hold me back. It just does. I can't choose to "let" a prejudiced employer hold me back. He just does. 

You, however, can choose to "let" yourself fight to remove such impediments from my life. Challenge the building owner to make his entrance accessible. Challenge your employer to hire disabled people. Don't talk to me about how I do and do not live as a disabled person. Talk to yourself about why you think it's your right judge me.

V. Disbelief in Ableism

Photo from Race, America, and Canadian Patriotism: Reflections on a Chosen Country
42. I'm sure he meant well.

Abled people usually say this to me when I tell them about yet another person who said something cruel to me, or complain when yet another person tried to bully me into trying some bullshit cure for my incurable disability. "I'm sure he meant well." Yeah, maybe he did, but if he really means well, he'll learn about disability, and about ableism, and stop being an ablesplaining idiot. 

Having good intentions does not exonerate you from taking responsibility for the hurt you've caused and the unconscious prejudice you - and hundreds of others - have heaped upon me. You need to think more carefully about what you're saying, and about the beliefs revealed in what you're saying.

And if a disabled person tells you she's been hurt, don't dismiss her feelings with a flippant, "I'm sure he meant well." Listen! Learn. Care. Offer her comfort. Educate yourself about ableism. And become an ally.

43. Don't let one bad apple ruin your day.

One day, I'd taken my mobility scooter to a cafe and left it outside. When I went to leave, someone had yet again dumped garbage on the seat of my scooter. A nice man, a stranger, stopped to help me clean it. I'd been dealing with a lot of ableism lately and the man saw that I was close to tears. To comfort me, he said the wrong thing: "Don't let one bad apple ruin your day."

People who are kind and thoughtful to disabled people are often shocked when they hear about the ways we are treated. That's very sweet. But then they make the mistake of assuming that such treatment is rare. It's not. It's common. It's every day. And it beats me down.

It's never just one bad apple. The whole basket is full apples is rotten.

44. Can't you just get a doctor's note?

This is the most common response we get when we tell people that we're struggling with the government and/or insurance companies to receive much needed disability pensions, income replacement, medical care, mobility aids, etc. They look sympathetic and sad, and then they say something so ignorant, it makes me mad:

"Can't you just get a doctor's note?"

Gee, that never occurred to me! I'll get right on it. Thanks for your brilliant suggestion. 

YES, I have a doctor's note. I have dozens of them, from my GP, specialists, experts... I've had innumerable, painful, invasive physical exams, I've gone to innumerable, unnecessary, medical appointments, I have a thick folder full of notes, letters, and documents... all to prove I'm really disabled. And my insurance company still says I have provided "insufficient evidence" that I am unable to work.

This is the norm, not the exception. Every disabled person I know has had the same experience.

But, thanks for the suggestion to "just get a doctor's note." I'll get right on that.

Photo from Believe! Rape and the Culture of Disbelief
45. I'm sorry all those fakers make it so real disabled people like you have to jump through so many hoops to get benefits.

Which fakers would those be? The ones who, without being actually disabled, managed to get even more documentation thanI have? Those ones? 

There is a widely held, completely false myth that the world is full of fake disabled people living a life of ease on the teensy tiny pensions disabled people get if/when we've finally proven that we're really disabled. Right. Because it's so easy to fake disability. And it's a breeze to get disability benefits. And it's so fun to be stigmatized all the time. And the income we get is fantastic.

Photo from 'The Appalling Silence of the Good': Abused Children Are Everyone's Responsibility

You know whose fault it is that we have to jump through so many hoops? Insurance companies, that's who. And, if you're in a more socialist country like Canada, it's the governments' fault too. Both want to save as much money as possible by pretending not to believe disabled people when we show up with sheafs of documentation that, yes, we really are disabled. 

Insurance companies bully, lie, obfuscate, delay, hire crooked doctors, and ask for more and more redundant documentation, all in the hopes that we'll give up. They literally budget on our giving up and ... and what? Dying? That's not their concern. 

I haven't been paid a cent since last June. No-one, not my workplace, not my union, and certainly not my insurance company, has contacted me once to see how I'm managing with no income at all. I could be dead for all they care. They'd probably prefer it.

But, by all means, blame all those fakers out there. I'm sure the insurance companies will thank you for helping them propagate this cruel myth. 

VI. Ignoring our Existence

46. If you wanted to come to our event, you should have told us.

Why? Did it not occur to you that disabled people exist and might want to show up? Did you not know that it's actually the god damned law to make it possible for us to attend? Did you know we actually did try to contact you and you ignored us - again?

This came up a lot after the most recent Women's March. Most of the marches were not fully accessible, and information about accessibility was not provided in most promotion materials. When we tried to contact organizers to get more information, we were generally ignored. When many of us complained about this after the marches, we were met with a lot of hostility. 

47. How can we make an event/location accessible if you don't tell us what you need?

Mostly, when disabled women complained that the Women's March wasn't accessible, we were blamed for not telling organizers we'd be there, not telling them what we'd need, not teaching them everything about accessibility, and basically doing their work for them. 'Cause, you know, we're not stretched too thin already just trying to live.

Even the most well-meaning asked us to teach them what to do next time. Fun fact: There are laws and bylaws that spell it out for you. Do the work. Find out. 

Or, I don't know, hire us to help out beforehand. If it's a volunteer run event, and no disabled people have volunteered, ask yourselves why, and fix it! How can you fix it if we won't tell you how? Try taking a look at those laws again. Reach out to disability organizations. Follow us online. It's amazing how much you can learn if you just pay attention.

Which brings me the final shit ableds say: nothing. You say nothing because ...

Photo from A Fashion Lineage: Frills and Flowers, Past and Present
48. You treat us like we're invisible.

When I'm on my mobility scooter, I become invisible. People don't see me when they're in my way. People walk right into me. People don't serve me. They'll talk to my abled husband and not me. 

All this is bad enough, but, if you don't see me, that means you also don't see the world as I do, so you'll never be a good ally. Have you ever noticed when something is inaccessible - and then spoken up about it? Have you ever heard people say something rude about the disabled and called them on it? Have you ever asked if an event is accessible? Have you ever asked why there are no visibly disabled people in your workplace?

No? Why not? Because you never thought about it? Why not? Try to imagine your life as a disabled person, just for a moment. Notice disabled people around you (you'll be surprised by how many of us there are). Now treat us like human beings. 

And treating us like human beings includes speaking up when you see, and hear, ableism. And you will, every day.

We sure as hell do.

And so we come to the conclusion of my incomplete list of Things You Used to Say to Disabled People - But Will Never Say Again. I hope you've learned a little - or even lot - and will forevermore make the world a friendlier place for us. 

You might even find it makes the world a friendlier place for you too!

(I'm sharing this with Not Dressed As Lamb and Disability Thinking.)