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June 09, 2014


David Gillon

Speaking as a disability activist, I think this has to be the ultimate aim of 'the Social Model of Disability'*, with disability no more notable than having brown hair or green eyes, a world where not providing for someone's access needs is as incomprehensible as making an issue over their disability. And it's society we need to change to do that, not the built environment or government and social structures. So normalising disability for kids may be the most powerful instrument for change we have.

I will throw one slight caveat in based on your knee brace/para example. Another facet of disability politics is that the idea of a 'Hierarchy of Disabilities' - i.e. 'X is more disabled in Y' is a bad one, and as often as not the distinction is based on a limited understanding of the impact on disability on people. I walk with crutches due to hypermobility syndrome and a couple of back injuries, so at first glance I'm clearly less disabled than a wheelchair using para. But ask us to wait in a long queue, and the para is likely in a better position to do that than I am, as I can only stand for limited periods. Ask us to climb stairs, and I can do it, but I'd still prefer that lift! Put us in an airport, and the para is probably better able to handle the distances that need to be covered than I am. For that matter if I'd become a para after my fall rather than someone with complex joint problems and pain issues, I'd probably still have my original career. Clearly becoming a wheelchair user is a profound disability, but a lot of disability is poorly understood, if not invisible, and society doesn't always see the issues when it says 'X is more disabled'.

* The Social Model of Disability redefines disability as the discrimination we suffer as the refusal of society to adapt to our needs. A lot of people (including disabled people) tend to get stuck on that meaning ramps for wheelchairs, but it also relates to how society reacts to disability - you can put as many ramps and other access adaptions in as you like, but with a disability with a fatigue-based element I still may not have the energy to be able to make it to the cinema or a meeting, I can't predict that in advance, and I need people to understand that.


I admire your courage in posting this, because I think that yes many people WOULD find it insensitive/offensive/ignorant. But I also think you're RIGHT. It comes down to not really understanding what anyone else is going through in their lives. You NEVER really know. Maybe someone finds it physically difficult to walk across a room, and someone else finds it psychologically difficult. Maybe someone literally can't see, but is great at understanding things, while someone else's eyes work just fine but their mind refuses to comprehend what's coming in. Maybe my son overreacts when he hears a siren, but maybe it REALLY IS way more disturbing to him than it is to the average person. Maybe I COULDN'T take the "advice" given to me by much-more self-assured and outgoing people when I tried to be a classroom teacher, who just kept telling me (sounding more frustrated all the time) that I just had to Put My Foot Down or Not Be So Nice, as if I was TRYING to be otherwise.

It IS about empathy, to realize that every person is unique and not an us or them. To accept that everyone has things they are good at and everyone has their own challenges and to stop trying to RANK them, to say somebody's challenges are worse than other people's or not as bad. Maybe they've got resources in equal measure. Maybe the reason other people DON'T have those challenges are that they WOULDN'T be able to handle them.

I'm glad you wrote this post.

David Gillon

"i.e. 'X is more disabled in Y'" should of course read "i.e. 'X is more disabled than Y'"

Fluffed the fundamental point *Headdesk*

Heather Hoyt

I like this line of thinking! I think sometimes people hide things that make them not-quite able, thinking it makes them weaker in some way. There are people who hide their health/emotional problems--not that they need to wear them on their sleeve, but it's good to realize that because something is wrong doesn't make you less of a person in some way. I have actually benefited a lot by people talking about their problems--not in a complaining way, but in a way where we can just understand that no one is perfect and we all struggle and we can be empathetic towards one another.

I don't really like labeling people either--so I hesitate to call someone disabled. Because we're just all people with our own unique challenges.


>In the same way, white and non-white is another really weird dichotomy. E.g., in the US so many of us are mixes of many different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, genetics. The idea of pertaining to a single race is getting blurrier and blurrier. In a few decades people will look back and find the whole "white" vs. "not-white" idea really weird.

While it is true that race is a social construct, unfortunately it is still the case in our culture (USA) that racism prevails and people of color experience life differently from how we (white people) do. For example, I have never been denied an apartment because of my race, been pulled over for driving while white, or been followed around by security in a store. So I think we have quite a ways to go on this one. While of course so many people are of mixed nationalities and heritage, the hue of our skin still dictates how we are treated, unfortunately.


I have to say I really appreciate this. I have depression, but I refused to get help for years because I was convinced that would mean admitting something was "wrong" with me. It wasn't until I heard and LDS conference talk about depression being just as normal as any other bodily illness that I had the courage to admit I needed help.


This year I volunteered with a special needs group. My buddy, Vanessa, has down syndrome. She volunteers at a special needs school during the year and her library in the summer. She's read thick books like Twilight and The Work and the Glory. Other people I worked with couldn't talk or feed themselves. I never realized until then that "disabled" is a range, not a category. Lots of them have poor vision or anxiety on top of everything else. "Normal" people, including lots of the volunteers, have these problems and no one calls them disabled. I like this post.


I liked David's comment above. (The first one.) A few years ago, I had a stroke from a vertebral artery dissection, and was told not to carry heavy bags on my shoulder. So at ALA Annual conference, I got special permission to bring a wheeled bag onto the exhibit floor. Oh, the dirty looks I got! And I saw some tweets about the horrible people who broke the rules and brought a wheeled bag. (They had given me a nice understated band on my bag that the security people knew it was allowed.) As he mentioned, many disabilities are invisible.

Yes, this is minor compared to what people with more obvious disabilities go through. But it gave me a tiny taste.

Sarah Boucher

i saw the cover for Ever After High 3.

Jennifer E. McFadden

Great post! My son has autism but is highly functional. People often don't understand his odd behavior - the noises he makes, his shyness with meeting new people where he often doesn't look people in the eye when speaking, etc. It's frustrating as a mother when I try to help him, and I try to put myself in his shoes and think like him.

I have two health problems of my own, fibomaralogia and a deteriorating spine disease where I can no longer live a normal life. This has also given me great anxiety regarding making any appointments with people without feeling ill.

I agree with you that we all have some form of problems, whether they are seen or invisible to the people around us. Sometimes depression hits me when I mourn my previously healthy body and the activities I enjoyed doing with my family. But I know that theses are problems of the body and mind that anyone can face, so I don't take it personally. God has a plan for me, and I've become a writer.


I found out a year or so back that I'm faceblind. That's something that most people (other than psychologists) have never heard of. I'm able to recognize family and close friends, but I have to meet someone A LOT before I'm able to recognize them on a regular basis (leading to a couple of interesting situations where I confused one acquaintance with another because they had similar hair).

I LOVED this post and the comments (especially the ones by David and rockinlibrarian). Not all problems are visible. Something that comes naturally to some people is nearly impossible for others. And the more I learn about the kinds of conditions people can have, the more I feel that we shouldn't judge each other - because we never know what troubles that person might be dealing with at that moment.

Laura Parker

My daughter is legally blind and Chinese, my son has ADHD and is white, and my other son is Chinese and has a congenital disease and other internal organ problems that aren't apparent from his appearance. I tell all my children that everyone's body is "broken" in some way so I totally agree with you that it's a continuum that everyone is or will be on in some way. I know this way of thinking helps our family understand that we have more in common with others than not. Thanks for posting this!

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