In a recent post about diversity, I wrote: "No one is truly able-bodied: we have missing limbs or chronic illnesses or mental illnesses or even glasses or allergies or freckles or fat or some way our bodies or minds aren’t exactly like some impossible transcendent ideal."
I understand why some mistook this piece of my post. I dropped that in there without enough explanation, so please allow me.
Growing up, I viewed the world as two separate groups: the Normal people and the Handicapped people (that's the word used in my childhood). The Handicapped people were blind or deaf or in a wheelchair. And I wasn't. And I felt bad for them and determined I would never bully any Handicapped children if I ever met any, (though I never did--or at least, I thought I didn't).
As I grow older, I see such a fallacy in that way of thinking. I understand why our language has terms like "able-bodied" or "whole-bodied" and "disabled," etc., but I find that dichotomy isn't really truthful. Disability/Able-bodiedness isn't an either/or situation. It's a continuum.
Is it as difficult for a myopic person who must wear glasses to navigate the world as a person who is blind? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Is it as difficult for a person who is fair-skinned and must wear sunscreen and hats whenever in the sun to navigate the world as a person who has xeroderma pigmentosum? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Is it as difficult for a person with a bad knee who must wear a brace and hesitates on stairs as someone who is paralyzed from the waist down? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Our world is designed for the able-bodied and it's a mark of an empathetic civilization when we try to accommodate all abilities.
I'm not trying to diminish the difficulties and challenges people with disabilities face. But I am trying to normalize the idea of disabilities because they are normal. Some disabilities are undoubtedly more life-changing than others. But I think it might be healthy for everyone, even those who are considered whole-or-able-bodied, to recognize that they're on the continuum too. We all are. We all have challenges that separate us from an impossible ideal of physical and mental health. Recognizing that can help us to not just sympathize with those who have more physical or mental challenges than us us but actually get closer to true empathy. And an increase of empathy only makes the world better.
Once we get rid of the either/or way of thinking, then possibilities open up wider. A child with a disability won't feel as Other (because really, aren't we all disabled some way?) A person without a disability won't feel uncomfortable around someone who has one because aren't we all in some way? Readers who are considered "able-bodied" won't have a hard time relating to a character who is disabled because, again, aren't we all?
Our bodies and minds are so magnificent. So diverse. So unique.
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.
What do you think? Is this line of thinking disrespectful? Is it even possible to change how we think about disabilities? How can we change our language to get rid of that dichotomy? What have I not considered here? I absolutely don't want the last word on this nor do I think I have all the answers. This is something I think about and would love to hear your thoughts too.