One thing not to say to a disabled person

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There seem to be a lot of lists on the internet saying, ‘x things not to say to disabled people,’ x varying from 5 to 20. Recently there was even an article in the Guardian headed ‘9 things not to say to a disabled person.’

One of those x things on the list seemed to sum up most of the others, it was really about identity. It interested me on several levels. The thing not to say was: “Come to my religious institution and we will cure you.”. This wasn’t about religion per se, but about change or cure. The answer given in the article of why it was a bad thing was this: “For me and many others, this is simply who we are, and we’re proud of our identities. Above all else, we do not want your pity.” I have found many variations on this basic idea in other articles, but this one was in the Guardian by Lucy Webster.

I can give you my take on the above and because I am a full-time wheelchair user myself, I have a right to say it, it isn’t me being discriminatory:

  • Disability does NOT define me.
  • Being unable to walk is NOT who I am.

I understand what would make Lucy say what she did. She is probably fed up being looked down on and pitied, so am I. But the answer is not to say, ‘less is more.’ Or to argue that being limited and disabled is so fantastic we wouldn’t ever want to change. The answer is to say:

  • ‘In spite of the limitations which I have, I am still a worthwhile human being.’
  • ‘In spite of the way you may perceive me, I am complete inside.’
  • ‘In spite of the disability that is apparent I have much to offer.’

You cannot sum up a person by what you see. You cannot understand a person, purely by externals.

The issue then is not whether I accept the state of my body as it is; I do not, I would like to walk again. The issue is whether the world accepts me as I am. Surely that is the case with all limitations isn’t it? We are created to have all our limbs and function fully. When we don’t then it is a struggle; that is just a fact there is no getting away from. Yes, we can overcome and that is amazing, and heroic and admirable, but still really difficult. The key thing is that we are just as worthwhile and valuable as human beings with or without full function. But it is only human that we would choose to have full function.

There is something definitely not to say to a disabled person and that is: ‘You are a drain on society and not worthwhile.’ I think that is what’s behind a lot of these online and newspaper lists. So long as we stand against such atrocious and appalling ideology then, we as a society, have hope. Physical limitations are just that, limitations, and like all limitations, they can be overcome with ingenuity and equipment. Remember the person inside is what is important and no matter how they appear outside they are worthwhile and valuable.

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