Last week, I found #ILoveMyDisability on Twitter and got to read all the things other people were saying about both loving and hating disability. There was much talk about how people struggle to accept that disabled people can love and hate their disabilities and that these two concepts can co-exist. So I wanted to talk about this and why accepting it is so important.
People often see a disabled person as one of two things, someone to pity because of the terrible impact their disability has or someone who’s inspirational for carrying on despite how hard their life is because of their disability.
But the truth is more complicated than this and can be very different for different people. In fact, the two views of disability discussed above are each very harmful, as they form the main stereotypes about disability.
Having a disability can have many benefits: disability awareness, meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise, learning new skills, having greater empathy or a different perspective on the world, the list goes on, but being disabled can be great. However, it can also be horrible, it can be painful, it can prevent you from doing things you might want to, it can mean you have to take medication that causes other problems and so on. And sometimes, it can be both at once.
As a society, we seem to have a really big problem with statements that seem contradictory or somehow inconclusive. I really do think people have taken a desire for factual knowledge too far.
An experience, is not factual, it’s not like doing a sum where there’s always an answer.
A disability like any experienced is nuanced and complicated. For example, a parent may love their children dearly, but it doesn’t mean that they won’t be angry at them if they continually misbehave or miss the freedom to do what they want when they want, that they had before they had the responsibilities of parenthood.
Similarly, someone who has a job they really like and overall enjoys working, may still hate aspects of it. Similarly, someone who hates their job, may still like aspects of it. This perception could change over time.
Similarly, peoprlles’ perceptions of and experiences of disabilities are complicated.
How a person feels about their disability will be influenced by a variety of factors.
Firstly, a big factor is what disability they have and what their experience of that is. There are loads of disabilities out there and even within types of disability there are variations on what precise condition a person has. Even two people with the same precise disability and health condition, can experience things very differently. For example, they could have different levels of that condition or it could impact on their lives in different ways.
Secondly, external factors can have a big impact. Does the person have the right support? Do they have access to decent health care or education? Do they have a place to live where they’re happy? Do they have friends or a partner or romantic relationship, if they want these things? If appropriate, are they employed? What do they want that they don’t have? What are they struggling with? What is going well for them? All these things can have an impact and they can impact different people differently.
Thirdly, what are the attitudes of those around them? If people are supportive, encouraging, loving, caring and believe in the disabled person these things may, although not always, impact on their perception of their disability.
On the other hand, do the people around the disabled person think negatively of their disability? Do they treat them in a way that’s patronising or degrading? Are they unsupportive of the person’s needs or experiences? This can, but again not always, have a negative impact on the way someone perceives their disability.
Disability, as with any aspect of life, can be complicated. Some people may think positively about their disability, some people may think negatively about their disability and most people will feel a mixture of both at one point or another. And all of this is okay.
We as a society, need to make that okay, to allow happiness and sadness, love and hate, to co-exist.
So I will leave you with this: when you’re writing, thinking or talking about disability, remember that it it is a nuanced and complicated experience. Listen to disabled people and how they experience things, we’re not contradicting each other and none of us are wrong, we just all experience things differently.
If you’d like to read more on this topic then #ILoveMyDisability on Twitter, is a great place to find discussion on love for disability, but also hate for disability and how love and hate for disability can co-exist.