One of the interesting and difficult things about the disability community is how often it is a community that divides itself. I suppose logically, you can look at there being five groups – the physical disabilities (though there are a variety of sub-catagories here: invisible vs visible, traumatic injury vs chronic illness, so on), emotional disabilities (depression, bipolar, borderline, schizophrenia, etc), learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyspraxia, processing disorders, etc) developmental disorders(which split between physical, cognitive, and those that are a mix) and those who have an overlap between two or more of the aforementioned disabilities.
The difficulty comes in recognizing which types of disability are ‘legitimate’ and deserve to have as normalized a life as possible, and which ones don’t. It also comes in recognizing who counts as part of the disability community and who doesn’t.
It is unfortunately rather common for a member of one of those groups to imply or state that another doesn’t ‘belong’. Someone who has a disability at a consistant level may try to kick out someone with a disability that periodically worsens and improves, on the theory that sometimes they’re not so disabled, so obviously they do not really have a disability. Someone who has a quantifiable, testable disability tells someone whose disability can’t be shown on lab tests that it’s all in their head. A person with a physical disability says someone with an emotional disability ought to ‘just deal with it’. PWDs who have a community of their own – for example, Deaf perople – aren’t ‘really’ part of the disability community as a whole (as if membership in one community means one is not a part of another!). The disability community is only for innocent people, not for people who ‘brought it on themselves’. People say that a learning disorder can be ‘fixed’ with assistive aids and therefore doesn’t count. For that matter, some people will argue that if you have an aid that ‘fixes’ the problem, you haven’t got a disability no matter what the problem is!
I’m sure most (if not all) of this sounds ridiculous to you, but the sad truth is that it happens. I recently watched a message board I was a part of suddenly turn very unwelcoming to members whose disability is some form of mental illness. The worst part of it was watching the moderators jump in…on the not-friendly-to-mental-illness side. It was heartbreaking to see; a place created because the rest of the world doesn’t get it, designed to be supportive to those of us with disabilities, discriminating against its own. Even though it was supposed to be a safe space, the mods were more concerned with not ‘censoring’ people than preventing hurtful, harmful words. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart.
It’s something that happens in the discourse about disabilities very often. It’s something that happens online and in the real world. It’s a discussion that we have one PWD to another, or that we have in communities. Sometimes it’s behind the person or group’s back, and sometimes it’s a more direct slap in the face.
The next time that you think ‘oh, s/he’s faking it’ or ‘if s/he would just do X, they would be fine!’, or worst of all ‘s/he doesn’t really need that accomodation’ stop and ask yourself…what if someone said that about me? What if someone said that about someone I love who has a disability?
The people who are being disenfranchised and ‘kicked out’ of the disability community aren’t the other. They’re PWDs, they’re someone’s friend, mother, brother, or lover. They matter. It matters.
I’m not just saying ‘don’t say these things’. I’m also saying that we should stand up for people. Support people. Create communities inclusively, not exclusively. Extend a hand of friendship, not a fist.
I’ve often called myself a spitfire, and I’m sure that anyone who has read much here can see that in me. I’m not telling you that you need to be the fireball I am. I am telling you that you, as an individual, can make a difference. You matter. You count. You are welcome here.