Writing about Disability

I was going to write a post about disability and accessibility, and the different ways people can view this issue. Now I think I am going to write about the process of what getting the post together felt like, and the sorts of things I experienced.

It started with this post from Disability and Representation. More specifically, it started with this paragraph:

I know that our society, by and large, does not yet see disability as a civil rights issue. I know that when people see stairs but no elevator, most of them don’t realize they’re looking at a civil rights violation. I know that most people don’t even blink when they see a sign that says that people with disabilities have to enter through the back door.

That got me thinking. It got me thinking about the fact that I had not thought about it. Why had I not thought about it? Because I am able-bodied and it does not apply to me? That’s not a very good reason at all. I also wondered about what other people think. I decided that instead of just taking the blog’s word for it, I would solicit some opinions. So I created a facebook poll on the matter, in which I asked “When you go to a place of business and see a sign saying “disabled entrance in rear” (or something along those lines), what do you think?” I tried to word it as neutrally as possible in order to see what people thought or felt.

A few people did see it as a civil rights issue. But most people clearly viewed the issue in terms of the business and compliance with the law. A small number of people also mentioned how it smacked of Jim Crow laws. Mostly, though, people answered in terms of businesses trying to comply with the law and how that costs money, rather than in terms of a group of people being relegated to the back entrance and how that might feel.

And I found it interesting. I found it sad. Many people did have good points in terms of cost, architecture, historical value, whether or not it is legal to renovate the front of the building in the first place, etc. They were valid points. But I still found it sad that there was so little about a group of people being treated as second class citizens. So little about the fact that it might be a sticky issue where the right answer in terms of money or legality or some such is still, in a sense, a wrong answer, what with that second class citizen thing going on.

So I tried to talk to a friend about it. And that’s where it all went horribly horribly wrong. I was really trying to make the point I was just talking about, but instead I was told, again and again, that I was wrong. I was looking for even one word of validation, that maybe I have a point that is worth thinking about, but I got nothing. No validation at all. It hurt. It was upsetting. My friend even accused me of having an implicit assumption of ablism in my question that was influencing the answers, but then refused to elaborate. I asked elsewhere, to see if anyone could see an assumption, but all I was told was that it could be seen in the line “disabled entrance in rear” but that it was about the sign, not about the question itself. So I don’t know.

The point is, I felt entirely unheard. I was trying so very hard to make my point, but instead there was all sorts of disagreement that wasn’t even about what I was trying to say. I was told I was misinterpreting the comments, failing to understand that it’s a legal issue, that the question had an implicit assumption, but there was nothing about my point that being treated as a second class citizen is maybe not so cool.

Then I tried talking to another friend about it. Much the same thing happened. I was told I was not understanding the comments, I was told I was using the word “wrong” wrongly, I was told that many businesses CAN’T allowed disabled people in the main entrance, that all I’m trying to do is make people feel bad about an issue that cannot be changed, on and on and on. Yet not one single word about how maybe that’s kind of discriminatory and wow, hardly anyone is talking about that.

I was going to write about how with some of the sticky issue, we have apparently, legally and socially, decided that the historical value of a building is more important than making sure no one has to use the rear entrance. That we do not value disabled people enough to help businesses that face prohibitive costs to renovating their main entrance. That maybe it’s worth talking about this and taking into account the points of view of the disabled people who have to use those rear entrances, who maybe feel discriminated against. I would have talked about the different answers I’m getting over time, the different sorts of answers I’m getting from different groups of people, which answers are popular and which ones are not.

Instead I am talking about how hard it is sometimes for me to feel heard. About how valuable even a small amount of validation of my point can be in a discussion, and how much it can hurt when it is simply not forthcoming at all. I got all muddled and confused in the conversation. I was still trying to figure out how to articulate my points, and instead of trying to figure out where I was coming from and what I was trying to say, my friends simply refused to listen. I can’t even properly feel like I was disagreed with, because they never bothered to hear what I was trying to say in the first place (to be fair, one did try a bit eventually). It hurt. Was it my fault? Were the things I was trying to say just horribly wrong? Do I actually not have a point? Am I simply not articulate? Is it wrong to draw conclusions based on the answers I was given to my poll? Were people unduly influenced by the wording of my question? I am full of self-doubt now and have lost all confidence in this as a blog topic. Is it wrong to say that maybe we should change some things? Is keeping the primary focus on the business bothering to comply with the law at all the right way to look at things? It is not worth discussing the topic from the point of view of discrimination and/or civil rights?

I still don’t think so. I still think it’s worth a conversation, at the very least. I think it’s worth validating the feelings of disabled people who feel singled out and discriminated against. But I no longer think that it is something I can write about.


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5 responses to “Writing about Disability

  1. I’m glad that even though you felt you couldn’t write about it, you still wrote about it. Both about your original thoughts and about how speaking about those thoughts wasn’t taken seriously. Because I love this quote: “we have apparently, legally and socially, decided that the historical value of a building is more important than making sure no one has to use the rear entrance” and I know exactly what you mean about not getting heard. I have been thinking about your post on validation a lot lately, and the utterly ridiculous thing is that I always thought about it in terms of what others need from me. Not until today did I realise that maybe I need to feel validated as well. And your words illustrate that so poignantly. I’m sorry you got treated that way. You shouldn’t get treated that way even if what you were saying was nonsense. Which it isn’t, just to make that clear.

    • Thank you for saying so. Honestly, I blame part of the problem on the fact that I really do have trouble being articulate when I’m talking in conversation format. Even more so when I’m early in the process of trying to turn a complicated thought into words. I guess it would just be nice if friends helped me with that, instead of shutting me down.

      Geez, now I’m just complaining. Thank you! I’m glad you like my post, and that sentence in particular.

      • Please don’t apologise or feel bad for complaining about this. I would too, in your situation. It’s not your fault for having trouble articulating your thoughts in spoken language. I have the exact same problem. I only manage to be articulate and coherent in conversation when my friends are supporting me and thinking along with me. When people attack my opinions or even worse, my feelings, I shut down and stop making sense. And “trying harder” doesn’t magically fix that. It’s the way I am. That’s why writing about things feels like such a relief to me.

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