Making Sense Of Conflicting Messages About Disability

By Andrew Pulrang: For Complete Post, click here…

One of the more difficult things to sort through in disability discussions is that the topic often seems to be full of contradictions.

Depending on our personal situations and objectives at any given time, people with disabilities often express what appear to be conflicting ideas and opposite messages. This isn’t evidence of confusion, dishonesty, or calculated rhetoric. On the contrary, these apparent contradictions are true to disabled people’s actual lives.

The key to understanding conflicting disability messages is to recognize that they usually aren’t contradictory at all.

Here are three examples of ideas the disabled community tries to communicate about ourselves, and that would-be allies try to argue on our behalf, that can on the surface seem incompatible:

Resilience and adaptability

We say …

People with disabilities are strong. We can endure hardship and adversity, and overcome challenges that others think are too much for us. We are also great at adapting to difficult situations. We have to be to survive and achieve our goals.

In many ways, this is all true. It does take inner strength and innovation to live well with a disability –– even just to survive. It’s also a message that can help counteract negative stereotypes that cast disabled people as weak, delicate, lazy, complacent, and dependent on others to solve our problems.MORE FOR YOUExpect $600 Federal Unemployment Checks Slashed To $400 Or LessSpace Startup Rocket Lab Enters New Business Frontier With Deployment Of Its First Satellite

But we also say …

Many of us are wounded and traumatized. Physical barriers and social prejudices really do hurt us. We aren’t invulnerable. Many of us are not okay. And we can’t survive on ingenuity and pluck alone. We need accessibility, accommodations, and sometimes material support to live freely and successfully.

Most of the problems of living with disabilities are imposed on us from the outside. Resilience and adaptability can only get us so far. Most of us at some time need help –– sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Being admired for stereotypical versions of resilience and adaptability may be encouraging, but it can quickly become first an expectation, then an obligation. It’s also a convenient “out” for people and institutions that don’t want to assist us or change their own ableist habits.

It may seem like a contradiction for disabled people to declare our strength, ingenuity and self-reliance one minute, then ask for or demand help, accommodations, and support the next. It’s not a contradiction. Part of being disabled is having endurance, and the ability to go it alone in many ways, while also seeking and using the tools and services at hand to enhance our independence. And sometimes, that means insisting on those tools and services when they should be available to us but aren’t. And making those demands is itself a sign of strength and integrity, not weakness or dishonesty.

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