As disabled people, it can be very hard to learn to believe in ourselves. We’re often taught not to.
We’re told over and over “believe in yourself, and you can do anything!” and that if we work hard, we can overcome disability. That sounds positive, but it actually teaches us that we’re not worth believing in as the people we really are.
In the name of believing in ourselves, we’re told to ignore key facts about ourselves. We’re taught that believing in ourselves means that if we ignore disability as hard as possible, it will go away and we’ll be ok.
But ignoring reality doesn’t change it. No matter how we feel, no matter what we believe, our bodies exist and matter. Our limitations stay important.
We need to get real, and we need to believe in ourselves for real. We have real bodies. We have real minds. We have real limitations. We are real people, worthwhile as we really are.
Believing in ourselves means self awareness and self acceptance, including of our disabilities. We can believe in ourselves enough to stop fighting with our bodies and brains, and to start working with them rather than against them.
We can understand our limitations, and face them without shame. We can accommodate our disabilities. We can take our strengths seriously, and respect our capabilities in an honest way. We can enjoy things and have good lives. We can figure out for ourselves which things to do, and how to do them.
We can’t overcome disability — and we don’t need to. We are worth believing in as the people we really are.
I think sometimes people with disabilities get caught between a rock and a hard place regarding pride and inspiration porn.
When people without disabilities choose to do hard things, they usually feel proud of accomplishing them. And they usually have people in their lives who notice the hard things, and who respect them for doing them. Doing hard things is something that people generally respect.
People with disabilities are often totally excluded from that kind of respect, when the thing that’s hard is hard for reasons related to disability.
Sometimes the difficulty of being disabled is acknowledged, or at least referred to, but in a way that’s utterly devoid of respect. That can take the form of condescending and degrading praise, eg:
- “Wow, you are a person with a disability in public! You’re not even in your house! You are doing a thing! That is so inspiring!”, or:
- “Hello, fellow parents at the conference. This is my son. I never gave up on him, so he’s going to play the guitar badly for us. See what our special kids can accomplish if we believe in them?!”, or:
- “Wow, you sure are good at driving that wheelchair that you have been using every day for the past ten years.“
- “Wow, really, you’re autistic? I never would have known! I don’t see you that way at all. You even talk to people and everything.”
And then there’s the other side, where everyone just completely ignores difficult things that people with disabilities accomplish when the difficulty was disability-related, eg:
- Learning, through considerable focused effort, to speak in a way that others can understand (nondisabled people are allowed to be proud of their communication skills)
- Preferring to walk and putting in a lot of effort to retain the ability (nondisabled people are allowed to be proud of their ability to run)
- Bearing hate and breaking into a profession that’s hostile to people with disabilities
- Learning to read even though it’s cognitively difficult (nondisabled people are allowed to be proud of learning to understand something difficult)
- Learning how to recognize facial expressions
- Figuring out a way to do calligraphy even though your motor skills are awful (nondisabled people are allowed to be proud of mastering a difficult artistic skill)
- Explaining your reality to someone who you need to understand it
When people don’t acknowledge this kind of thing, it’s degrading in a different way:
- Doing things that are easy for most people can, genuinely, be a major accomplishment for us
- Our struggles aren’t acknowledged very much, and almost never in respectful terms
- And our disability-related accomplishments aren’t often celebrated, except when they’re being used as a way to shame nondisabled people into being less lazy or something
- Having the difficult things we do go completely unacknowledged is also degrading
- Disability-related accomplishments matter just as much as accomplishments not related to disability
Or, in short, these things are very different:
- Being exhibited by someone else as you play the guitar badly, while that person implies the the audience that this is the height of what you will ever accomplish
- Having messed up hands, deciding to try to learn to play guitar anyway, getting to the point where you can coordinate well enough to play a few songs badly, and being proud that you’ve come so far
It’s ok to be proud of doing things that are hard for you, even if they’re easy for most people. It’s not a failure of acceptance. It’s not the same as pushing yourself to be normal at all costs. Your accomplishments deserve respect.
Technology is amazing.
It means that we don’t all have to be subsistence farmers. And that we can live in places with deadly cold climates. And that we have safe water. And that we can go places quickly that used to take days of walking. And that we can communicate with people on the other side of the world.
These are all good things. And they’re all things that we can take for granted, because depending on technology makes it possible.
And yet – when a person with a disability uses technology which most people don’t use, people say many versions of this:
- Well, I used to use PECS with him, but he can say a few words if he really tries, and I didn’t want him to become dependent
- She can walk. I’ve seen her. Why is she using a wheelchair?
No matter what you use, as a disabled person, someone is likely to say that you shouldn’t be using it and should be trying harder not to depend on technology.
It isn’t reasonable. And bearing that in mind makes life easier.