I’m not disabled: why am I taking part in a Blog Against Disablism day? Two reasons. Firstly, because it affects me. Secondly, because it doesn’t.
First things first: why does disablism affect me if I’m not disabled? There are several answers to that and here are some:
- I push my baby around in a buggy. You know what I’ve noticed? My local train station doesn’t have step-free access from one of its two platforms. I have to bump the buggy down the steps or hope someone will help me carry it. If I used a wheelchair or couldn’t walk down steps for other reasons, I wouldn’t even have those options.
- My friends. I know people who are disabled in all kinds of ways. Wheelchair users, yes, but also people with invisible or less-visible disabilities such as ME, anxiety, depression, back pain, PSTD, cancer, deafness. On top of this, my partner suffers from a problem which has led to difficulties at work due to the amount of sick days he’s had. So I’m aware, for example, of the ways that illness and disability can have an impact not just on getting a job, but on keeping one.
- I am disabled. It just doesn’t count because it’s entirely correctable. My eyesight is so bad that if you took my glasses away I wouldn’t be safe to leave the house. I am lucky to have a correctable disability, but I’m still reliant on something external to me to be able to function.
- And of course, there’s a perfectly good chance that one day I will be non-correctably disabled. One day maybe I’ll get a chronic illness, or have to deal with crippling anxiety or depression or OCD, or have an accident that damages something. Or my partner will, or my parents will. Disability issues are something that will become personal to virtually everyone at some point in their lives, so I want to pay attention now. (Disability activists often use the term ‘temporarily abled’ to make this point.)
Now, I would be very very surprised if there’s anyone in the world who is going to spend their entire lives from cradle to grave being perfectly healthy and able-bodied with perfect mental health, never having to look after anyone, never having to worry about whether a building has steps or not, never having to think about disability at all. From a position of self-interest alone, we should care when disability benefits get cut, when employers find excuses not to employ people because of their disabilities, when there are media stories which assume that if you’re not literally missing a minimum of three limbs then you must be faking.
Second things second: why do disability issues not affect me? Because I’m not disabled. I don’t have to think about disability if I don’t want to. But that’s just luck. I don’t have to think about racism either, if I choose not to. That’s luck too. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t.
I think it’s fair to say that people mostly get interested in the issues that affect them. But in fact, I think getting interested in issues that don’t personally affect me is a really good idea. It’s good for me because it widens my visions of the world and introduces me to new ideas. It’s good for the issue, because there may be specific ways that non-affected people can help to change things. Feminism needs male allies. Anti-racism activism needs people of all colours. Queer groups need straight helpers. Not to take over, not to tell the existing activists Where They’re Going Wrong, but to show that these are all issues that should matter to everyone.
(The part about not taking over is key, though. There are a lot of ways to screw up being an ally – this article says it better than I can. )
Ultimately, whichever way I look at it, disablism is something I should be concerned with. So this is a plea to other people who don’t see themselves as disabled: Let’s not avoid this stuff because we don’t want to think about it. Let’s practise empathy. Let’s join in the fight for what’s right regardless of whether it benefits us personally.
Let’s all be vincible together.