Dunedin student and Local Advisory Committee Member Tom McAlpine (27) wonders whether there’s a middle-ground in perceptions of disabled people as inspirational or, conversely, as passive objects of bystanders’ goodwill.
While it might sound politically correct to say so, I would like to challenge the idea that disabled people, living their everyday lives, are inspirational. That’s not to say that we can’t be, if we achieve genuinely incredible things.
Many people find Stephen Hawking inspirational. I think this is right, because his genius mind of extraordinary power. I, on the other hand, am not inspirational in that I can use stairs. This feat is simply because I have practiced with my physio! People are inspirational when they do great things, not just get on with life.
“We’ve been told that disability is a bad sad thing. Therefore by proxy anybody with a disability is overcoming a cruel fate, and is inspirational simply for living daily life.
Having a disability has its challenges, but it’s not necessarily bad, and it’s certainly not sad. Like the rest of society, we are simply living. Some people with disabilities have done and will do inspiring things, and some of us won’t, and that’s OK. We’re just human after all,” she explains.
At the other end of the scale, but connected to the idea that having an impairment is an inherently bad thing, is the idea that as disabled people living our lives, we’re in constant need of support of others. Sure, many disabled people do need support to do some of that ‘everyday life’ stuff, but unless we ask for it, I think it’s safest for the public to assume that we have it all under control.
Here’s an everyday example. I think that the receptionist at my medical practice should know I can walk and use the stairwell without assistance by now as I have been there a number of times. Ok, I totally understood the first time but I still get asked every time and, for me, it feels like a disempowering exchange that I’d rather not have.
It is similar with the use of an EFTPOS machine. I can use my card and enter my pin number on my own. But it’s virtually impossible to do so without strangers asking if I need help. If my physical condition worsened, I might later decide that I’m comfortable asking for support, but I expect to make this decision myself, not be judged as needy by others based on my appearance. Instead of people offering to rush in with offers of support, I would rather people me, as a disabled person, the time I need to do this on my own
I think the intentions are good and there is no real harm in good intentions. But I would like non-disabled people to have a think about how your attitudes and perceptions are shaping these good intentions and if you think these might match our own ideas about ourselves as disabled people.
What do you think?