The aesthetics of disability

The aesthetics of disability

Do I look disabled?
checked shirt on me 1

What does a disabled person look like, anyway?

All people in wheelchairs are disabled. Therefore all disabled people are in wheelchairs, right?

Well, the first statement is incorrect, for a start, but you can see how these things get started.

I know I don’t look like a cripple, but I am. It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I could call myself that, even though on several levels I still think that I’m just ill and I will get better.

I walk with a limp (sometimes it’s slight and sometimes it’s very pronounced), and I normally walk with a stick or sometimes with two crutches. I get some very strange looks when I pull out my folding walking stick and use it. Should someone who looks like I do need any assistance walking? Some of the looks can be down-right cruel and this really doesn’t help my self-esteem any.

And yet I can’t blame other people for looking at me in that way. I do it. My mum does it. Everyone does. Even the most left-wing, liberal amongst us will always glance at someone who does not fit our expectations. It’s built into our genetic code. However, persistent and deliberate discrimination is not. We have something that is supposed to be a civilisation in the developed world, although it often doesn’t feel like it if you are on the margins of society.

Discrimination on any grounds (race, religion, age, gender or physical or mental ability) should not be tolerated, never mind accepted. But I accept it. I am a young(ish) woman with some physical and mental limitations. I am a scientist who is probably virtually unemployable in her chosen field because I am not currently able to undertake lab or office work. I would have to work from home, but what employer would be willing to take on an inexperienced, part-time, home-worker?

I’m currently using the excuse of taking a year off to take care of my mum. But what happens when I’m still saying that in six months time?

I despise TV programmes that imply all disabled people need is some pluckiness and courage and they can do anything. I can’t abseil down a mountain. I can’t play wheelchair basketball. Nor do I want to be the jolly fat woman. I’m in pain and sometimes it shows on my face. On the other hand I refuse not to be happy sometimes, because my team has done well in the cricket or someone has praised something I’ve done.

Just because you can’t see my disability doesn’t mean that it’s not there. It’s doesn’t mean that as soon as I get home it all falls away and I can do anything a non-limited person can do.

This “thing” (for want of a better word) has been with me for 14 years, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon.

And there but for luck or divine intervention go all of us.

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14 thoughts on “The aesthetics of disability

  1. What a great post. Being ‘disabled’ is often a silent and invisible thing, yet very insidious. I certainly take issue with those people who claim sheer power of will or spirit can overcome the physical. It can’t. One day you are like everyone else and the next day you are ‘different’. I want to end on a positive and inspirational note, without being soppy, but I’m afraid I’ve failed!!!

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  2. Yes, that business about “you can do anything” is bull, even when applied to non-disabled people, but certainly to anyone with a physical limitation. Sometimes I worry that I’ve been so overly realistic about these things, I made my disabled son think he couldn’t do anything!

    Keep on writing about it–it helps you, and all of us too.

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  3. Great post Amy!

    When you’re ready to look for a job, remind the employer to look at what you CAN do and all you can offer, not what you can’t.

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  4. It’s true, we do all have an idea of what disabled is to us, but just like everything disabled comes in many flavors. and I concur with what Debi said about showing the employer what you can do.

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  5. This is a great post with much food for thought. I got a taste of what it might feels like for you last year when I broke my kneecap. I hated the accusing looks on the bus when I wouldn’t bent my leg to make room for others to sit opposite me, I just couldn’t!
    As you said, not every disability is visible, but that doesn’t make it less like one.

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  6. Sending you support…mental supporting vibes through the ether. A positive attitude can only do so much…like get you through the day….sometimes only just. I get VERY annoyed with people who think you aren’t getting over something because you aren’t being “positive” enough.
    Bollocks to them.

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  7. I am in the same boat – both with an invisible disability and the need to find a job in the next few months when I finish studying (hopefully). The wheelchair idea extends, apparently, to employment: I had an interview with the disability worker at the Job Cente and he said he was stumped: he can deal with wheelchairs and sensory impairment but not with chronic pain/fatigue. The only option seems to be working from home but, as I, like you, had little experience before falling ill, it’s nigh on impossible to get such a job. I wish you luck and if I find something I’ll let you know…

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  8. Rightly said, Amy. I’m not able yet to deal with what I have, the CFS and clinical depression, as a disability. And the reason is for everything you’ve stated here. The accepted norm can’t see it, I can feel it, but I often end up feeling like I’m putting it on just ‘cos I have to explain it. Mental disabilities are the weirdest, for me… explain that one and folk run a mile in the opposite direction.

    Maybe a big, in yer face badge that says “Yes, I’m disabled, so stick that”!

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  9. Yes – Brava for saying it all so well. Are you sure there isn’t a career out there for a blog about disabilities that you could write at home? You’d be good at it, I’d bet.

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  10. I know just how you feel. Thanks for posting this. I have ME/CFIDS/CFS. And, hope to have a blog one day, too, but that seems to take more energy than I can ususally muster.

    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog, though. So thanks!

    charli

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