Lisa D. (chaoticidealism) wrote,
Lisa D.
chaoticidealism

Joining the Disability Rights Movement

One of the best moves the neurodiversity movement can make, I think, is probably to identify itself firmly with the disability rights movement.

There are many fellow students with various kinds of disabilities at my school; and when I talk to them, I find a huge amount of common ground. They have experiences that are very similar to mine, both sociologically and in terms of the emotional experiences that tend to come with disability, such as the need to outperform non-disabled people to prove your worth, or the experience of being underestimated and told you "can't" do something by someone who has no idea how creative disabled people can get, or even the experience of social ostracism because you seem odd. Not all physical disabilities are obvious; some are invisible. The experience of "playing normal" is common to both groups, even among people whose disabilities are visible.

One obstacle to this alliance is the idea that many autistic people have that they're "not disabled". But that's not true--not in the sense that is most important to the disability rights movement. If you can be diagnosed with autism, you have what's called significant impairment--that is, you've got to either work harder, do things a different way, or get someone else's help to do things that are expected from a typical member of your society. In most cases, though, you can do those things.

The biggest obstacle holding you back isn't that you're autistic; it's the fact that society isn't set up in a way that makes your particular communication style and cognitive traits the ideal arrangement.

And that's what a disability is. It's a mismatch between what you can do, or how you do it, and what society is set up to fit.

I know a lot of times autistic people say they're not disabled because they're good at things. That's buying into a disability stereotype--the idea that disabled people can't be good at things. But, of course, they can. I spent many of my teen years fascinated with physics and in love with the books written by Stephen Hawking. Does his skill as an eminent physicist mean he's not disabled? (Hawking retired recently... *sigh* But he's in his seventies now, so I guess we can't very well demand he keep working so we can get more black-hole theories and books that explain high-level physics to average, if somewhat nerdy, high-school students.)

Disability, basically, is defined by society. If everybody in the world used a wheelchair, then people who used wheelchairs wouldn't be disabled. If everyone in the world were deaf, then deafness wouldn't be a disability. If everyone in the world used telepathy, then not being telepathic would be a disability.

The idea that you're "not disabled" probably comes from a fundamental assumption that disabled people cannot do things they want to do; that disability is inherently negative and makes you inferior; or that disability can only ever create impairments, never advantages. Well, get yourself a realistic idea of disability, and not only will it seem silly to claim you're "not disabled", but you'll realize that disability is neither something to be ashamed of, nor a concept to distance yourself from.

(I need to make an exception here for the people using "disabled" to mean simply "unable to work at a profitable full-time job". If you are using it in that sense, then it excludes most autistic people, as well as most physically and cognitively disabled people. I am talking about disability in terms of the social concept.)

Autistic people are, as a rule, anywhere from mildly to profoundly disabled. Disability can be very mild; it can just be a matter of having to try harder than most people and rest more often. But we have this in common with physically disabled people, too: Someone with mild CP, for example, may walk as quickly as most people, but tire after only a mile instead of five to ten miles as most people would. We have, in fact, so much in common with people with all sorts of disabilities--from the communication issues faced by people with hearing or speech impairments, to the social distance created by interacting with someone who is obviously different, to the issues related to services and accommodations and workplace politics that often make it harder to get a job.

Staying in our little corner of the world, insisting we are not like "those people", we will only be left behind when the largest minority group in the world asserts itself and demands the rights that have been withheld from it for so long. iweb stats
Tags: disability rights
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