When talking about disability makes us uncomfortable

People get uncomfortable when I mention that I have a disability. Not everyone, but a lot of people. People are totally fine with casually discussing the idea of disability rights and barriers that people face — in theory. But as soon as it’s a personal issue, things get weird.

Invisible disabilities are a funny thing. When I mention that I have a disability, it often feels like I’m coming out. And then I feel like I have to justify or explain myself because I expect people to question it (which happens). My favourite reaction was when someone asked, completely seriously, “but how did you get a boyfriend?”.

That reaction was both amusing and annoying, but also telling of how ignorant people are of invisible disabilities. “But how did you get a boyfriend?” is probably what everyone is thinking when they look so uncomfortable. The next question in that line of reasoning is, “but how did you get such a good job?” and “but you seem so smart”. People are so used to pitying people with visible and obvious disabilities that they don’t know how they are supposed to feel when someone who is obviously smart and competent is disabled.

This is the problem with thinking of disability only in terms of charity. For a lot of people, disability is something they only think about when a charity asks them to give money. Charities everywhere have trained us to see disability, feel pity, and give money. But we don’t think about it a lot. We might give money, or feel bad for the neighbour whose child is disabled. But beyond that, most people don’t think about it much.

When someone is confronted with the realization that someone they already know has a disability that they don’t understand, they can’t just feel pity and give to charity (I mean, I’ll take your money if you want to give it to me, but that’s not really the solution). For example, when I’m telling someone about my disability, they usually don’t know how to react because I’m just casually sharing a bit of who I am. And disability is this thing that we’re all supposed to be ashamed of and I’ve broken that by discussing it so casually. And I don’t fit the stereotypes. So people challenged to think about disability in a totally different way.

I realized that I’ve actually become scared of people thinking that I’m just a whiner. Like I only made this blog to whine about the world and how it won’t accommodate me. I have become scared to write about my disability on the blog that I started for that exact purpose because people don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable. And I’m done with that. People are going to feel uncomfortable when confronted with their privilege, because that’s just how it is.

Choosing not to think about disability — to say, “that’s nice” and go back to work — is a privilege that many people have. I don’t. I can’t stop thinking about it, because it affects me every day, whether others can see it or not. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel sorry for me. I’m saying it because a person’s reaction to my disability matters. When someone acts like they’re uncomfortable and they don’t want to hear it, it means I’m not welcome. My disability is who I am, and when it’s not welcome, it means I’m not either.

Inclusivity means letting me effing talk about it. When something is a part of someone’s daily reality, whether positive or negative, we talk about it. If I spend enough time with someone who has kids, eventually I hear them talk about their kids. Sometimes it will be positive, and sometimes it will be complaining, but either way, that conversation is expected. Being disabled is my daily reality, and I want to talk about it. No one is expected to feel a certain way about it, and they certainly shouldn’t pity me. Just freaking listen, please.

Seriously, we need to talk about disability. We need to talk about our abilities, our impairments, our needs and our boundaries. All of us do. It’s actually crucial to consent as well as building supportive community, which in turn is crucial to, well, everything.