Hello again, readers!
It feels like I haven’t written anything for myself in ages. Today though, I finally have a free and non-exhausted minute, so here we go.
Even when I’m not on this blog, I’m thinking about disability advocacy, awareness, and acceptance. This is no truer than on my Pinterest account. I used to not use Pinterest very much, but after my recent speakers’ conference a faculty member suggested I create a speaking/writing ministry board. At the time I already had several boards, and since then my use of the application has exploded. One of my boards, entitled The Wonderful World of DisABILIITY (written like that on purpose) is about disability, awareness, acceptance, and rights.
I’ve noticed something funny during my pinning frenzies, though. Most of the pins that speak to disability acceptance, as opposed to awareness, are about autism.
Now, those pins are great and I have thousands of them (literally, the board is over 1000 pins). They express the sentiments that:
-Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults and should not be dismissed.
-Autistic people have the right to live their own lives, stim, and do whatever it takes to cope with the world around them. Therapies aimed at “controlling their behavior” are not helpful, and interventions such as shock therapy are abusive (yes, this happens).
-Autistic people have the right to exist, period. You would be flabbergasted–or maybe not–at the number of people out there who believe people with autism should be institutionalized, sterilized, and even killed, through abortion or otherwise. You would be gobsmacked–I know I was–at the number of parents and family members who not only kill their autistic children but are backhandedly applauded for it.
-Autism does not look the same for all people. It is not a straight line. It is not a thermometer in which “more autism” = bad and “less” = good. Functioning labels are bull.
-Autistic people are productive, bright, and valuable people. Their sole purpose is not inspiration.
-Rather than hoping and praying for autism cures, we should be working together to cure ignorance.
I agree with and fully support these and other messages (for example, I now fully support the boycott of Autism Speaks). However, when I looked for similar pins about other disabilities, I found very few. For example, typing in “cerebral palsy acceptance” led me to pins and statements about hope for a cure, wearing green for the people you love, and fighting against CP. I even found one that said, “All I want for Christmas is a cure” (and did I mention, I’ve seen that before in other places? It’s so schmaltzy).
Now of course, there are generalized statements about disability acceptance out there, and accepting one often–should always–mean that you accept the others. But for disabilities other than autism, most of what I saw concerned awareness, not acceptance.
What’s the Difference?
The difference is fairly simple. Awareness, of course, means to be aware of something. For example, I am aware that I need and want to lose weight. I am aware that I have deadlines to meet. I am aware that while I am a cat person, the majority of people I know prefer dogs.
I can be aware of these things, but not accept them. If I continue to eat sweets and carbs all the time, I will not have accepted that my body needs routine maintenance. If I ignore my deadlines and get in trouble at work, I have not accepted them, and the responsibility that goes with them. If I tell people who like dogs they are stupid, I do not accept their pet choices. (I have done a lot of teasing about that last one, but the canine-loving hordes tease me right back. We’ve reached mutual tolerance, I guess).
The same is true for cerebral palsy, or fragile X syndrome, or blindness, or any disability. You are aware of it when you acknowledge, “Yes, this person has a disability and needs modifications.” You are aware when you make those modifications. You show awareness when you invite a PWD out with you, and make the effort to go to activities he or she can do.
However, this does not equal acceptance. Far too many people are still grumbling about modifications or finding ways around them, even skirting federal law. Too many teachers, coaches, activity coordinators, and church administrators are saying things like, “Yes, Kelly can be in our environment, but there’s not much for her to do here. Kelly, why don’t you sit and watch/be scorekeeper?” (Side note: I spent most gym classes being scorekeeper, and I was horrifically bored).
Acceptance happens when you say, “Yes, Kelly has a disability, and that’s a good and natural thing. It’s part of her. It’s part of diversity at large. When we do something Kelly can’t, we work to provide alternatives. We listen to what she needs and wants.”
I am thrilled that acceptance is being increasingly advocated for autism. Goodness knows the autistic community could do with that, after all the harmful messages they’ve gotten over the years. Remember that robotic-voiced “I Am Autism” infomercial? I mean, really. Forget about monsters under the bed, Mom and Dad. You want your kids to have nightmares? Make them listen to that voice! *Shudder*.
But while we advocate for autism acceptance, why are we still looking at CP, Down Syndrome, and others, and saying, “Fight against it. Pray for a cure. Stay informed–get prenatal testing.” (Why, so you’ll have an “out” if people ask you why you aborted? So you can make sure your next children don’t get this “horrible” disability)?
Look, I get it. I get what it means to fight against disability because I’ve done it for 30 years. If you have no gumption or fight in you, life with a disability will be that much harder. But as I am constantly learning, disability is not the real problem, and cures won’t fix the real problem. The real problems are ignorance, misinformation, and yes, hate. Yes, folks, there are people out there–even people working for “humanitarian” organizations like Autism Speaks–who outright hate people with disabilities. We are not exempt.
Why are we only accepting one disability? To me, that sounds about as boring as only eating one kind of candy on Halloween. Let’s accept them all.