Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one: You’re a physically disabled person, going out and about your daily business, maybe at the grocery store, or the library, or a conference, or just out on the street, when someone approaches you and commends you for your “bravery”. This has happened to friends of mine who use wheelchairs, but it occasionally happens to those who use walkers, crutches, a cane, or scooters, though definitely not as much.
I’m no expert on human motivations, but I always assumed they commended the “bravery” they see because they associate disability with difficulty. They can’t imagine losing their mobility in some way, or dealing with chronic pain. Whenever this happened, my brain started buzzing with grateful thoughts of how I don’t have to deal with it, since my disability doesn’t require a physical marker or assistant (Though I am considering getting a service dog)
And then the other day, when giving a lecture and participating in a question and answer panel at a mental health clinic, I had it happen to me. People told me I was brave, that they would be praying for me, the usual spiel I’ve usually heard at my physically disabled friend.
This further confirmed my theory that the able-bodied and neurotypical fear disability, and they can’t conceive of an experience with it. But there’s something more to it, I feel, based on what I talked about in my lecture.
I believe, after hearing what they said to me after my talk, that the comments about bravery are not just rooted in fear of themselves becoming disabled, but their amazement at those of us who own our disabilities and are proud of them. It is hard being disabled in this society, but the reason it is isn’t because disability itself is unmanageable, but because our world wasn’t designed with disability in mind. It was modelled for a neurotypical and able bodied majority, and we must fight to crash these walls of disablism down. I know even Jericho fell, but it’s not what I would call an easy battle, just for the right to exist equally and participate fully. So when disability is seen by the disabled as something to be proud of, something to possess with pride, it must truly baffle the able-bodied and neurotypical.
But you know what? They are right. It is an act of bravery to be proudly and unapologetically disabled. Not “overcoming” your disability, or “not letting your disability get in the way”, but being disabled and proud, that’s brave.
But still, please, only tell us that if you know the full story, and don’t say that to strangers in wheelchairs. That’s just creepy.