Regarding 'More' or 'Less' Disabled

This title for today's post makes my face cringe. Whenever I hear it being said I have this internal instinct to want to flee from the situation, from the group of people that are talking, a few times I have even wanted to not 'be disabled.' An immediate disgust for this part of my identity overcomes me and I think this comes from shame, as well as confusion. Despite this discomfort when I hear "oh she's more disabled than you..." or "he isn't as disabled..." I have to admit, with head hung low, that I have uttered this statement more than a few times.

I have written before about why I am uncomfortable when others classify the severity of O.I. that I have. And that certainly has much to do with why I also dislike saying that someone is "more" or "less" disabled: who is to judge? How is it judged? How is severity measured? It seems not exact enough for something that, could potentially, be a hugely defining aspect of a person's identity. With that said, who am I to say "she isn't as disabled as me."

Beyond this it's also the whole messy concept of comparisons. The apples and oranges explanation aside - what are we saying when we compare our disability-status? In my opinion, it seems that we are first defining the benchmark for what a certain base-line of disability looks like. "This is what this level of severity means because I embody that..." Secondly, it also seems that we are setting someone else 'below' or 'above' that base-line of disability that we arbitrarily established. "She is more disabled than me because she needs... or can't.." Or we say "He is less disabled than me because he doesn't need... and can..." It's uncomfortable to me. Like when that random Uncle we have only met twice decided to show-up at our graduation, and then give us a t-shirt with the year he graduated from high a congratulatory gift. Awkward all-around. It doesn't fit. The act of saying the words seem like a half-hazard gamble at best.

As I have gotten older I have tried to be more conscious and aware of the things that fly out of my mouth. I think that it is also the fact that, as I have gotten older, I have been more active in shaping my own identity! The attitude in which I have explored my identity as a disabled woman is in-line with the rest of my identity as a human being: independent, stubborn, forward-thinking, curious, enthusiastic, ambitious...etc. Putting those aspects of my identity together has left very little room to allow others to tell me how disabled I am. So, like my parents used to say, if I don't want to be treated like that then why should I treat others that way?

But I am not going to deny the reality of the disability community, and the way we speak to one another. The reality is that we do have limitations and abilities that vary from person-to-person. The reality is that we do have methodologies that categorize us into X, Y, and Z for the sanity of our medical team, care takers, pharmacy companies, etc. For some this may be a personal measurement of what is to come in their future health, or the work that needs to be done to 'get there' - to that point of being 'less disabled.' As people who communicate the reality of having a disability, it is ultimately not wholly surprising when such statements slip out of our mouths. I am willing to assume the best and hope that the majority of the time... these statements are said with good intentions.

As a final thought: In my personal efforts to add what equality I can to the communities that I am a member, I will actively commit to not spreading us farther apart by placing ladders between people. We aren't a community that is going to function successfully if members feel entitled to arbitrarily climb 'above,' or are carelessly placed 'below' someone else. We're in this together, so let's just settle in comfortably with one another as ourselves.       

Posted in , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.

2 Responses to Regarding 'More' or 'Less' Disabled

  1. As always, this is so insightful. I have certainly compared my own 'severity' to someone else's in conversation on many occasions. Part of me wants to do so to acknowledge that we all are coming from different experiences, and so as not to sound presumptuous by claiming to understand or speak to the experiences and kinds of oppressions that a different person, with a different physicality, different needs, different experience of disability (or even, of OI), might face. But your post makes me wonder if part of my doing so is also connected to some residual desire to associate with "less disabled" or "normal," or at least, if it could appear that way to others. I am going to be more conscious about the way I talk about this. How important do you think it is to acknowledge difference within disability, and how can we do that thoughtfully while also uniting under a shared identity?


    1. Great question Haley! (p.s. I miss you so much!! Wish we could be talking about this in person!) I definitely struggle with this myself because I still have that inclination to "pass" as 'normal' or 'less disabled.' In my attempt to be more conscious about what I'm saying, I am maybe overly cautious.. and have a tendency to default to 'medical lingo' as much as I dislike using it. So instead of saying "I have a lot more mobility than others with my type of OI" I have said "With the type of OI that I have, I have been able to ... but there are varying types of OI that make each OI person's experience different."

      It's a muddled line between how much 'fact' can we comfortably rely on to explain our identity - whether they are different or shared. I also think it has a lot to do with the manner in which we're talking with someone else. Simply explaining our experiences vs. expounding on generalities I think involves in a different tone of voice for each.
      And finally, while I do think it's important that we acknowledge difference within disability - I don't think it can be done until that person recognizes his/her own identity as a disabled person. I think this way it's easier to recognize who you are while being a member of the larger disability community.

      (Also -- I'm so sorry that I never got back to you about the OIF feedback paper. Have you sent it? I hope I didn't hold you back on sending it! Let me know if you get any responses. Happy happy start of the semester & school year!!!)


Copyright © 2011 Perfectly Imperfecta. Powered by Blogger.