If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll probably know that I have some mobility difficulties, caused by a collection of various arthritic conditions. Most of the time I limp, occasionally I have to use a walking stick, and often I’m wearing straps or braces under my clothes, or drugged to the gills on painkillers. But (partly due to vanity and partly due to the nature of my various conditions) a lot of the time, a casual observer cannot tell that I have a disability. I have four “invisible” illnesses, all of which combine to make it hard for me to live a “normal” life, whatever that may be. I should add, at this juncture, that I disagree on principle with the very word “normal”, as I honestly believe it’s something I should utterly hate to be. For evidence, go here…
Anyway, back to the point. This week plays host to Blogging Against Disablism Day. According to the interwebs:
The term disablism is the discrimination of disabled people. The term describes the negative attitudes, behaviours, practices and environmental factors which discriminate (intentionally or unintentionally) against disabled people and create barriers to their equal participation in mainstream society.
Discrimination against disabled people takes many forms – from hate crimes to sniggering in the street, inaccessible buildings and financial inequalities. Clearly this is not news and we’re all aware of it on some level. But, as someone with invisible illness, what about invisible disablism? I’m not sure if that’s an actual term, or whether I made it up. But the concept is very real.
For example, when I go to the shops (obviously for glitter, champagne and pretty things and nothing as tedious as painkillers and bandages…) I use a disabled parking badge to let me park close to the entrance. That little badge makes a huge difference to my life – it’s the difference between being able to work and not work, do my own supermarket run or having to get help, and get to medical appointments without having to drag my ailing carcass across half a mile of car park. In short, if I can use the disabled spaces, I will be more independent, in less pain, taking less medication, and making a bigger contribution to society.
So when I see that half the disabled spaces are taken up by people without a disabled badge, who are just “nipping” to the cash machine / shop / to use the loo / whatever, I get a teensy bit cross. I don’t believe those people are intentionally engaging in disablism; I’m sure they genuinely think that they’ll only be a minute and they’re inconveniencing nobody. But if a person were to unintentionally engage in racism, sexism, or ageism, that behaviour would still be wrong. Right? (As stated above. By the interwebs. Who know everything.)
But, dear reader, here’s where it starts to get a bit complicated. The assumptions made by the general public in exactly the same situation can be just as upsetting for someone with an invisible illness as the inconsiderate actions. I have, on more than one occasion, been challenged on my right to use a disabled parking space, because I don’t look “disabled enough” to warrant it. I get stared and sighed at when I’m climbing out of my car, as people realise I’m not elderly or in a wheelchair. Similarly, I have been called “lazy” for taking a lift instead of the stairs, and for getting a taxi rather than walking. I’m not sure what gives those people the right to judge me, and I’m really quite confident that my medical history is none of their business.
You see, the parking issue is easily resolved – either there is a disabled badge in the car, or there isn’t. Simple. Not that people check for a badge before they make their assumptions about me – but that’s their ignorance and I don’t feel the need to concern myself with it. But there’s no badge to prove I’m not lazy. There’s no badge to prove I’m “disabled enough” to use THAT toilet. I wouldn’t like there to be such a badge, and there shouldn’t be any need for one. At least not any more than there’s a need for a badge for able-bodied people to prove that they are not disabled and should be forced to take the stairs….
So if ever you are tempted (and I know my readers would NEVER do any of the following) to park in a disabled space without good reason, or use a disabled toilet to avoid a queue, or call someone “lazy” for taking the lift to avoid just one flight of stairs, park on the pavement so that wheelchairs cannot pass, or stare or snigger or tut, perhaps it’s time to just stop and think. Let’s – and here’s a RADICAL idea – just be nice to each other and as considerate as possible, even when it means walking a bit further or queueing a bit longer. It’s never simple or clear-cut. We cannot see pain. We cannot judge someone’s else’s limitations. It is not our place to do so.
Oh, and if ever you call me lazy, I’ll have to give you a hard stare, tut loudly and demand to see your able-bodied badge, before telling you to get out of the lift and take the bloody stairs. Tsk.
P.S. Also very much worth a read on this topic: