Monday, July 13, 2009

But He Meant Well...

From an old episode of The Office... Michael is talking to the properties manager, Billy, who is in a wheelchair:
Michael: Let me ask you something. How long does it take for you to do something simple? Everyday. Like brush your teeth in the morning.
Billy: I don't know, like, 30 seconds?
Michael: Oh my god. That's three times as
long as it takes me.

Just thought I'd throw that in there...

Anyways, one thing that this internship has taught me is that there are many common experiences among people who have very different disabilities. One common dilemma I've noticed is how to respond to people who don't know how to react to disability or don't realize that their reaction could be considered offensive.

What makes it difficult is that many times the other person is completely well intentioned. They just don't realize that, for example, feeling sorry for someone with a disability is not always appreciated.

I think there is often a disconnect between how people with disabilities and people who are able-bodied view disability. If you view disability as a major defect, as most people do, than of course you feel sorry for people with disabilities, and think those who are able to live "normally" "despite their disability" are "so brave" and "courageous." If your focus is on the limitations and restrictions that disability can cause then you mean no malice when you go above and beyond to help someone with a disability out even when they don't ask for or need help. On the other hand, if you view disability as simply a natural part of human variation or simply another part of your identity and experience, as many people with disabilities do, then the pity is annoying, the barrage of complements and "hero" status are simply another reminder of how people just don't understand, and the unsolicited and unneeded assistance is at best counterproductive and at worst more evidence of how much people underestimate your ability to get by on your own.

What is somewhat scary for me is that I'm pretty sure that were I not disabled I would have the same ignorance about what it means to be disabled that I have seen in others; I would instinctively feel pity for those who are disabled, go out of my way to help people with disabilities with tasks for which they require no assistance, and marvel at their ability to do everyday tasks (I would probably also limit my definition of disability to physical disability). So I feel like I can't blame others for their ignorance and their lack of understanding when they have not been exposed to an alternative perspective of disability. At the same time I feel like I can't blame people with disabilities for feeling annoyed, undervalued and insulted when constantly dealing with this societal ignorance. Anyways, that's how I see it, feel free to chime in with your own thoughts...

Have a good week!

Rohmteen Mokhtari


  1. People tend to pity those with disabilities because they see them as lacking something present in others. By extension, this is the exact same mindset that america had towards blacks and other ethnic minorities, and one it still has towards homosexuals. While the disabled might not contain the same physical or mental characteristics as the majority of society, people tend to dehumanize said community.

    While not disabled, I view disability not as a hindrance, but an enormous opportunity for personal growth.

    my first post was much better, but it somehow got deleted.

  2. Your blog reminds me of when we were all out for pizza last week and on our way back everyone was moving slow so I jokingly yelled, "Gosh, why are you disabled kids so needy??" and then that random woman walking down the street announced to all of us, "Don't worry, you disabled people DESERVE to be needy!"

    Of course, what this woman said bothered me, but I knew she was well intentioned. I don't blame her for her ignorance and I don't blame myself for being angry and annoyed. I don't think this should be about bestowing blame on anybody.

    I think the best we can do is teach the people we know that disabled people are not to be pitied ect... but I don't think it is our place to offer our unsolicted insights to random women walking in Georgetown.


  3. very well put, and I remember that lady, that was actually one of the instances that prompted me to write this entry...


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