Once, I reveled in the words ‘I don’t see you as disabled.’
I had done it.
Won in a battle of wills.
Fitting in at constant odds with wanting to stop, rest.
My body always felt like my home. My skinny legs, curved spine, and scars; friends I didn’t want to be at war with. But to some, my home was foreign and disconcerting.
In a bid to make outside forces more comfortable, I began to redecorate. I took down the paintings I loved and replaced them with ones more palatable, I boxed up the quirky nick-nacks, instead, filling my mantle with generic pieces that feature in a thousand other homes.
I minimized my disability as best I could.
Sure this would lead to my success.
Later in my life, adulthood nipping at my heels, I began to question whether placing my success in direct correlation with my ability to assimilate with this thing called “able-bodied,” was the best course of action. In the words of Joan Didion’s The White Album, “I am talking here about a time I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself.”
That doubt became a catalyst. I did not need to change, but how we understood disability, the system we lived in, and the stories we consumed did.
From the moment I made that discovery, ‘I don’t see you as disabled’ was no longer a compliment, because I realised that people who didn’t see me as disabled, didn’t see me at all.
I am disabled.
I navigate the world with a disability.
Why should that part of my identity be minimized?
My community is taught that they must contort to succeed. Our disability is a barrier to employment, participation, education, relationships, so we are the problem that must change. However, we believe that what must change is the social structures, perceptions, and stigma that have wrongfully plagued the disabled experience for decades – and continue to do so. This is the barrier, and we began All is for All to help shift the systematic inequalities that a lack of access causes.
The pursuit to minimize your disability to succeed, or simply be accepted, is still reinforced. It rears its head every time a television character is “cured” of their wheelchair use, a mere episode or two after beginning to use it. (Or in some cases in 6.5 minutes) It is written all over the proclamation that “the only disability is a bad attitude.” You can see it when Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith retweets – and agrees – with someone who said that New Zealanders were being spoken to as if they were “intellectually disabled” in the Covid-19 briefings.
Attempting to minimize your disability is a pursuit that has the power to colour the lives of disabled people. In response, we must empower a counter-narrative. Disability is not a weakness. We deserve to be our full selves in all the spaces we enter. It is not our duty to make ourselves smaller, fit into the world as it has been designed, or make other people comfortable. The traditional structures that the world often falls back on have only afforded a select few advancement or equities and we have the power to change them. It is critically important that we create space to uplift all corners of our disability community and shift the power imbalances that have been allowed to perpetuate for so many years. We are a bright, powerful, capable community that should be amplified, not dismissed.
For too long, disabled people have been dismissed, not brought to the table, under the falsity that they are unable to offer anything. It is easier for people in power to believe this than to invest in changing the status quo. But during a time in history like no other, as we respond and repair the impacts of Covid-19, we need accessibility experts, we need diverse thinking to help utilise opportunities for innovation and development. Disabled people are natural innovators, familiar with resilience, and empathetic communications. Our voices should be part of the rebuilding effort, reshaping the disability sector, enabling us to control our own lives and all worldly decisions that impact us.
Every disabled person deserves space to articulate their ideas and be heard. There is no such thing as someone who is “voiceless, there is only the intentionally silenced or preferably unheard” as Arundhati Roy observed.
In this effort, we join the chorus of others in the disability sector who have championed equity and access. Stella Young, Dr. Huhana Hickey, Judith Heumann, Attitude Television, The Lucy Foundation, Be Accessible, Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch, Pelenakeke Brown and Sir Robert Martin – a mere few examples. Together we will realise the accessible reality which we are all aiming for.
As a company, All is for All acknowledges that we can see further because of a path forged by others. We look to Amplify being a part of All is for All’s efforts to illuminate the way forward for future generations, who will be able to run the ball further than we ever could. And a particular thanks to Red Nicholson and Dr Roberta Francis – the best friends any person could ask for, thank you.