Concerning disabilities and being human…

In this post, I’d like to examine some of the things people say about disabilities and the attitudes behind them. I may ramble a bit, so bear with me…

In my previous post, one of the things I wrote is that I need my friends to believe me when I say I can’t do something. That seems to bother some people. They view such statements as defeatist. I’m not afraid of challenges. My left arm is paralyzed. Sure, I can ride a motorcycle, but if you tell me to clap my hands, I’m going to have to say “I can’t.” I’m not a defeatist; I’m a realist. Please understand that an ability in one area does not imply a lack of impairment in another.

Upon learning that my arm is paralyzed, people often say something like, “I don’t see a disability; I see a person,” or “You seem quite normal to me.” I understand that this is usually in an effort to be polite, but I argue that not seeing the disability means not seeing the whole person. Experience shapes us; we change as we adapt. My disability affects my life experiences, so it has had a significant role in forming the person I have become. Another thing to consider is that these statements rely on the assumption that disability makes one less. This is called “ableism.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “ableism” as “Discrimination in favour of able-bodied people; prejudice against or disregard of the needs of disabled people.” Fiona Campbell provides a more academic definition: “A network of beliefs, processes and practices that produces a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, species-typical, and therefore essential and fully human. Disability is then cast as a diminished state of being human.”

A supervisor once said to me, “Disabled people don’t ride motorcycles.” He was well aware of my disability. He continued on to make his point, which was that, since I don’t “act disabled,” I can’t ask for the accommodation I was asking him for. This stems from the same kind of thinking as the more polite comments I mentioned earlier. In essence, he was saying that disabled people look and act differently from “normal” people, and because I look and act in ways that fit his standard of “normal,” I can’t be disabled. It seems pretty silly when I put it that way, doesn’t it?

I am fully human AND I have a disability. Let’s start with that…



Filed under Disability, Discrimination, Work

6 responses to “Concerning disabilities and being human…


  2. Kristen

    Interesting that I know two disabled men that ride motorcycles. I may know more, but these two are close to me. Both express that they feel “normal” and just like everyone else while riding, but know without a doubt, they aren’t and can’t do everything that others can. Neither disability makes them less human nor less of a man, in my opinion. In fact, and I may be biased since one is my amazing husband, but I think they are more of a man than those who sit back and judge or make assumptions of others. I don’t walk in their shoes, but I do know quite well, what Carlyle goes through on a daily basis. He has more courage and determination than anyone I know. He’s honorable and if I could give anyone a piece of advice it would be, take him at face value. He speaks the truth… if he says I don’t understand or I need help, he truly does. He doesn’t have ulterior motives….EVER.

  3. Lisa Monzon

    Excellent post, Carlyle. A friend of mine got very upset when I “came out” and I pointed out that I was still the same me she had always known, she just knew something she hadn’t before. She calmed down, but it was still hard for her to accept. My Asperger’s is part of me – it’s shaped my personality, my world view and my sense of humor. I am the me I’ve always been, and if someone chooses to view me as disabled, that is their choice. I don’t function in the “standard” manner, but I’m still me.

  4. Wow very well put as usual. I had an assistant manager tell me once when I was asking for acomidations for my MS “that because I wasn’t in a wheelchair I didn’t qualify for acomidations.” It’s amazing how because someone looks like they are “normal” even when they are not that the problems are ignored. I think it is easier for people without disability to overlook the disability than to actually take the time to understand the disability. Which means they can potentially miss meaningful friendships.
    Love Ya and Proud to call You a friend 🙂

  5. Teresa

    You inspire me Carlyle! I am a high school teacher who works with students with disabilities–mostly learning disabilities, and emotional impairments but some of my students also have Autism. I LOVE love love that your disability does NOT define you. Now only if I could convince my teenage students the same! I loved when you said, “experience shapes us; we change as we adapt. My disability affects my life experiences, so it has had a significant role in forming the person I have become. Another thing to consider is that these statements rely on the assumption that disability makes one less. This is called “ableism.””. Keep up the great writing! Sincerely, Teresa Boyer, Michigan

    • Hi, Teresa 🙂
      I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment until just now. I’ve had a crazy few weeks. If there is one thing I truly wish I could do, it would be to help kids and teens understand this, whether they are disabled or not. It honestly took me years to learn this as an adult, and it didn’t help that I was largely surrounded by adults that were happy to encourage my view that I am less. This needs to change.

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