We Are All Disabled
We hear a lot about the equity of people of color, women, and people that identify as LGBTQ, and it is true there is a lack of equity for these minorities. But you rarely hear about the lack of equity for disabled people. Right now in America, some disabled people do no access to education, employment, healthcare, housing, and so much more. Still, here we are in disability pride month, and barely anyone knows about it.
Maybe it’s because we consider being disabled or becoming disabled is the worst thing that can happen to a person, except for dying.
When I created the open call for this show, people asked me if I’d consider them disabled. That’s when I realized I needed to ask myself: how do we define what a disability is? When you have an impairment and cannot do something, you are disabled. This could mean you are physically impaired, like me, from an accident, an illness, or a degenerative disease and need to use a wheelchair. While being physically disabled tends to be more visible, other disabilities are not always acknowledged because they are invisible such as being deaf, neurodivergent, chronically, or terminally ill. Impairments such as ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, and schizophrenia, or ailments like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or cancer are not immediately apparent. When combined, disability becomes the largest minority.
As a species, humans are essentially disabled. We lack many of the abilities other beings have, but we desire: we cannot fly; we do not run incredibly fast; we are not small enough to enter and occupy tiny spaces; we cannot breathe underwater indefinitely; we cannot communicate for miles through the air or the soil. In addition, modern humans cannot exist on this planet as it is and as it changes: we cannot survive extreme heat or cold; we are unable to walk barefoot on all terrains; most can no longer forage, hunt, or grow our own food. When humans desired to overcome these impairments, people created gear, machines, and technology to accommodate ourselves in a world that did not seemingly accommodate humans enough: planes, trains, automobiles, streets, sidewalks, cameras, microscopes, breathing machines, phones, computers, sunscreen, polar fleece, shoes for every surface of the earth, tractors, mills, factory farming, and industrial slaughterhouses. But we stopped before these accommodations included everyone. This is not our greatest sin. Perhaps, as humans, we simply did not have a vision yet of what was possible, of what, and who, was yet to come.
Over the course of history, when the disabled community spoke out and said we wanted to go to school and work, society’s response was you can’t. The desires of this particular minority of humans were left unmet. The reasoning was often that providing the assistance needed to accomplish this is simply too expensive and complicated. However, when a pandemic came, we watched how fast they moved and how much money they spent to ensure they overcame these exact complications for the benefit of society. When it is said within the disabled community that we want to get married, we want to have children and a family; society is quick to say NO! You mustn’t! Then, all of a sudden, the notion of abortion is not such a bad idea when society fears we want to create a world of disabled people.
As I mentioned before, disabled people are the largest minority in the world. Although 32 years ago a law was passed to protect our human rights, those rights are violated every second of the day. I know; the world seems pretty dire right now. We are left with the quintessential question: how can we change what is happening? But then I think of change in terms of long-time, how it was only three years before I was born that my race would be allowed to vote; how I was only six years old when women were given the right to choose what I’d eventually want to do with my body as I became a woman; how I was 22 years old when I was granted rights as a disabled person. This is evidence that we can create change but that it takes time, work, and dedication. I realize it will never be something that is given to me. I have been privileged to live in a time where I’ve been given access to rights that would not have been available to me in a different time. I want to ensure that those privileges and these rights are available to others in the coming days. If we can create a world to accommodate humans to do so much outside of our limited capabilities, we can continue to forge a world that supports and accommodates all beings. In honor of our human ancestors who gave their bodies and lives so we could enjoy what they have given us, we must continue what they started.