Okay, it’s time for a full-on rant.
Maybe it’s just the pregnancy hormones talking, but lately I’ve noticed myself getting more frustrated by people who stereotype my husband. It’s something we all do; I’m definitely not innocent, I mean, that young kid driving the Range Rover… must be daddy’s money, right? But I’m becoming more defensive when people say things like “you must be so much help to your husband” or “how does he handle it? Does he get depressed?” or when people tell me that we must have a tough time financially because “disability doesn’t pay much.” I understand that people are naturally curious and they care, but at the same time I am so tired of it. I’m tired of every person with a disability whether that be an injury or a disease, being labelled the same way. No two people are the same, period. So if you aren’t the same as me, what makes my husband the same as the next guy in a wheelchair?
In keeping with our last blog post (which you can read here), these stereotypes are part of why it is so important to be an advocate. Not only do we need to advocate for the rights of people with diverse disabilities, but we also need it to be known that
just because a person has a specific disability, doesn’t mean they fit into a specific box with a specific label.
Here are a few of the big stereotypes that I would really like to do away with:
- People with disabilities are not independent. This could not be further from the truth. Although there are some people out there who need more help than others, and even some that may be completely dependent on caregivers to meet their needs, there are a high percentage of people living with disabilities that are independent, functioning, contributing members of society. Who would have thought?! They live on their own, they work and they have families. Yes, different disabilities will need varying degrees of assistance with different aspects of their life, but for that matter, so do able bodies. I can’t do my taxes, but that doesn’t make me any less independent than my husband’s wheelchair makes him.
- People with disabilities are sick. Trust me, you can’t catch a spinal cord injury. People with disabilities aren’t contagious, nor do their disabilities generally make them in poor physical health. They’re also not something that needs to be fixed, or cured like a common cold. Sure, there are more health concerns when you have a disability, but if you are active, eat well and take care of yourself, you’ll still be healthy. My husband isn’t sick, his legs just don’t work.
- People with disabilities are depressed. So are people without disabilities. There’s nothing wrong with it either way. What bothers me most about this is that people assume that because my husband suffered a major, life changing injury, he must have gotten depressed. For the record he didn’t, and not everyone in his situation does. There are a lot of people that adapt to their new way of life without anger, or anxiety, or depression. Not everyone who suffers a traumatic event has PTSD.
- People with disabilities are a burden. So much no. Not even a little bit. Going back to point number one, just because someone with a disability may not be 100% independent doesn’t make them a burden. Asking for help is hard for a lot of people, but in my opinion, if you aren’t willing to help, or if you think it’s a burden to do so, you need a major attitude adjustment. I have never felt obligated to help my husband with anything, I have never felt obligated to stay with him, nor have I had to sacrifice anything because of his spinal cord injury… except for maybe a house with stairs, haha!
- A successful person with a disability is inspiring. “Good for you for getting out and about!” Ugh. Why is it that every success story involving someone who is ‘handicapped’ is inspiring? Not only is this irritating, but it perpetuates the idea that a disability is some sort of challenge that you need to overcome to be ‘normal’, instead of the disability being its own kind of normal. Getting a coffee at Tim Hortons is not inspiring, wheelchair or not…. the amount of Tim’s coffee that you can drink in a day, now that’s a different story!
- People with disabilities have a decreased mental capacity. No, you don’t have to talk louder, the wheelchair doesn’t make him deaf. No, you don’t have to talk slower, the wheelchair doesn’t make him slow. No, you don’t have to talk to me instead, he is quite capable of conversation and making decisions and answering questions. Yes, there are some people in wheelchairs who do have developmental disabilities or brain injuries, but don’t assume that the two go hand in hand. It’s his legs that don’t work, not his brain. Even if the person does have some decreased cognition, it’s no reason to talk to them any differently or treat them like they are less than a person.
- People with disabilities are asexual or can’t have sex. Hah! That’s how I got pregnant…
We all face stereotypes on a daily basis and these are just a few of the ones that people with disabilities face. Getting rid of these is the first step in breaking down the barriers to accessibility and equality for people of all abilities. Like I said earlier, I understand natural curiosity that comes from a place of wanting to learn and I am all for educating people and helping them to understand. What I don’t understand is the people who make uneducated assumptions and then speak those assumptions out loud as if they are fact; those are the labels that we need to get rid of.
So what labels have you been given, or what stereotypes would you like to see disappear? Comment below and let us know!
Sam (with Chelsea’s permission!)