Living with a disability almost always means living with judgment. People may judge you for the way your challenges show outwardly; they’ll also judge you when they see no visible signs. Some assume you can’t contribute to society. Others presume that you get perks you don’t deserve. Still more believe that disabled lives simply don’t matter.
If your disability shows, you can see it register on others’ faces. They make assumptions. If you have an invisible disability, you get extra looks, wondering why you don’t “seem” disabled. The worst is when someone actually confronts you.
When people can’t relate to your disability, they project the worst case scenario onto you. So how can you process assumptions and even confrontation?
You can’t change others’ minds. But you can change your perspective and reframe others’ judgments.
Disability doesn’t have a singular appearance. Disabled people can wear makeup, dress up, get piercings and tattoos, wear jewelry, dye their hair, and put time into their “look.” How we present ourselves is an important component of mental health. Why should disabled people be deprived of self expression?
In a different vein, disabled people are allowed to be happy, joyful, exuberant, energetic, and bubbly. Those qualities don’t negate a disability, and in fact should be seen as a triumph over difficult circumstances.
Sometimes people expect you to be frozen and lifeless if you have a disability. Ideally, this isn’t the case.
Physical activity may be a way to manage your disability, a way to find joy despite disability, or even just a transportation necessity. Exercise may be very difficult for you, or it may have nothing to do with your disability. How could someone else presume to know your situation? That’s on them.
When people judge you for being active while disabled, here’s a reframe: whatever activity you manage, as a disabled person, should be celebrated. It’s at best a triumphant act, and at least, a healthy way to feel a little better.
TikTok creator Keep Wheeling Forward points out the ridiculousness of this judgment. There is no reason why someone would choose disability. Accommodations are not perks. Assistance is not a handout. Who wants pain? And we all know that disability comes with judgment that makes life difficult in its own right.
If someone judges you because they think anyone would ever choose to be disabled, then that speaks more to their character than yours.
Disability discrimination has existed since disability itself. However, the belief that disabled people can’t contribute to society is unfounded.
What can you say when someone shares this belief? Remind the other person that 1 in 4 Americans has a disability. That means someone in their workplace has a disability. Someone they rely on has a disability. And, people with disabilities often work extra hard to hide their struggles–sometimes at great cost to themselves.
Sometimes people make inaccurate comparisons to the disabled experience. For instance: many people choose not to learn how to cook. They eat out or have a loved one who cooks. But if they needed to save money or lost access to help, they could do this task for themselves. This is not an accurate parallel to the disabled experience.
There is a difference between choosing to need help and being forced to need help. There is a difference between receiving help as a perk and receiving help as a necessity.
The pandemic has highlighted ugly attitudes toward disabled lives. Over the past two years, disabled people have been repeatedly reminded of others’ callousness–from the more naive “getting the virus is no big deal,” to the inexcusable “a return to normal is worth the sacrifice of disabled lives.” This mass callousness has caused major trauma to the disabled community.
Not to make light of this phenomenon, but: use it as a reason not to care about any of the other judgments. If people don’t value all human life? Their opinions don’t matter.
When you get judgement for your disability, it hurts. It always will. However, each judgment presents a chance to get your own story straight.
Next time you think about others’ assumptions, give yourself a reality check. Solidify your healthy perspective, so that you can advocate for yourself and others.