Chally gets to the heart of accessibility and ableism.
When’s the last time you heard something like this?
Between infotainment television and living your daily life, if you’re disabled, you’ve probably heard some variation on this theme all too often.
The thing is, people with a disability need accommodations. Accommodations aren’t optional extras, they aren’t something we can give up if we try a bit harder. Neither are we out to get all the money/spots/benefits at the expense of the rest of the population. We’re not just using the designated seating on the bus to annoy those who have to stand – and the accusatory glances are enough to wear one right down, let me tell you. The perception that we are getting all the good things in life at the expense of good, kind, innocent souls is both ridiculous and damaging. We’re just trying to live our lives. And we have to fight to get every single accommodation, and deal with begrudging and doubting attitudes while we do so. Actually, the word “accommodation” is itself telling. People with disabilities must merely be tolerated, merely accommodated, rather than our needs being thought of as important enough to be included as a matter of course, no asking required.
Framing people with disabilities as lazy scammers is a terrible thing to do. One end result is that people with disabilities internalise the idea that we’re lazy cheats who could overcome systemic and insurmountable barriers if we really wanted to. That’s really quite an achievement for ableism in the internalised dissonance stakes there. It’s the equivalent of saying to an abled person that they should just overcome there being no seats in a waiting room or concert, or the provision of books without words they can read, or the requirement that they enter a room without a door. It’s completely ridiculous, it’s unreasonable, and it’s essentially on a plane with that which people with disabilities are asked to do all the time.
Such internalised ableism has certainly had an impact on my life. For example, in registering with the disability service at my uni this year, I had to push myself to ask for and utilise the educational accommodations I needed. I felt really guilty about asking for accessible lecture rooms and lecture recordings. I wasn’t trying to set up a better deal for myself than for the other students, I had to keep reminding myself, but was simply trying to gain an equitable education. I’ve as much right to my money’s worth, and as much right to work as well as I can, as any other student. It’s been a real struggle to keep that in mind given the constant pressure on my conviction of my self-worth. The worst was during an exam last semester, when a supervisor argued with me about accommodations while I was writing!
Requiring extra time in exams or an elevator or an interpreter isn’t cheating. Really. It just seems that way because the vast majority of society and infrastructure are geared at the needs of types of people who are constructed as “normal”. It’s not that people with disabilities are being overly assertive or inconvenient, it’s that the needs of abled people are constructed as par for the course and ours are not. If systems, buildings and organisations were constructed with the needs of actual populations in mind, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
The biggest barrier, at the end of the day, is this narrative that people with disabilities are undeserving. Every other access problem begins here.
Chally Kacelnik is an arts student at the University of Sydney who proudly claims an undying love of fiction, baked goods and the theatre. She’s been figuring out how to negotiate the world as a young, chronically ill woman since her diagnosis in 1997. You can find her writing on such blogs as disabledfeminists.com and feministe.us.