What does respect mean to you?
I’ve been thinking about how “respect” for people with disabilities is often framed in negative and condescending terms. We’re only worthy of respect insofar as we play the inspirational martyr. We can be respected for struggling through what are supposedly inevitably hopeless, helpless lives. But we can’t be respected for fighting back against the systemic barriers keeping us down, or questioning our care. We certainly can’t be respected for questioning the idea that we are one-dimensional inspirations there for the abled public’s benefit.
I am not invested in polishing the halo the world likes to thrust upon me. I want to be respected as a full human being. So, what does respect for people with disabilities really mean? I have a few suggestions to start us off, but I’m sure you can think of more.
There are some really simple and important things that are continually taken for granted, like informed consent for medical procedures. All too often, medical practitioners simply don’t think it necessary to explain procedures to people with disabilities. This can be absolutely terrifying and harmful to one’s health, but is always plain old unethical.
Something that sets my blood boiling is when carers, parents, medical practitioners or interpreters are addressed instead of people with disabilities ourselves. I mean, we’re right here, and we’re not that scary to talk to. If an abled person has something to say, they can say it to us.
Another pretty basic mark of respect is recognising disabled identities. No, it’s not a bit of trouble we can get over if we put our minds to, and being disabled is nothing to be ashamed of. And we are definitely not faking. Respect for people with disabilities involves recognising our proud, vibrant community. It does not involve treating disabled identity like a moral failure, something merely submitted to.
It is this sort of thing that marks the divide between true respect and a pat on the head. It’s not that hard to tell the difference.
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.