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Privilege – Disability (Able-bodied) Privilege

June 16, 2012

 Today I watched a video on-line about white privilege in the US. I suspect that much of what the speaker discussed also applies to Canada and white Canadians. I am Canadian. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am white. I acknowledge that my good position in life is related to white privilege even though I am most times unaware of that privilege.

 I am a woman with an invisible impairment – depression. I am more often aware of how being a women makes me less privileged than men. For example, my job has been traditionally been considered a woman’s job. My husband’s job has traditionally been considered a man’s job. He makes almost twice as much money as I do.

 My impairment is invisible so I don’t tend to be disabled by society because of it. I wonder if I have disability privilege. I don’t have to call ahead to make sure that a building I want to enter is wheelchair accessible. I definitely have disability privilege. I make enough money that I could raise my children on my own if I had too. I am able to make that much money because I was able to graduate from high school and then go on to additional education. If I had a below average IQ, I would not be able to make as much money as I do. I would be unable to raise three children on my own. I have disability privilege. Have any of you come across others who talk about disability privilege?



From → "passing"

  1. I have a friend who has below average IQ i believe we talked about it one day and he said something about 90 or so. He has been disabled because of an illness but that didn’t stop him from working a job where not even the most intelligent people would succeed. He has that spark i can’t explain it, that makes him the best at what he’s doing.

    • Randy, your comment was identified as spam by my blog program. That is why I’m a bit slow in responding to your comment. Clicking your name does lead to a commercial site but I decided to include your comment anyways. I believe that 90 is considered within average IQ. However, if your friend identifies as having been disabled by an illness, then I believe that he has been. Some people who identify themselves as disabled ‘lose’ some ability or function partway through their lives. Some people who identify themselves as disabled were perceived to be different from birth or early on in life. There are many types of intelligence and IQ only measures one type. That said, it usually society that disables us rather than solely our impairment – whatever that may be. I don’t want to deny the struggles that someone with intellectual impairment face but one of those struggles shouldn’t be the exclusion Missus Tribble describes below.

  2. I have an above average IQ, but I never went on to further education after high school because my autism caused me to be severely bullied. I walk with a stick because epilepsy affects my balance and coordination. I’ve had seizures in public (once whilst crossing the road). I’m fortunate that I live in a community where people care.

    My sister was diagnosed with CFS a little while ago and recently had to bite the bullet and get a wheelchair and some bathroom adaptations. She went to an event with her fiance and discovered first hand that able-bodied people who don’t know her will assume that she can’t speak or just pretend she’s not there because she makes them feel uncomfortable and they will speak only to her fiance.

    • Thank you for your comment, Missus Tribble. I agree with you that there are many additional barriers to post-secondary education. I am very, very grateful for the emotional and practical support I received from my parents and later from my husband. Not to mention from friends and co-workers. I, too, am fortunate to live in a community of people who care.

      I wonder what was the primary reason people didn’t speak to your sister. It could very well have been that they assumed she couldn’t speak. It is sad, though. Even if someone can’t speak, it doesn’t mean they don’t like being spoken to. It could also have been because a person in a wheelchair “makes” many people feel uncomfortable. That is what I wish could change in our world. Or if those of us who don’t use wheelchairs for mobility still feel uncomfortable, I wish we could just push through that discomfort and be friendly. Sometimes, I think my desires for our world are pretty simple but they sure don’t seem to be easy.

      • My sister is a lively, talkative woman who is a genuine force of nature – you know when she’s entered a room. It’s entirely unnatural to her that she be ignored and I can understand her distress. There was also the “I might be sat in a wheelchair but I’m still a PERSON” aspect going on for her, which I don’t get with my stick because people don’t seem to be afraid of it and will ask me if I need any help from time to time. People are very patient and allow me all the time I need to find my purse and pack my shopping, for instance, whereas my sister’s wheelchair is apparently “in the way” or someone’s loudly complaining about how “cripples take too long doing things”. If she were elderly or obviously paralysed in some way I think she’d get a better deal – but she’s only 37, pretty and can move all of her limbs. People can’t see past the visual to understand her very real physical and emotional exhaustion and pain caused by her illness.

        Double standards, much? Yes, I think so. This is partly why I began my blog; if I have to be disabled then I might as well use my disabilities to do some good in this world, like getting us heard and understood.

      • I am glad you started your blog. I started my blog because I wanted to connect with other occupational therapists who didn’t want our work to actually be oppressive rather than useful to the people with whom we work. However, I have been learning more from blogs by people who identify themselves as disabled. Go to the source, I guess. I hear you and I’m slowly understanding. Thanks.

      • I’ve met quite a few OT’s in my time, as I worked as a carer to the elderly with dementia before I became too disabled to continue. I know you have a difficult job on your hands and admire you for doing it.

      • I actually find that the hardest part of my job is not inadvertently contributing to the stigma my clients and their families face. I know how stigma delayed me from getting help with my depression. This led to many problems for my family. I even wonder about the implications of saying “my clients”. Anyways, I have to get off the computer and get ready for work. I will keep these posts in mind today.

  3. imgls1989 permalink

    I came across disability privilege this week. At the library that I work at, I helped a teen with a hearing impairment and her American Sign Language teacher find a book. I found myself (embarrassingly so) speaking more and more to the teacher instead of the patron. This caught me off guard, and I thought about it all day. I really came to realize the privilege that hearing people have. I think there needs to be more people that know ASL in the workplace. I think that starts with including ASL as the language class in schools. People with hearing impairments should have the ability to go about life as they please knowing that everywhere they go there are people that speak the same language as they do. It is clear that our culture prefers the spoken language over the signed. I believe that we need to make changes as a whole society. I really would like to take at least a basic ASL course after I am done with getting my OT degree.

    • Today I read a post on a different blog – I’ll find the address and post it later – asking whether reading is a right or a privilege. The person who wrote the post had a visual impairment and read using braille. Accessing reading materials is very challenging for her. I love to read and have access to thousands of books (print and on-line). I definitely experience vision privilege. I wear corrective lenses but can still read without them.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. If disabled people were more present in our communities, we might become more aware of our many privileges.

      • imgls1989 permalink

        To me, reading is definitely a right. It is a very important part of my life. It is a great source of information and education. Luckily, we are seeing a mass increase of accessible technologies. I think that audiobooks and eReader technologies are a great way for people with vision disabilities to access this information. Granted, we still need more advances in accessibility. Apple this week just announced that they are adding new features to the new iPad to make it more accessible. I’m very excited about that! I too use contact lenses, but experience vision privilege.

    • imgls1989, I agree with you that technology can offer exciting possibilities to people with impairments – especially when it is mainstream (accessible in the other meaning of the word). I remember a line from Aimee Mullins TED talk that I mentioned in a previous post. Something like “technology may uncover a truth that has always been there. Each person has something rare and important to offer”. Thanks for reminding us.

      • imgls1989 permalink

        Very true. Technology is one way, in my opinion, that will be a form of liberation for those with disabilities in the future and in the present. Thanks!

      • Forgive me for going into ‘teacher’ mode. I supervise students completing occupational therapy placements in my job. I have a student who is completeing her placement this week. So as I said, please forgive me if I’m being “teacher-ish”. Technology can be very, very useful to disabled people. However as Missus Tribble stated in her comment, people will need to be patient if those using technology use it slowly or in ways that differ from the mainstream. I guess my point is “Technology -yay!!” Plus “Acceptance and patience and a shift in perspective – yay!!”. Thanks for reading and posting. I’m excited to follow your blog as you begin school and the journey to becoming an occupational therapist. Sheila

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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