While scrolling through my Facebook feed one day, I found myself shaking my head at the representation of people with disabilities. It got me thinking.
I thought about the kind of world that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. imagined when he discussed African-American rights.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” King famously said.
King laid out his vision for the future of America — a vision that is still struggling to come to fruition. It almost feels as though his vision will never come true. When there are two steps forward, there are several steps back.
As I have said before, the initial leaders of the disability rights movement found solidarity with other civil rights groups. The struggle was not to be endured individually, but as a collective. It should never be a fight where we can’t compare our own experiences of injustice with another person’s. I will defend your rights and dignities as much as I hope that you will defend mine.
In quiet times of reflection, I imagine a different world for people with disabilities. I find myself longing for changes for people with disabilities and for the people who love them.
I long for a world where people with disabilities aren’t praised for something that is completely within their capability. There are countless stories where people with disabilities navigating their world are praised for completing the most menial tasks.
I’ve been praised for grabbing grapes at a grocery store and successfully feeding myself, which is a daily occurrence and not that big of a deal. A blind person receives orientation training so they can fully navigate their community, so when they are heralded as a hero for getting around, it feels patronizing. Just think of these things in terms of your everyday tasks. How would you feel if someone applauded you for getting into your car or ordering your lunch? That’s how it feels to most of us.
I long for a world where seemingly able-bodied people are not sensationalized for treating people with disabilities with respect. The media is chock full of examples of celebrities and everyday people treating people with disabilities courteously and then being praised as a superstar.
Remember the story of the cashier at a McDonald’s in downtown Chicago who stopped what he was doing to assist a man who asked for help with cutting his food? Another customer waiting in line documented the occasion and posted it to Facebook. The photo went viral, and everyone applauded the cashier’s willingness to help. His behavior should be the rule, not the exception. In a world free of barriers for people with disabilities, helping to cut someone’s food would be a simple expectation of good customer service.
I long for a world where there are legitimate expectations set for people with disabilities. More often than not, friends and family are satisfied with the minimum expectations. They see a tough world, and they are not able to fully understand the accommodations and the services that are provided for people with disabilities to go to college, gain meaningful employment and live a fulfilled life. The world is only seen through an able-bodied lens. In my vision, the world is seen through a disabled lens, too.
I long for a world where I don’t have to scope out every single ramp, elevator or open space in a public location. I long for a world where people with disabilities don’t have to hope and pray that a particular location has the necessary accommodations, but that those accommodations are commonplace. I long for a world where people with disabilities are appreciated for the talents and ideas they contribute.
I was at an event once where the keynote speaker discussed the differences between tolerance, acceptance and appreciation.
Tolerance is the bare minimum we can provide for people different than us. Tolerance permits a group of people to do things differently; it’s more of an outsider perspective.
Acceptance is a step in the correct direction. Acceptance is being able to agree with certain aspects of a group of people.
However, appreciation is something for which to strive. It’s acknowledging that people bring different skills to the table and utilizing those talents. Merriam-Webster defines appreciation as “an ability to understand the worth, quality or importance of something.” I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be appreciated as a person than tolerated.
Mostly, I long for a world where people with disabilities can be equal citizens in all capacities. I long for a time when people with disabilities are not seen as rarities, are not only the innocent or the villain in storylines and are not used as cautionary tales. I want my community to fit into the larger community seamlessly and without question.
Anna Corbitt is the Youth and Family Specialist at Paraquad. She can be reached at email@example.com.