12 January, 2011

The Classic Disability Catch-22

(this is pretty basic, I'm sort of writing it to use for something else)

Conflict: A disabled person is faced with some kind of task that because of their disability seems impossible, or, if not completely impossible, so incredibly hard and draining that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to take on. This can happen in two ways:

1. The person is expected to complete the task. Other people don't think of the person as disabled; or, people like family and friends are very intent on the idea that while the person may once have been disabled, they are now not disabled anymore. Because of this pressure, the person doesn't feel like it's acceptable for them to say, "I can't do this." If they refuse to complete the task or fail in the attempt to complete it, they will either be seen as a non-disabled person who is lazy and weak, or they will be recognized as disabled, and demoted to the stigmatized category #2 experiences.

2. The person is expected not to complete the task, or no one wants them to complete the task. However, the completion of the task is the only way for the person to get something important to them; in the eyes of other people, the only thing that will make the person qualified for that important thing is the completion of this particular task. (Tell me if this is too abstract, because I can think of a lot of examples but I don't want to lengthen this unnecessarily.) If the person does not attempt the task, or tries and fails, they will have to continue living the life that's expected of them, which they don't want.

Resolution: A lot of disabled people end up doing things that are very very hard for them. Some people fail. And often success can feel just as bad as failure because working so high above your ability level can have effects on your mental or physical health, relationships, and general quality of life.

The Classic Disability Catch-22

Some of the people who do this may happen to refer to themselves as disabled (or as having whatever their particular disability is). They may do this to explain a problem to someone in their life, they may do it just in the process of describing themselves, or they may be identifying as disabled while they are engaging in some kind of self-advocacy or disability rights work.

And when this identification happens, other people often respond, "You're not really disabled, because you completed this task." (Or they admit that you are disabled but they say that you're not disabled enough to count.) Disabled and non-disabled people both engage in this sometimes against disabled people.

I don't necessarily like the idea of saying that certain phrases are always offensive and shouldn't ever be used. I guess I can imagine there probably is one person in the world claiming that certain things are really hard for them when they really aren't. But I find The Classic Disability Catch-22 to be such an extremely hateful and unfair situation--to basically refuse someone their identity or refuse to listen to their experiences as a disabled person, because of "the task" which is frequently making their life unbearable. It's basically like having people deny you your identity because you smashed your finger in a door. Smashing your finger in a door already sucks, guys!



  1. My thoughts can basically be summed up as "yeah." I just totally agree with all of this.

    During the last semester I had a lot of experiences where people assume I'm less disabled than I actually am and can do more than I can actually do -- which is usual for me. But I also had, for the first time in my adult life, someone become overly concerned and a bit patronizing and begin to expect less of me because of my disability. I have to say, both ways of being treated ("You can totally do this" vs. "You're probably going to melt down any minute") can make me feel like shit.

    And then I feel guilty because asking people to avoid taking either of those attitudes feels like asking too much. But it's not! Is it?

    Unsure how relevant this is, sorry.

  2. Yea, I can see how that is super difficult. The only way I have ever figured out how to deal with the 22, is to be as flexible as possible, for instance, I do not drive. I bike or walk everywhere I go, this has cause numourus difficulty in a socioty where driving is sonomous with being a real human being. I get angry looks, sometimes people try to run me over, but I stand my ground. I love my walks, the free-spirited-ness of it all. I can enjoy the world, and I live a life that affords me that freedom. Sure, being almost 30 and never having a license is a cause for concern with most people, but because I have accepted things, and enjoy not driving, so much, It doesnt hinder me. Plus its good for the planet, and the other drivers, that do not need somone like me on the road (oooh..look..shiny!). :)
    In my experience, there is alway away around these problems, sometimes you have to ask for help, sometimes you have to be creative, and sometimes all you need is to change your perspective and look at the positives of all the things you can do.

  3. People ask me often if my son has "outgrown" autism or are surprised when I tell them his diagnosis is autism. Because it can't be seen as readily as it could when he was three and had no functional communication, they think he simply outgrew it rather than that he worked very hard and had to adapt to many different therapists and educators along the way to get where he is now.

    I don't know whether I would technically qualify for a diagnosis of Asperger's myself, but I can see the difficulty you describe and wish everyone could just be seen as the individuals they are. If, on a particular day, something is very hard for me or very easy for me, why does that have to go towards proving whether or not I have AS? Why can't it just mean that's what I can handle today?

  4. I completely agree with this. It seems like whether your disability permits you to do something or not, the thing you can (or can't) do will be used to put you down.

    I also hate how people will say, "You don't have trouble with [blank]. You have [done related thing] before!" It's like they have no appreciation for how difficult that is for me, or the fact that I absolutely had to struggle to achieve it. Often they have only heard about me doing things and didn't watch me enough to realize that I barely managed it and almost failed.

    By the way, I shared this on Facebook. :)

  5. I think the bottom line is that a lot of people tend to assume that disabled people don't know what's best for themselves.

  6. I think it has more to do with people not being able to believe in anything that their eyes can't see. To them, if a disability doesn't have quantifiable boundaries, it's just not real. It's why there are poor services for people with mental problems too. People want proof of what you can't do, which is pretty ironic.