Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What To Do When You Meet An Able-Bodied Person

Inspired by What To Do When You Meet a Sighted Person

People who have an extreme amount of energy, experience lower than normal levels of pain (or only feel acute pain), and move through the world on two legs are classified under the umbrella term "able-bodied".  The defining characteristic of an able-bodied person is that they are essentially bipedal for most of their daily activities, though other symptoms like reduced pain tolerance and an abnormally high amount of energy are also common in this population.  Despite their shortcomings, many able-bodied people can lead nearly normal lives.  Able-bodied people work, play and love - just like you!

How do able-bodied people get around?

Like normal people, able-bodied people use public transportation and drive their own motor vehicles.  However, most able-bodied people need special adaptations to their cars in order to control them with their feet.  These adaptations are called foot pedals and consist of two small pedals installed on the floor of the vehicle - one for gas, one for brake.  With time and practice, some able-bodied people can master operating a car with hand controls, but most able-bodied people will not have the upper body coordination necessary to drive a car safely with hand controls.

Able-bodied people also use their two legs to propel themselves from place to place, a method commonly referred to as walking, or sometimes jogging, sprinting, or running, though these terms are reserved for bipedal movement of an unusually quick pace.  This method has resulted in the formation of walking distance among the able-bodied population.  Walking distance is a semi-standardized unit of measurement referring to the distance one can walk before fatigue sets in.  It is important to note that these distances are quite long, often covering the span of several miles.  Because the concept of walking distance is so crucial, able-bodied people are often confused when someone cannot walk this prescribed distance.  This confusion is natural and will diminish over time if able-bodied people are exposed early and often to their normal peers.

How do I greet and communicate with an able-bodied person?

Able-bodied people place a high emphasis on eye contact.  It is important to get onto their level when greeting them, otherwise they may be offended.  As able-bodied people rely on their legs to support themselves, it is necessary to look up at them in order to maintain eye contact.  Able-bodied people also greet each other with intimate gestures, such as the handshake or the hug.  These gestures serve as communication in a variety of situations.

Though gestures can serve as some limited communication, able-bodied people communicate primarily through verbal utterances produced from the throat and mouth.  Communication through other means, such as writing, typing, or computerized speech, is rare and makes most able-bodied people profoundly uneasy.  Be patient.  Contrary to popular opinion, able-bodied people are capable of learning.  It may take time, but it is your job to desensitize able-bodied people to normal ways of speaking and moving.

How can I best assist able-bodied people?

Because able-bodied people move around solely on two legs, their balance is often compromised.  Offer to help able-bodied people when you see them on the street, particularly in wet or icy weather.  Though the over-powered musculature of their lower body can compensate quite well for their shortcomings, sometimes assistance is still needed.  If you see an able-bodied person struggling, always offer to help.  They will be grateful for your assistance.

How can I support able-bodied people?

Able-bodied people have the same feelings and desires as the rest of us.  If you are looking to become a professional in the field, programs like Best Buddies facilitate friendships between able-bodied people and normal people.  Though able-bodied people mainly enjoy activities that rely on bipedal movement, such as jogging, other activities can be adapted so that able-bodied people can fully participate.  Most of all, treat able-bodied people with compassion.  You can help relieve their suffering with just a kind word or a few dollars.

Friday, February 7, 2014

No, I Won't Stop Calling Myself a Cripple (And Here's Why)

Over the years, I've faced a lot of backlash for choosing to call myself a cripple.  I've had people flinch every time I say it.  I've had people try to convince me to use all sorts of alternatives.  I've had people act like the word was a personal insult to them.  To them, mind you.  Not to me.

And here's where we get into the root of the problem of language policing: When you are a member of an oppressed minority, privileged people run your life. Privileged people decide where you go, how you're going to get there, and if you'll be allowed in once you're there. Privileged people make decisions that can quite literally end your life. Oppressed people have very little power to determine their own lives. The one area we DO have power in is in the language we use to refer to ourselves. And when you refer to yourself with a word like "cripple", you take it back from the privileged. You are refusing to let them control you. That is a daring, subversive, political act. It may just be a chink in the walls that surround us, but it is a chink, and we can expand that chink, stick our fingers in it and pull until the walls come tumbling down. When you police our language, you are not an ally.  You are helping to build the very barriers you claim to help dismantle.

Being privileged is inherently self-centered, whether we mean to be self-centered or not.  Society caters to our needs, gives us jobs and food and roofs over our heads.  Just by the nature of being white, I don't have to fight for things.  I do have to fight because I am a woman and because I am disabled, but by nature of my skin color, things are inherently easier for me.  There is no argument there.  If I wasn't white, if I wasn't straight, I would have a hell of a lot harder time of it.  I know this.

Do you think I'm ignorant of the power that words like "cripple" and "freak" hold?  I am all too aware.  Now that I am a student in a Disability Studies Master's program, I am learning more about the history of my people, and how those words were used to destroy us.  I do not use the word "cripple" out of ignorance; rather, the opposite.  I use it because I know the power of words far too well.  If I call myself a cripple, I have taken the wind out of my oppressor's sails.  I have diluted the power of their weapon.

So, no, I will not stop calling myself a cripple.  Because a cripple is what - and who - I am.  Until the word doesn't sting, until words like that aren't thrown like knives in our faces, until no one remembers those days anymore - until we have reached that point of evolution, I will keep using the word cripple, and the word gimp, and the word freak.  And if you consider yourself an ally to me, to my community, you will not tell me what language I can use to refer to myself.  If you consider yourself an ally, and if you police my language, you are not an ally.   You are doing it wrong.

For all those who try to tell me what I can call myself, remember that I wear my identity like a neon badge of honor.  I am a fucking cripple and I am fucking proud.