Disability does not end where values begin

One of the most painful aspects of disability is that it can interfere with treating people the way we’d like to treat them, and doing what we’d like to do for them.

Disability makes some things hard, and other things impossible. Often, we have values that say it’s important to do the thing anyway. This does not actually make it possible to do the thing. Caring about others doesn’t make disability go away. Accepting and accommodating our limitations works a lot better. We can only do things that are possible, with the brains and bodies we actually have.

For instance, body language:

  • People communicate a lot of important things through body language
  • Some people can’t see well enough to understand body language
  • Others have insurmountable cognitive barriers to understanding body language
  • It’s important to listen to what people are saying. That doesn’t make it possible for everyone to understand body language.

Understanding speech:

  • Most people communicate a lot of important things through speech
  • Some people can’t understand speech
  • (Either because they can’t hear well enough, or for cognitive reasons)
  • It’s important to listen to people. That doesn’t make it possible for everyone to understand speech

Text communication:

  • There are often competing access needs in text communication
  • Some people can’t read walls of text, and need whitepsace
  • Some people aren’t capable of putting in line breaks (or aren’t reliably capable of doing so)
  • Some people need simple language to understand things
  • Others are incapable of changing their language use, and have to use big words in order to communicate
  • The importance of listening doesn’t make it possible for people to understand every kind of writing.
  • The importance of communicating in a way people can understand doesn’t make it possible for everyone to communicate in every way people need
  • Sometimes there needs to be an interpreter

Inaccessible buildings:

  • Some important meetings take place in inaccessible buildings
  • Some people can’t climb stairs (or can’t do so reliably)
  • The importance of the meeting doesn’t make it possible to climb the stairs
  • Even if someone you care about really, really needs your help with what’s going on at that meeting

Outdoor events:

  • Some people can’t be outside for extended periods safely
  • (For any number of reasons)
  • This is just as true when there’s an important protest. Caring about the issue doesn’t make being outside any safer.
  • Or when there’s a wedding or something. Caring about friends and family doesn’t make it any safer to be outside

Recognizing people:

  • Most people want people they know to recognize their face and remember their name
  • When people aren’t recognized, they often feel like no one cares about them
  • Some people can’t recognize faces
  • Some people can’t remember names
  • Understanding the importance of recognizing names/faces does not make it possible for everyone

Intermittent abilities:

  • Some people can do certain things only some of the time
  • They may be able to push really hard and do it in an emergency
  • Or it might fluctuate in ways they have no control over
  • That doesn’t mean they could do it reliably.
  • Caring about something doesn’t make it possible to do it all of the time.
  • Disability is real even when it’s intermittent.

There are any number of other examples. When something is physically or cognitively impossible, it’s still impossible when it’s important. When it’s dangerous, it’s still dangerous when it’s important. Caring about other people doesn’t make disability go away.

Whatever we do, we have to do as who we are.

tl;dr Disability makes some things hard, and other things impossible. Often, we have values that say it’s important to do the thing anyway. This does not actually make it possible to do the thing. Caring about others doesn’t make disability go away. Accepting and accommodating our limitations works a lot better. We can only do things that are possible, with the brains and bodies we actually have.