differences

Disability is not a number

Disabled people are as different from each other as we are from nondisabled people. Sometimes people don’t understand this. Instead of looking at specific impairment, they look at what they think of as severity. It’s as though they’re thinking, ok, on a scale of 0-10, how disabled is this person?

This can lead to a bizarre opposite reaction to disability and disabled people. People not only respond to disability based on stereotypes, they often respond based on the stereotype of a completely different disability. 

For instance, sometimes people who think of blindness and deafness as the same level of disability will respond to blind and deaf people interchangeably. (And often in ways that wouldn’t be helpful in any case). Because they don’t think about vision or hearing, they think about a severity category. 

Eg: a waiter who thinks this way might see two people signing to each other, notice that they are deaf and bring them a braille menu. Or they might, halfway through taking an order, notice that the customer is blind — then start talking really loudly. 

They don’t pay attention to the physical reality of the person they’re interacting with. Instead of thinking about what this person’s disability is and what accommodations they need, they’re looking in a box marked something like “what to do when you meet a level-8 disabled person”.

In real life, disability isn’t quantitative, it’s qualitative. Having a disability means something physical and/or cognitive, which will be different for every disabled person. It matters what type of disability someone has. It matters how that disability affects them, specifically. It matters what their preferences are, and what they’ve found works for them. Thinking in terms of severity level won’t tell you any of the things that matter most.

About speech abilities

Some people can speak easily.

Some people always have difficulty speaking.

Some people never speak at all.

Some people can speak, but at a cost that’s not worth it.

Some people are better off communicating in other ways.

Some people speak sometimes, and type other times.

Some people have words all the time; some don’t.

Some people can speak fluidly, but only on certain topics. (Just like how one can be fluent in some topics in a foreign language, but be unable to read the news).

Some people lose speech at certain levels of stress.

Some people rely on hand movements and stimming in order to find words.

Some people have a monotone and convey tone through motion.

Some people make a lot of mistakes with words, and rely heavily on tone to make themselves understood.

Some people rely heavily on scripts, and only sound normal when they stay on-script.

Some people use phrases from television.

Some people communicate by repeating themselves, and tend to be perceived as not communicating.

Some people say a lot of words they don’t understand, and are perceived as having meant them.

Some people substitute one word for another a lot, and don’t always realize it.

Some people can answer questions even when they’re having trouble initiating speech.

Some people who find speech easy sound odd.

Some people who find speech difficult sound normal.

You don’t really know how someone communicates until you’ve communicated with them substantially, and even then, you only know in the context you’ve communicated in. Appearances can be deceiving. 

And it’s important to be aware that all of these things exist.