(Street art – Hosier Lane, Melbourne)
Yesterday morning on Twitter I came across the #abledpeoplesay meme. There were statements highlighting the ignorance around both physicial disabilities, invisible illness and depression. And I took part straight away, sharing the funny, stupid and insulting things people have said about my skin. Some of these things have been said to me years ago, others more recently. They’re the sort of things that just stick, they made me laugh, and I remember them. It wasn’t about me being bitter or not letting go. It was about me reflecting on and sharing the reality of how insensitive people can be.
Tweeting these was both humourous and cathartic. And it showed me and the Twittersphere just how intrusive able-bodied people can be towards people with disabilities.
Here are some of the actual things that able-bodied people have said to me. The. Actual. Things.
“You’re looking almost ‘normal’ today.”
“I don’t even notice your condition anymore.”
“I know exactly how it feels to have a severe skin condition; I have my eyebrows waxed monthly.”
“Is there a cure for that? I couldn’t handle looking like you.”
“You want to be treated ‘normally’ but you still want to maintain your disability identity? I don’t understand.”
“They don’t mean any harm when they ask questions about the way you look. They’re just curious.”
“Can you still have sex?”
“This is Carly. I’ve told you about her before. Do you think she’s as red as you imagined?”
“Why do you put your photo online if you don’t want it ridiculed? You have to expect the ridicule if you look different.”
“It’s so good that someone like you is out there and not locked away somewhere.”
“I’ve seen Embarrassing Bodies. I know exactly what your condition is like.”
“If I was in your situation I’d top myself.”
“I will pray for you.”
“Don’t you wish there was a cure so you’d look a little less…unfortunate?” (Said via an email from an online dating suitor. He didn’t get a date.)
“I wasn’t sure how comfortable you were with being in a photograph.”
“It’s easy for you to criticise a diversity conference that lacked diverse speakers. You need to see the bigger picture.”
“I don’t understand why you only want to discuss your illness on your own terms. Strangers should be able to ask you questions.”
“Change your appearance so you can be a little kinder on yourself.”
“But dating is just as hard for a ‘normal’ person too.”
“Here’s the number of my naturopath.”
“You look like that EVERY day?”
“You didn’t tell me you were going to be THAT red!” (Said on a date.)
“Quick! Turn on the TV! There’s a reality show featuring your condition.”
“Is it contagious?”
“Stop scratching. The sound is really annoying me.”
“There’s always someone worse than you.”
“God only gives challenges to those who are strong enough to handle them.”
“When I first met you I was a bit shocked but now I realise you’re normal and that.”
“You’ve been a silly girl, letting yourself get so sunburnt.” (Complete with waggling fingers.)
“What a shame.”
“Will your children turn out like you?”
“There’s no need to talk about sex around you. You’ll never have sex” (Said at high school.)
“But you’re not disabled like them.”
“He/she must be very strong to be your partner.” (This hasn’t been said to be but to friends of mine.)
“Retard isn’t an offensive word. I’m not talking about disabled people when I say it”
“My kids aren’t scared of how you look, they’re just shy.” (This one makes me sad when I see kids covering their eyes in fear.)
“Oh but people are afraid of difference. They don’t know how to react when they see you.”
When it’s all laid out bare like that I feel pretty proud to be so resilient. But I can’t believe that people just say what they’re thinking. Would they say those things to people without disabilities? My Twitter friends were disgusted and apologetic about what I tweeted.
I must qualify though: along with these things that have been said to me over the years, there have been so many more wonderful things said. Able-bodied people aren’t all like those who have dropped these clangers. And people with disabilities have also said some pretty gobsmacking things to me too.
The things able-bodied people say show the attitudinal barriers that people with disabilities face. There is a gross sense of entitlement for strangers to know what’s ‘wrong’ or to offer a platitude, because they really don’t know what to say to someone with a disability. Education like this meme is a start in creating change.
A person tweeted me asking what’s a good thing to say? I’ve written these two pieces that may be useful:
Check out the #abledpeoplesay meme on Twitter for more insights into things able people say.
And I’d love you to tell me what’s been said to you.