I have a disability.
I still remember a job interview years ago when I explained a gap in employment by telling the interviewer that I had a disability and had been dealing with medical issues during the gap. Her response: “But you don’t look like you’re disabled.” She repeated this comment 3 times, each time seeming more stunned. (Yes, I realized this response is borderline illegal, nevertheless believe me it’s not the worst response I’ve ever received from an employer or potential employer.) Apparently I was not the ‘kind’ or person she would label as disabled.
To some degree I get it. I sound intelligent. I present myself well. I don’t need a support person at all times. Nevertheless it makes me furious that it is assumed that someone with a disability doesn’t sound intelligent. That it is a blanket assumption that a person with a disability has inappropriate clothing or hygiene. It is infuriating that someone who doesn’t know me has created a binary around disability. Meaning it appears many think we either are wholly incompetent or we are not disabled. That we are either to be pitied or our identity erased.
For me, this has – among other things – had an effect of self-stigma. I want to prove that people with disabilities are competent citizens and not objects for pity. I am proud of passing, I am embarassed when others don’t pass. This statement is not one I am proud of. Regardless, I believe it is critical to acknowledge. I believe we don’t root out privilege without acknowledging it exists. Excising this mindset is my responsibility. By the way, I’ve written about the related topic of passing before as a commentary for Minnesota Public Radio’s website.
I feel like there’s a lot more to unpack in what I’ve just written, but I’ll leave that for another post.