I Have a Disability

Photo Credit: Mathew Loberg

Photo Credit: Mathew Loberg

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.

In Category: SOME DAYS

Alison Bergblom Johnson

Show 3 Comments
  • Amy August 7, 2014, 6:58 pm Link Reply

    Nice. Yes. I agree about all of this. And I live with amazing hypocrisy regarding not wanting to be labeled, and yet labeling others…feeling empathy towards some disabilities, but frustration and bitterness towards other disabilities…having an internal continuum of…well, you get the idea. Trying to work on all of it, gradually. :)

  • Wolney October 21, 2015, 9:54 pm Link Reply

    No, I didn’t misunderstand your inotneitns. I disagree with how you are approaching it. I have a gentleman in my town who is a quadriplegic after an accident. He still wanted to work and support himself rather than sit around dependant on others. He wasn’t college educated so he started a dogwalking business. The dogs adore him and love running along with his wheelchair. He can offer something to the dogs and their owners that nobody else can because he can give them a workout. He is independant and nobody sees him as disabled. He makes more than most college grads and he is enjoying himself. IMO, this is how to show the world that someone who faces medical challenges is capable of doing whatever they wish. Yes, there are challenges, but I am going to work my rear off to overcome them. I know women who have conditions that affect their hands and dexterity so they started a crafts club. They get together several times a week and have learned how to knit, crochet, paint, and sculpt then sell their creations at local markets. It’s great therapy for their hands and gives them independance financially and emotionally.I could go on and on with examples of people who overcame their challenges because they had the attitude of I’m Capable rather than i’m disabled. We work so hard to be accepted as just another one of the gang. We work so hard for people to see US instead of our challenges. I get that you want everyone to see that there are things they can’t do even as ablebodied people but i can’t drive well is not even close to I’m a quadriplegic who is running a successful business that I started on my own after the accident left me in a chair.

    • Alison Bergblom Johnson October 22, 2015, 2:07 pm Link

      Hi Wolney. I wrote this from the point of view of a person with an invisible disability. I’m sure the challenges, both the concrete ones, and the ones related to people’s perceptions are different for people with physical disabilities.

      Hats off to your friend.

      In writing this I was hoping to encourage others, primarily those without disabilities, to stop being so hung up on being in a one up position. I understand that the idea of passing and disability is controversial; I also believe passing will happen as long as people with disabilities are looked down upon. I don’t want to be an inspiration because I have a disability, and I don’t want to be considered a good writer or performer for a disabled person.

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