Just about every disabled person in America, if not the world has had the following experience: They get some sort of adaptation that makes doing tasks in life manageable. Maybe it’s an alternative assignment to a motor skills -intensive project at school. Maybe it’s extra time on a midterm. Maybe it’s a workplace accommodation. Then the abled people start screaming like the preschooler who gets mad that he doesn’t get a present at someone else’s birthday party. They start whining that it’s “not fair” that the disabled person gets a mildly nice thing. They start badgering whoever is in charge. They start trying to intimidate the disabled person into giving up the accommodation. There may even be an escalation to physical violence. Particularly in schools where the policy against bullying (or its enforcement) is lackluster.
Eventually, the person in charge and the disabled person are browbeaten into a “compromise” that spares abled feelings but renders the accommodation useless. Or it gets rescinded altogether to appease the Anti-Accommodation Mob.
This has been the story of so many disabled people. We spend our lives walking (or rolling) on eggshells for the fragile feelings of abled people who are pathologically unable to see a disabled person get a nice thing without acting like they’re being physically tortured. Even if that nice thing is basic access. So I’m going to say something I wish my younger self would have said.
I don’t care what you abled folks think is “fair.” If you do not have a disability, sit the hell down and shut the hell up. You contribute nothing of value in the accommodation discussion nor do you have a place in it.
But there’s a reason I bring this up now.
Abled people’s feelings inform our disability policy
Although the disability activists and special needs parents often differ in their end goals, we do have one thing in common: Hearing abled people whine about fairness. We’ve all heard it in the IEP meetings. We get a meeting because a teacher is not fulfilling their Federal obligation to follow the child’s IEP. And the teacher says she isn’t following it because it wouldn’t be “fair” to the abled kids. Yes, instead of following Federal law and maybe teaching (AKA their job) abled kids some perspective, some teachers will surrender to the mob and tell disabled kids that it sucks to be them.
But that’s basically how disability policy works in this country. Everything in disability policy is decided not around the needs of disabled people but around the fragility of abled people. Why is getting on any sort of assistance program for disabled people difficult? Abled people would scream about “fairness.” Why does the Americans with Disabilities Act require high-priced lawyers to enforce (and therefore nearly impossible to enforce because lawyers are out of the reach of most disabled people)? Abled whining. Why do programs like Medicaid have punitive asset caps? Because abled people would whine if we weren’t punished enough for using the program that is often the only way we get the care we need. The private sector doesn’t cover Personal Care Attendants and many medications.
And I have no doubt at all that in the event we start seeing improvements in our disability policy, the ableds will scream about “fairness” again.
If we disabled people get accommodations, abled people want a pound of flesh in exchange.
However, COVID-19 showed us something else.
Fairness is no object when abled people need the same things
At school, a lot of us used word processors like the AlphaSmart. Many of our peers didn’t think it was “fair” that we got those completely necessary things while they had to write stuff by hand. But now that teachers and schools are requiring increasingly complex computer programs to do basic assignments (even before the pandemic), all the kids are getting laptops! Suddenly, disabled people getting a mildly nice thing is okay now! This attitude followed them well into adulthood.
Many of you probably don’t remember but before COVID-19, getting accommodations like work from home/learning from home was not just a chore, it was impossible. We were told that the work done was impossible or that it wouldn’t be “fair” to our fellow students/co-workers. There was no way to modify anything.
Then COVID hits and poof! All those accommodations that were kept from us behind the dams of “impossible” and “unfairness” flowed out like water!
But once this whole mess is over, the Anti-Accommodation Mob will return. Professors will spend the next summer writing “think-pieces” for Forbes and Wall Street Journal decrying the imagined unfairness of disability accommodations as is tradition.
And anyone who calls this out will be called a “bitter cripple.”
And this is why I’m tired of giving a crap about the feelings of abled people. They’ve never cared about ours.