Nearly a year ago, I sprained my ankle. Later, I had to walk slowly, take the elevator instead of the stairs, and assess whether I could attend an event based on my ability to navigate it physically. I found myself wanting to tell people my disability was only temporary; that I would be “back to normal” soon.
I got a taste, however small, of what it is like to live in a world where my disability wasn’t always accommodated, and where my needs, and by extension me, were considered aberrant.
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, a professor of English at Emory University, writes about this particular game in a recent New York Times article, “Becoming Disabled.”
Garland-Thomas, who was born with one arm shorter than the other and six fingers total, notes that when she stopped apologizing for her disability and instead stated what she needed to accommodate it, she felt included in a way she hadn’t before.
Indeed, after a lecture she gave, a graduate student with a disability summed it up succinctly for Garland-Thomas, she writes. That graduate student now understood that she had a right to be in the world.
In the United States, 57 million people, or one in five, has a disability of some kind, according to a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report. This is the truer story.
So the story being perpetrated—that disability is abnormal—is incorrect. And the psychological strategy—that people with disabilities don’t belong in society—is the game being perpetrated on them and us.
Garland-Thomas and others like her are changing the game. They are also winning it.