The fragile ego of disability

When civil rights movements are in their infancy, the temptation to smash glass ceilings is irresistible. I mean, there are just so many of them. The disability world is no different, and unlike previous civil rights movements, we still have so many ceilings left intact. Like, so so many.

This has given rise to an interesting phenomenon, where disabled people pride themselves on being “the first disabled person to do ____________”. You can see examples of it everywhere, including teaching. Yep, I linked to an article about myself, because I too have bought into this narrative.

Of course, glass ceilings need breaking. I have spent the best part of seven years breaking what I saw as a fairly important one: the world of education. Since 2012, I have told anyone who will listen that I’m a high school teacher, in the hope that they will acknowledge the broken ceiling, and probably more importantly, acknowledge how special and remarkable I am.

Oh heeeere we go.

What exactly is going on here? Why do we, as disabled people, feel this compulsion to climb atop the rabble and let everyone know about a particular niche that we have conquered? The answer, of course, is ego. And shame. Ego, because our entire childhoods were spent being told how special we are. How clever. How wonderful that we were disabled and we had friends. That we were disabled and we did our homework. That we were disabled and we did this most inconsequential mundane thing. And shame because now, faced with the reality that life is actually more difficult for us, we are still desperate to perpetuate this narrative of specialness in a world that simply isn’t set up in a way that allows us to thrive. That paradox is a painful one, and I think it leads us to carve out space for ourselves in such a way that people continue to remark upon us as unique, as special. Through this, we are able to continue countering stereotypes and harvesting that external affirmation that we have been conditioned to so desperately crave. But in doing so, we’ll probably end up living our lives in the pursuit of the validation of others – a tragic and vacuous life, surely.

It’s time to break the cycle, folks. It’s time to work on discovering what we really want, who we really want to be, instead of making decisions based on how remarkable we think this might make us look in the eyes of others (especially able-bodied people). I’m beginning this work now, and expect my life to look quite different in 2019.

Get in touch if you feel like discussing this further 🙂

2 responses to “The fragile ego of disability”

  1. This is great, Red. One thing I didnt want to do is go totally AWOL from commentators like you and Philip Patston, but from knowing others in the disabled community, I was just a complete wreck for years and still have to turn off from the awful awful awfuĺ memories. This essay helped – . Similarily, your piece here hits it. Cheers.

    1. I mean object relations theory is passe, but I found Cloke was a good tool. The fortification of image, where just by mere probalistic odds, anyone is likely to come across damaged people for whatever original reason, is dangerous to fortify furrher.

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