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Know Your Own (and only your own!) Disability

July 3, 2010

When I first started to write this post, I wanted to focus it on able-bodied privilege and how it translates into asserting power over those with disabilities. But you know what? Every disability is different, and oftentimes others with varying disabilities can lack understanding about yours almost or as much as any able-bodied person. (Don’t get me wrong, in my experience able-bodied people are by far the worst offenders about disabilities, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t also encountered resistance from those with their own disabilities as well).

My disability involves my knees. But just because you broke your leg once in high school does not mean that you know what I can or cannot do as a result of my disability, or if you have a disability, that I know how it affects your life. One all-too-common situation I encounter is someone, usually an able-bodied person, trying to tell me ways they believe I can exercise without pain. It starts out innocently enough:

Me: “Man, I miss going to the gym!

Other person (who knows about my disability) : “Well, can’t you still go and do _____?”

Me: “Nope, that actually really hurts my knee.”

Other person: “Well, how about _____?”

Me: “That hurts it too.”

Other person: “You must be able to do ____ at least!”

continue for 5 more minutes, and so on, and so forth.

Now, I do understand and appreciate the fact that they are trying to help. But here’s the thing: I have these knees on every single second of every day. I experience pain every time I bend down in the slightest, and I live in constant fear of my knee dislocating yet again, which can happen at any moment (the last two times it happened were A) when I was walking, and B) when I sat down – literally). So, I think I know what I can or can’t do as a result of my knee disability. Just because I’m not in a wheelchair (yet) and that I force myself to walk without limping does not mean that it’s equivalent to a stubbed toe. So whether you are able-bodied or have a different disability, don’t presume to know how someone else’s affects their life.

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