The Mythical Disabled Person Who’s So Much More Disabled Than You
Speaking out about your experience of disability can be an uncomfortable thing. I often find myself beset with the question, ‘am I disabled enough to advocate as a disabled person?’ ‘Am I qualified to speak here?’ ‘Maybe I’m a fraud. I was diagnosed so long ago, maybe I’m making excuses and not trying hard enough?’ And, the ever-annoying, ‘What about the Mythical Disabled Person Who’s So Much More Disabled Than Me?’
Just as disabled people face pressure to attain an abled ideal, we’re also often haunted by the Mythical Disabled Person Who’s So Much More Disabled Than You. You’re not that disabled, stop whining, just think about someone else who has all your difficulties plus this other one that you don’t have! Shut up about your amputation, what about the quadriplegics of the world! You should be grateful. It could be worse. Don’t ask for accommodations, that’s for REAL disabled people who are So Much More Disabled Than You. Don’t look into the disability benefit, that’s for Properly Disabled People Who Are So Much More Disabled Than You. Don’t park in the disability space, that’s for REAL PROPER disabled people! Yes I know you can’t walk further than 5 metres but YOU JUST NEED TO TRY HARDER.
These messages come from the outside, then, all too often, become our inner talk. We’re indoctrinated with an ‘ability hierarchy’. There are the abled people above you, people similar to you, and below you are the People More Disabled Than You. You figure you’re supposed to spend your life trying to become like the abled people above you, and in this eternal quest you’re supposed to think about how much easier you have it than the People More Disabled Than You and then feel guilty about every struggle you ever have.
The problem is, this ability hierarchy has no basis in the lived realities of disabled people. It’s used against us in ways that harm us. Because we are all wedged in the awkward middle, where we don’t sail through the world like the normal folks but we’re made to feel like any assistance, empathy or compassion should be reserved for the Real Disabled People Who Are So Much More Disabled.
The ability hierarchy makes us feel ashamed to ask for services and accommodations that we need and qualify for. It alienates us from each other. And, like so many other disability myths, it frames disability as an inherent negative. You’re expected to feel grateful you’re not More Disabled. And since you’re not More Disabled, surely Normality is within reach? Maybe you’re not trying hard enough. Just THINK of the MYTHICAL DISABLED PERSON who’s SO MUCH MORE DISABLED THAN YOU!!! You should feel LUCKY!!!!
The Mythical Disabled Person Who’s So Much More Disabled Than You actually doesn’t exist. There’s always going to be someone facing more challenges. Or different challenges. There is always the possibility of another difficulty cropping up. For every disabled person on the planet, there is that Mythical Disabled Person So Much More Disabled Than Them. It’s really just a myth used to dismiss the needs of disabled people. What right do you have to speak up about your needs, in light of this Mythical Disabled Person Who’s So Much More Disabled Than You? What right have you to argue that disability should be more accepted? What authority do you have? You’re not the Mythical Disabled Person Who’s So Much More Disabled Than You, so you’re just speaking from a place of whining.
There is no real ‘ability hierarchy’-disability is diverse and complex. You might be able to get up on stage in front of thousands of people to tell jokes but have a panic attack over a cinnamon cookie (hi, that would be me). Your difficulties might not be easily condensed and summed up. There may be days when you’re completely ‘normal’ and days you’re completely not. None of this invalidates your struggles. Instead of thinking in terms of ‘more disabled’ or ‘less disabled’, try to think in terms of meeting people’s needs, taking them seriously, and banishing the stigma of disability. No disabled person is ever going to win this game-it’s time we all stopped playing.