Disability 101: The formula plan doesn’t work
December 7, 2008
I’ve had multiple conversations with multiple people who have felt a need to point out to me that not everyone who has a disability agrees with everything I say in Disability 101.
I believe that’s exactly what I am trying to express here, that people with disabilities are not all the same. We don’t all want the same things. We don’t all need the same things. We don’t all have the same opinions. The formula plan is not going to work.
Just like all able-bodied people are different with different abilities, ideas, opinions, needs and desires, so, too, are all people with disabilities different.
Too often, people think: “I will learn the proper way to interact with people with disabilities, and once I learn the proper way, everything will be great.”
So you learn a bunch, and then you think: “Okay, I know a lot now, I should be good.”
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Then along comes someone like me who says: “No, that’s not what I want!”
Or sometimes it can even be the case that you learn what a particular individual with disabilities needs and wants and you think you’re good, then all of a sudden that same individual says: “No, that’s not what I want!”
What’s an able-bodied person to do? First of all, let’s address the idea that different people with disabilities have different needs, wants, and opinions. The key is to always ask and be prepared to accept the answer, even if the answer is different than what you think it will be.
At Disability is Natural in Woodland Park (www.disabilityisnatural.com), Kathie Snow offers T-shirt transfers, magnets, and notecards emblazoned with the phrase “Ask me. Don’t assume.” I used to wear a T-shirt with this phrase every time I went grocery shopping. Then I gave my shirt to a young friend who is just learning that he really does have the right to make decisions about himself, even though he uses a wheelchair.
There is no way any able-bodied person can know everything there is to know about what people with disabilities need and want, because every person with a disability needs and wants different things.
Further, there is no way any person with a disability can know everything there is to know about what other people with disabilities need and want because every person with a disability is different. So common sense leads us to the conclusion of “Ask me. Don’t assume.”
Then be prepared to accept the answer. I really don’t mind people asking me, but I do mind when they ask but don’t honor my answer. I offer the example of when I go to the grocery store, have my groceries in one of those mini-carts (which are fabulous, because I can easily push them while in my wheelchair), and the bagger asks me if he can help me out.
Sometimes when I say: “Thank you, but I’m fine. I can do it,” the bagger still won’t let go of my cart and continues to try to convince me to let him help me out. No, really ” if I say I don’t need help, I don’t need help. Accept my answer.
Yes, my answer is different from the answer other people with disabilities may give. We will have different answers. We are all different people. Be ready for that, and don’t try to force me into the answer someone else gave.
And yes, my answer may be different today than it was yesterday. I am different today than I was yesterday. And besides, I’m a woman and I reserve the right to change my mind.