Disabled people are not normal

My shout echoes throughout the house as I holler at my boys. Feet pound as my three-year-old and eight-year-old clamber towards the front door.

“Come on, let’s go outside,” I say.

We scurry around slipping on shoes and grabbing toys. The boys rush out the door. I grab my white cane before joining them.

The kids romp around me as I soak up son in my lounge chair. Finally taking some well-deserved me-time. The electronic buzz of the voiceover feature on my phone reads out information as I scroll through social media. Immediately I see stories about Trump walking down a ramp and holding a glass of water. What’s this shit about? I wonder to myself. I begin to see comments that have become a common occurrence during Trump’s time in office.

“What a moron; he’s mentally ill. Seriously mentally ill.”

“OMG! What’s wrong with Trump? Can’t even hold a glass of water like a normal human.”

“Old man can’t walk right. Vote him out come November.”

I cringe and toss my phone on the patio table.

This ablist language is common fodder for late night talk shows to news outlets to randos on social media. It’s funny, derisive, satirical and completely ablist.

It’s language that, at its core, perpetuates stereotypes about disabilities.

I’ve been type one diabetic since the age of four. I’ve spent my entire life hearing misinformed, half-truths about diabetes. When I became blind in my early 20s, I didn’t realize the most difficult aspect of being blind would be dealing with society’s misinformed, antiquated notions. Blindness has not plagued me for 17 years; no, I’ve suffered from negative, ablist ideals. I’m either amazing for walking down the street or I’m incapable of the simplest task. Now, in my late 30s, I’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I’m never just a person, always a disabled person. This is how the world views me.

Words brew in my head. Sentences march in succinct order. I scrunch my face then reach for my phone. I must release the pressure valve. I find another comment and tap on reply.

“Trump deserves to be mocked but not at the expense of disabled people. By making fun of perceived physical and mental conditions, you diminish the lives of actual PWD. Call out his lies, his racist ideals, his misinformed policies, but don’t make a joke steeped in ablism.”

I’ve slammed the hornets’ nest. I’m told to “lighten-up,” and, “always another ism to contend with,” and, “You must be a Trump supporter.” I know it’s useless to respond. Who cares what an actual disabled person thinks on the matter?

A breeze whispers across my face. The bells my 3-year-old wears jingle in the distance. The sun still warms my skin, but I feel deflated, hollowed out. This will never end, I think.

It seems trite, perhaps silly. But almost every encounter I have with non-disabled people leaves me cringing. It’s like a persistent itch. I dig my nails in deeper, and yet, the itch remains. I will never be normal.

Groping hands want to guide me everywhere. Unsolicited, unwelcomed hands. But I must smile, be grateful. If I speak up, hold my ground, I’m rude.

Despite the woman’s body I wear, I’m treated like a child. Praised for pushing the correct elevator button or finding the correct door. “Good-job, sweetie,” is a common phrase I hear.

Our language drips with ablist connotations. Without a second thought, we speak ablism into the ether every day.

“He’s blind to the situation.”

“That’s a crippling choice.”

“What are you, deaf?”

“But it’s just words, that’s all,” is what disabled people are told. When we push back, speak up, share the actual disability experience, we are questioned, told we are too sensitive. And after the disabled images we are presented with in society, of course, disabled people surely can’t know their own mind.

When we call someone like Trump crazy or mentally ill because of poor choices and corrupt behavior, we dismiss the experience of actual people diagnosed with mental health issues. We continue to demonize psychological conditions instead of attempting to educate and understand.

When we mock Trump for a certain posture or physical action, we perpetuate false narratives about disability. Our ability to lead, to work, to live are not incumbent upon being non-disabled.

When Trump mocks a disabled reporter, the world goes nuts. And rightly so. However, we turn around and lean on ablist stereotypes to describe Trump. It makes no sense. Disabled people see it, but no one else seems too.

For a moment, the world is askew. I’m dizzy with thoughts. Then, a high-pitched, “Mommy,” rights the world and centers me.
My boys pounce on me from either side. “Come play, Mom.”

Each tugs a hand. I begin to melt, my face relaxing, tension draining from my neck and shoulders. With two blind parents and a variety of disabled friends, I hope the future evolves with them.

I want them to understand that disability is not a life sentence. Disability does not render us incapable, less than. Disability is not a dirty word, a shameful word.

My boys are healthy. One is non-disabled, but one is on the spectrum. I hope they are growing up in an environment that’s destigmatizing disability. That my son on the spectrum never feels this suffocating grip. That he will have less of a visceral reaction to societal perceptions.

I hope they are learning the power of words. That word choice matters. That ablist language and images diminish the lives of actual disabled people. I hope they see their mommy and daddy as strong and capable, not as Dickens’s characters.

There are days I want to scream into the air, ripping my vocal cords so I will be heard. Instead, I write. I make my voice heard through the words I choose to use. Words obliterating ablist notions permeating daily lives. Words that cause discomfort. Words that claw at our notions, shredding them.

My spiraling thoughts halt as I take in the moment. The sun envelops me as my boys play zombie tag around our yard. Their feet trudge as groans fall from their mouths. When one catches the other, they squeal. I smile and join in the chase, my already stiff knees perfect for mimicking a zombie walk. Arms raised, I move in the direction of their giggles.

As neighbors go about business and cars whizz by, I wonder how normal I look now.

By Imperfection

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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