Uncomfortable Conversations: The importance of including ablism in our discussions on disability

Uncomfortable conversations are not fun. No one enjoys an uncomfortable conversation. Sometimes, uncomfortable conversations are necessary.

Let’s also not conflate discomfort with abuse.

My entire life, I’ve heard excuses for why people are racist, sexist, ablist, classist. They don’t understand. They are from a different generation. They are just being nice.

Well, fuck all these excuses.

Recently, a non-disabled mom with blind children asked blind parents on Facebook how they did things. She was amazed and impressed that we could do daily living tasks. I cringed, swallowed my initial response and commented with the following:

I’m sure plenty of people are willing to answer questions about how blind people do things. But understand, we are not impressive or inspirational for doing everyday tasks, even with our children. Doing things nonvisually is not amazing, just a different way to do things. And it’s more than possible for blind people to do a variety of things.

Of course, the mother was offended, and not a few blind parents understood why I would say such a thing.

Look, if you’re at a point in your disability journey where you’re still willing to be in education mode at all times, and answer every mundane question about how blind people do things, great. I sincerely applaud your effort. I am not.

I’m done opening up myself to scrutiny. I’m tired of being a zoo exhibit, available for public consumption. It’s 2021, and if people still find disability amazing and inspirational, then, in my opinion, we have not done enough as a community to change the narrative.

For every activist I see out there combatting these antiquated mindsets, I see 10 people trying to avoid uncomfortable conversations. I know people need to learn, need to be educated. But really, we are just supposed to sit back, deal with our microaggressions and circle around the subject just because we have to be nice to people?

Disabled people have been sold a bill of goods demanding we smile and be grateful at all times. We feel guilty when we are not in education mode at all times with every encounter, whether we feel like it or not. We think it’s our responsibility to do the work instead of the other way around.

We. Are. Not. Impressive. We. Are. Not. Inspirational. And there’s nothing wrong pointing this out.

We. Do. Not. Need. To. Be. A. Teacher. To. Everyone. We. Should. Not. Feel. Guilty.

Yes, let’s have conversations about low expectations. Let’s have conversations about disability pride and disability justice. Let’s have conversations about providing support and access. But I’m sorry, I’m done having conversations about how I dress myself or feed myself. I’m done having conversations about how I read and write. I’m removing myself from underneath the microscope.

When I point out ablism, it may be uncomfortable for everyone involved, but I’m not abusing people; I’m not berating people. I’m emphasizing the reality of all disabled people. I’m initiating a dialogue that is long overdue. If I avoid uncomfortable conversations about ablism, I’m not providing allies with the full breadth of the disabled identity.

I’m more than willing to dialogue with non-disabled parents. I would gladly speak with this mom and build a rapport. I don’t see why conversations like this can’t simultaneously include discussions about ablism and internalized ablism and creating access and high expectations. To me, it seems like the topics go hand-in-hand.

It’s not our fault the world has shitty ideas about disability. We are victims of a society that sees worth in non-disabled bodies, not disabled ones. We should not have to fight for equality and inclusion. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong. And fuck all the ablist bullshit.

I believe though that we all need to learn to engage in uncomfortable conversations. It’s synonymous with self-advocating. We do not have to be pleasant when dealing with unpleasant situations. We can be honest even if people mean well. People’s feelings are not more important than ours. As for those from a different generation… Well, if you’re still alive, sorry, you’re a part of this era.

So, to those who think I’m rebuking and being mean to a non-disabled mom: I ask, do you really like that out the gate we are considered impressive and inspirational? Why are our feelings less valid than hers? More importantly, why can’t we diplomatically discuss ablism and deal with stereotypes head on while simultaneously discussing expectations and access?

Uncomfortable conversations are not a bad thing. Not easy, awkward, and yes, in some cases, stressful. But they are often necessary. We are not turning non-disabled people away, but giving them a clear, full picture of what it means to be disabled. And without this full picture, how will allies ever have a glimpse into our reality?

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.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: