Iris Young (1990) delineates five components of oppression and one is:
Establishment of the dominant group’s experience and culture as the norm, which renders invisible the oppressed groups’ perspective
Has someone ever tried to silence you as a person with a disability when you offer your perspective on a situation? Has someone told you that your perspective doesn’t “fit into” the reality of a situation or is just plain wrong?
Unfortunately, because of the oppressive history that people with disabilities have, many times when we speak up, others find what we say to be so outside the “norm” that they dismiss it. This can lead to labeling us as malcontents or, even worse, having our reality denied to our faces.
“That can’t be right,” a person might say to you. “That can’t have happened to you. ____ (fill in the blank) doesn’t treat people like that!”
“You’re just upset and overreacting. You’re not seeing this from everyone else’s point of view.”
The truth is, people with disabilities are not seeing things from everyone else’s point of view. We have our own perspective. It varies from individual to individual depending on other factors such as our gender, race, education and poverty level. Our experiences may be outside of the norm but that doesn’t mean that we as people are. We watch the same TV shows, read the same papers, live in the same society as others and adopt many of the same attitudes and rules. But we also carry with us the experience of living with a disability, one that brings a perspective of its own.
So what does this have to do with inclusion? Everything. We need to be realistic about the gap that exists between what able bodied people know and do not know about the experience of living with a disability. It seems paradoxical to urge people to look at differences in experiences, but inclusion is not about people with disabilities just fitting into the “norm”. It’s about allowing those of us with disabilities to fully be ourselves and enrich the community at large by making ourselves a visible presence.
Let me use an example here. My neighbor on the left has a son who is an amputee. Because she has a child with a disability, she has some experiences with some of the issues I face as a person with a disability. My neighbor on the right has no one in their family who has a disability. Although they are very nice people, having me live next door has been more of an adjustment for them. They aren’t familiar with what living with a disability is like and, at times, misunderstand things. One night I overheard them talking to my neighbor on the left, asking her why I could not take my own garbage cans in “on time”. I could hear the “a-ha!” in their voices once they understood more about my disability and realized I depended on outside help to do that. Since then they no longer get angry at me when the cans are out an extra day. It was a matter of seeing things from a certain perspective, one which was unknown to them. This is a small example of how people can mistakenly attribute the wrong motive to outward behavior because they do not understand our perspective – or how we live with a disability.
Just think of how many more behaviors this happens with- especially in a large group of people!
Unless we are willing to recognize that the perspective of people with disabilities has to become visible, we cannot reach inclusion. It is good to remind ourselves that we have much in common with the rest of society, but it is necessary to acknowledge that we have different needs, experiences and spiritual journeys in order to have a fully inclusive community.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan