Out of sight: How assumptions we make affect how (or if) we see people with disabilities

There are many people with disabilities that one cannot see who do not acknowledge that they are disabled. And then we have the issue of how we keep people with disabilities out of sight.

As a society we have bought into so many assumptions about disability , including that people with severe disabilities should be out of sight and that looking at them is uncomfortable, that we’ve designed our social structure in a way that does just that.

It most certainly affects how we provide resources for people with disabilities. We don’t provide enough transportation or assistance to people with “severe disabilities” so that they can be in or out in the community. And then we conclude that they cannot be out in the community. So we don’t need to provide resources for them to be out in the community. And on and on.

What it’s about is this: if your disability doesn’t prevent you from getting there by yourself (just like the rest of us able bodied folk), then you’re on one side of the line. If not, you’ve crossed a line of “severe disability”.

How often I hear the phrase “You’re welcome if you can you get yourself there” as if I am an object to be transported and delivered to a destination. I feel like issuing myself a UPS label and asking “Would you like that to be 2 day delivery or overnight?” (I swear one day I’m going to drive myself to a party and arrive like that before a befuddled hostess.)

In reality, it’s often an access issue that involves transportation, not the disability, that determines if a person with a disability is out of sight. Unless you have enough money to pay someone to transport you or are married, related or befriended to an able bodied person who is willing and available to transport you , you can become “out of sight” simply by having no transportation access. Because poverty often accompanies disability (again due to the way we set up resources) lack of access to transportation often accompanies disability. By putting the onus on the person with a disability to get there by himself or herself, we practice exclusion in the most heinous way. We don’t say it’s because of the disability. Yet the outcome is that the person cannot “get himself there”.

By keeping people with disabilities out of sight, society continues to support its expectation that most of the people one sees will be nondisabled. Yet, I assure you, if the proper resources were allocated, that would no longer be the case.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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