Autistic Future
January 9th, 2018

Learn Something in 2018

Please take the time to learn some­thing about dis­abil­i­ty in 2018. There is no rea­son to think 2018 will be any less chal­leng­ing for the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty in the U.S. than 2017 was. The things that made 2017 so dif­fi­cult are large­ly unchanged. For that rea­son, it’s impor­tant to con­sid­er how to pro­tect the inter­ests of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties when prob­lems arise in the new year. One small step almost any­one can take is becom­ing more informed in 2018.

It seems para­dox­i­cal to say that pan-dis­abil­i­ty advo­ca­cy efforts have the best track record of fur­ther­ing dis­abil­i­ty rights and dis­abil­i­ty jus­tice in this coun­try, but, his­tor­i­cal­ly, they do. This is true despite the size and diver­si­ty of the group of peo­ple called dis­abled, an umbrel­la so big that it seems like an almost use­less descrip­tor at face val­ue. Peo­ple whose most sig­nif­i­cant access needs are exten­sive med­ical equip­ment to stay alive, extra time on tests until they grad­u­ate from that final aca­d­e­m­ic set­ting to reach their full poten­tial, and viable alter­na­tives to dri­ving a car to main­tain an inde­pen­dent life all fall into the category. 

Some peo­ple use ser­vice ani­mals. Oth­ers take med­ica­tion. Some strug­gle to inter­act with oth­er peo­ple. Oth­ers strug­gle to cope when they have to be alone. Some need SSI, Med­ic­aid, or both. Oth­ers are eco­nom­i­cal­ly self-suf­fi­cient and igno­rant of the details of those pro­grams. Some­one whose pri­ma­ry dis­abil­i­ty is a men­tal ill­ness may be informed about nav­i­gat­ing the rel­e­vant sys­tems of care but noth­ing about wheel­chair acces­si­bil­i­ty and vice ver­sa. These hypo­thet­i­cal peo­ple may also not think par­tic­u­lar­ly well of each other.

Peo­ple with dif­fer­ent kinds of dis­abil­i­ties do not always appre­ci­ate what we have in com­mon and the extent to which our inter­ests are shared. It is dis­tress­ing­ly com­mon for dis­abled peo­ple to hold ableist atti­tudes toward oth­ers’, or even their own, dis­abil­i­ties. Peo­ple whose pri­ma­ry dis­abil­i­ties are men­tal ill­ness or I/DD are par­tic­u­lar­ly like­ly to to face this kind of dis­crim­i­na­tion. These ideas are like­ly absorbed through con­tact with a soci­ety that deval­ues dis­abil­i­ty and dis­abled peo­ple, some more than oth­ers. Grap­pling with them is a task almost all peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties have to take on at one time or another. 

It is an essen­tial task to take on now. Despite our diver­si­ty, the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty has usu­al­ly been most able to pro­tect itself when its con­stituent parts work togeth­er, when each shows up when oth­ers need help. At the end of the day, dis­abled peo­ple are a big group. Peo­ple with any giv­en dis­abil­i­ty are a much small­er group. Because num­bers mat­ter, we fare bet­ter when we are atten­tive to each oth­er. Still, we are ill-equipped to look after each oth­er unless we know some­thing about each oth­er’s needs.

Because we may have to sup­port each oth­er’s advo­ca­cy this year, it ben­e­fits us all to learn more about each oth­er. Tak­ing time to absorb a lit­tle infor­ma­tion about a dis­abil­i­ty that isn’t yours, or your loved one’s, or the one you deal with most in pro­fes­sion­al con­texts, might be impor­tant for under­stand­ing a pol­i­cy debate lat­er. It might also be a way of grow­ing in com­pas­sion for the chal­lenges oth­ers face. It’s hard­er to judge and stereo­type, and eas­i­er to shake off unthink­ing­ly ableist atti­tudes, when we under­stand some­thing of each oth­er’s lives. The more we learn, the bet­ter, but half an hour some­time this year is far bet­ter than noth­ing. Whether you learn about pro­grams and ser­vices, assis­tive tech­nol­o­gy, or cul­ture, know­ing more about the vast range and scope of dis­abil­i­ty will make you a bet­ter advo­cate in 2018.