Zara Todd : Have you always been disabled?

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If I had a pound for every time someone asked me this question or a less polite version such as what’s wrong with you? Have you always been like this? Were you born in a wheelchair? I would be a millionaire.

Now I know people are curious about disability (even if I don’t really get why) but do we really need a superhero like origin story can’t we just exist? While I generally humour the disability questions, providing people are politely I’m not going to lie it is irritating.

However recently Ive begun to realise all of these ‘origin’ questions are intensely personal and potentially traumatic. While seemingly most of the questions have yes or no answers in reality the conversation doesn’t stop there. For the majority of disabled people it’s either unclear when we acquired our impairments or the result of a traumatic experience. Meaning the answer to ‘have you always been disabled?’ becomes no or I don’t know. These answers invariably lead to more questions or an expectation of an explanation. I was trying to think of similarly personal question and the best I could come up with was why did you get divorced? Whilst some would ask the majority would let the affected party direct the conversation.

Despite having my impairments as long as I can remember and therefore the questions about my impairment for almost as long, until recently I didn’t really feel like I had any option but to answer. In part feeling compelled to answer questions about my impairment comes from growing up in systems which depend on that information to judge my eligibility for support combined with me being the first ‘severely’ disabled person in many of the environments I’ve accessed. However I now question how that information being disclosed to all and sundry has aided me. Yes as someone with support some people need to know what support I need but is do impairment labels or my history communicate my needs… Not fully.

I suspect it has taken longer for me to take ownership of my right not to disclose my ‘origin’ story because I’m a woman as often the refusal to disclose information is often seen as being aggressive regardless of how polite the denial.

I’m not against talking about impairment or disability in fact if we talked about them more maybe the novelty factor would wear off, however I believe that disabled people should have control over their own story and who they disclose it to.

Surely there are much more interesting conversations to be had.

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Zara ToddZara Todd has been involved in young peoples and disability rights since she was 12 and has worked both in the UK and internationally trying to increase the voice of young disabled people.
Zara is currently chair of Inclusion London, a Deaf and disabled people’s organisation supporting Deaf and Disabled people’s organisation in London. She is an active member of the European Network on Independent Living running several trainings for young disabled people from across Europe.
She can be contacted at @toddles23
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One response »

  1. Yip, there are much more interesting conversations to be had Zara! Great piece. I certainly wouldn’t appreciate an univited conversation with anyone about potentially traumatic life events or issues. I think you’re right that there is an added dimension to being a woman and finding the resolve to refuse the expectation of “politeness”.

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