Let’s All Try to Stop Policing Those Who Claim to be Disabled

For anyone tuning in to find Part 2 of my special feature on private disability insurance, please have patience,

and tune in next week.

Last week was full of appointments which repeatedly demanded more of my body than I had to spare. It wore me down, and I finally admitted to my partner that he’s right; it is well past time that I get a wheelchair. There are too many situations that I’ve had to avoid or leave early from, when having a chair could have helped. My partner has been suggesting this purchase for a while now, but it took me a long time for me to come to terms with how right he is.

I’ve done a lot of reflection about what’s been holding me back. I’ve found that most of it is fear of having my decision to use a wheelchair policed by my friends and family, strangers on the street, and even myself. It’s sad; I’ve been missing out on opportunities to get out of my house, to have real dates, see friends, and do things like go on tours, long walks, or even go to dance parties. I hate knowing that it is primarily other people’s self-righteous judgment, verbal abuse, and inability to give people the benefit of the doubt, which has all been keeping me from getting the mobility aid which could unlock all these adventures for me.

I don’t know why we do it, but I’d like to ask everyone who reads this to think long and hard, the next time you find yourself questioning someone who calls themself disabled, or makes use of technologies or accommodations for the disabled, wondering whether they’re “really disabled” or “disabled enough” to need that accommodation.

I do it too. When I see an apparently-able-bodied person leaving a handicap stall in the bathroom, I am reflexively outraged. When I see someone park a car in a handicap spot, I find myself assuming it’s an able-bodied “perk thief” taking the spot, until I see a handicap placard or plate. If I see a person who is limping, and they suddenly switch which leg they are limping with, my first thought is, “Faker!”

But here’s the thing. Nobody should have to be answerable to me, to prove to me that they are actually sick or disabled. They don’t have to demonstrate that they are deserving of whatever mobility aid or parking spot or bathroom stall they want to use. It’s none of my business.

Of course I know that if we all cut people more slack, it will allow for some abuse of the systems. Sometimes, able-bodied people are going to use the things meant for the disabled, and no one will be speaking up to stop them. Without hesitation, I would say that’s a worthwhile trade-off, as long as the abuses stay within reason.

Nearly every time I park my car in a handicap spot, I am greeted by one or more shouts, from disabled and able-bodied folk alike of, “That’s a handicap spot!” I don’t always have the energy to spare to shout back, “That’s why I parked there! I’m handicapped!” I’ve learned to arm myself for these encounters by exiting my car cane-first, since that effectively shuts down disability policing. But I shouldn’t have to.

I know that getting a wheelchair is going to make for shouts and whispers about how I’m clearly faking. When I stand up, fold my wheelchair up, and use my legs to get into my car, I expect to have to deal with ignorant “do-gooders” who think it’s their job to let me know I’m just pretending, just because I don’t “look sick.” I’m steeling myself for those reactions, and I think I’m ready, but I’d love it if I didn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to.

Please, do what you can to check your own impulse to police the disabled. It’s not easy to unlearn these assumptions and habits, but I have started to, so I know it’s possible. Also, if you have the energy to spare, try to speak up and educate the next person you hear saying someone is faking or exaggerating illness or disability, or gaming the system. You could help make life a little easier and emotionally safer for people like me. That would mean a lot; we already have too much suffering on our plates. Thank you in advance.

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