Everyone now: Put your crutches in the air!


So as of May 14, I am newly employed. It’s a position in a children’s retail chain and I am working at the register and on the sales floor. It offers benefits and opportunities to work full-time and for advancement. It is known for its respect for the work-life balance of eployees. The discount is good. Basically, it’s a good job and I’m lucky to have it.

There’s only one problem: I can’t do it without accomodations.

Yes, I know that it’s illegal for them to fire me for that reason and the adjustments needed are very minor in my case. Still, I’m nervous about asking. I’m new there and the economy sucks and I get those nagging doubts. Why hire me when they can hire someone that has no disability?

Well, I know what to ask for and how to ask it. Chances are, my employer will grant it and all will be well.

But wait, the story doesn’t stop there.

I know that, in school and in the workplace, I need accomodations and I have no problem asserting myself in that respect. When it comes to my personal relationships, you would think it would be easier. You would think they would “get” you and that as a friend, they would want to help you. That’s not always the case, especially with parents.

My mother never could accept that I was handicapped and rarely gave me the support and tools I needed to do well. She seemed to think that if she yelled loud enough and forced me to live up to her expectations that I could pull myself up by the bootstraps.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that disabled people could…well…stop being disabled if they tried hard enough and if we put enough pressure on them. People would tell me that in life, somtimes I need to “adapt and adjust” and if I can do that, I will be fine.

Well, if I were capable of “adapting and adjusting,” you dumb bitches, I wouldn’t be here. It wouldn’t be a disability if I could just stop doing what’s holding me back. What part is “disability” do people not get?

Another thing that bothers me is the constant pressure put on disabled people to “beat the odds.” If you are at all physically and mentally capable of doing something, you should be doing it and constantly striving to do it better. It doesn’t matter how much it takes out of you or how likely it is to result in success.

Most often, I hear this attitudes embodied in the following phrase: “Don’t use it as a crutch.”

In other words, if you aren’t absolutely dependent on that crutch for your very survival, you shouldn’t ever use it. And if you must use it, act appropriately ashamed.

Personally, I say who cares if someone uses a crutch, literally or metaphorically? If you need it, you need it and there should be no shame in it. If you don’t need it, but you are more confident/comfortable/fast/efficient with it, if it improves your quality of life to use it, then fucking use it! I mean, we all have some kind of “crutch.” No one is perfect. Everyone has needs and preferences, and usually, we are willing to accomodate them if the person is NOT disabled.

But anything associated with disability is a terrible taboo that must be shed at all costs, apparently.

Yeah, I know that people will “judge” me if I am seen using a crutch of any kind. But the responsibility is not mine to portray myself as able-bodied as possible. The responsibility is theirs to get a clue, get over it, and work with me as I am.

That attitude is maddeningly common in the context of disability rights, but it applies in other contexts too. If I never hear the phrase “Leave your comfort zone” again, it will be too soon. Is it important to do that somtimes? Of course. But ultimately, we have comfort zones for a reason. Comfort zones allow us to recharge and they also dictate our strengths. We can certainly develop new strengths and learn to buttress weaknesses outside of the comfort zone, but we all are give a certain set of abilities, a certain set of traits, and we do best when we can maximize those. We aren’t given them just so we can prove to others we can ignore them in the interest of “expanding our comfort zones.”

My point is that, whether you are disabled or not, the phrases “Leave your comfort zone” or “Don’t use [blank] as a crutch” are fighting words. What the person in question is really asking you, whether they realize it or not, is to deny yourself and your reality and basically to be something that you are not.

Don’t honor that request. Put your crutches in the air and raise Hell.

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One comment

  1. Patsy Nevins · May 23, 2012

    Great post, Joanna. As you know, it is very applicable to disability rights, to fat rights. What talking about disability brings most forcefully to mind is the fact that disability rights activists do not ‘make nice’, they do not ask meekly for their rights, for respect, for access. They do indeed put their crutches in the air & raise hell. They demand to be heard & to be accommodated. Now if fat activists would do that, we might get somewhere. But, no, most are too afraid of offending or alienating people, too afraid they will be sent to bed with no dinner for daring to insist on basic human rights & dignity & too damn grateful for tiny crumbs which they call ‘baby steps’. If disability activists took that approach, all of us would still be living in institutions, being considered less than fully human, & many of us would be living/dying under the crush of constant abuse. Things are not perfect by any means, abuse still happens, but disability rights, disability presence & participation in the real world on daily basis, access to most places, have come a long way. We are here, whether you like it or not, & we will not shut up & allow you to get away with treating us as if we were less than human &/or individual. Just imagine what would happen if fat people, who are an actual MAJORITY in this country rather than a minority, found the courage & the determination to speak up so honestly & uncompromisingly, to risk being a pain in the ass & being disliked! (As if we are not ALREADY widely disliked.)

    Anyway, Amen, Joanna, very well put. I raise hell every chance I get & anyone who doesn’t like it can kiss my fat, disabled ass!

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