Disability as a Strength?

So, hi, everyone! Did you miss me popping in here to complain about yucky icky ableism? If so, you’re in luck! If not, you’ve been warned.
So, here’s the thing. I work in tech accessibility. And there’s someone I work with, for more precisely, who has been on a mission recently promoting this idea of “accessibility as a strength.” His premise is that rather than falling back into the societal prevailing narrative that people with disabilities have limitations and weaknesses, we need to view disability as a strength. Or, put in his own words, “You see, that’s another way disability is ACTUALLY a strength.” I picture him doing a self-congratulatory mic drop every time he says this.
Here’s why it’s awkward to be in the room, (Zoom or otherwise), when this line of discourse commences.
First, it’s just weird to have a disability and to hear able-bodied people talking about disability as if it is this thing outside of the space we are all currently sharing. I feel a tension around “people with disabilities” as this amorphous group of anonymous people that we need to be thinking about but that are not living and breathing right here in this room. “I’m here!” I want to yell. Except that then, I will have to speak, and when I am called on to speak in a room of able-bodied people, I feel like I’m being asked to embody a radically diverse community. All I am is blind. Disability encompasses so much more than that. So I feel stuck in between silence and speech.
Secondly, I feel frustrated with the binary of strength or weakness. Yes, it’s important to look at disability through a frame other than weakness. But the default alternative does not have to be strength. The alternative could simply be another shade in the tapestry of lived human diversity and experience. I’d argue that line of thinking should be the default, not the framing of strength versus weakness.
I hope in my lifetime we will experience advancements in hiring, to the point where people with disabilities are known and represented inside and outside the workplace. Where we are a regular part of visible life in those workplaces, and our disabilities are not singled out in big speeches but acknowledged as part of day to day life.

4 thoughts on “Disability as a Strength?

  1. Yes, this is sort of (but not exactly) like a white person asking a single person of color to speak for all people of color. Or asking the only Jew in the room to represent “the Jewish people”. Not that you’re being asked to respond, but you feel both “othered ”, and then “superheroed” by a person who has no understanding of your experience. It’s a kind of condescension that allows the speaker to feel like he’s being compassionate and magnanimous, when he’s actually displaying his feeling of innate superiority. But then, you said it so much more succinctly than I have. Thank you, Lauren.

  2. I agree that strength versus weakness is not necessarily a binary thing! It’s more like an ebb and flow and/or an interconnectedness of what we can do, how we do things and what we manage to do. I will assume that fellow whom you quoted here (and others saying similar things) are well intentioned BUT so many questions come to mind through a broad-stroke utterance like that! More questions than answers. Well, I think it’s good to go back to stories like the ant and the grasshopper (an Aesop’s fable?). The grasshopper is supposedly faster and stronger but the ant is diligent and purposeful. Hence the ant is better prepared for winter. Or the tortoise and the hare; the hare can obviously get to the finish line sooner but is prone to laziness or foolishness along the way. Meanwhile, the tortoise has a slow path to go, but is consistent and gets where he’s going with greater reliability.. I think readers will get my drift here and connect the dots further so I won’t keep spelling it all out! Anyway, Lauren, once again you give readers fresh insights into common misconceptions. Thank you.

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