I have a confession to make.
I am an ableist.
Yeah, that's right, Spaz Girl, Miss Out-and-Proud-Disabled, Miss Cripple Power, is an ableist.
It's a dirty little secret of mine. It's a little voice in the back of my head that I carry around with me all day, and can't get rid of, no matter how hard I try. A voice that says things like "You're not really disabled.", "You're just making excuses.", "You don't need those crutches/that scooter/this accommodation/that accommodation.", "You're exaggerating your disability.", "Who knows? Maybe the doctor's diagnosis was wrong all these years and you've just been faking for the last 18 years.". It's a little devil on my shoulder telling me that I'm not worthy to be a crip.
My little ableist friend makes me feel inadequate, shamed, and embarrassed almost everywhere we go. I try to keep him gagged, but every once in awhile, he spits out the gag and starts struggling against his bonds, demanding to be free. He reared his ugly head just a few days ago, when I failed a math project that involved measuring, drawing, folding, and visualizing 3D images - all things that I have trouble doing because of my CP. When I approached the professor about it, she mentioned that I should've come to her before about it. I stood there wishing I could sink into the floor while my little ableist friend laughed maniacally on my shoulder. How could I explain to her that I didn't want to come off as making excuses on the basis of my disability? How could I explain that I had already talked to her about another project (this one involving using a drawing compass), and didn't want to be demeaned for "seeking special treatment" in the class? How could I possibly explain that my little ableist friend had convinced me that I could do it, that it really wasn't as bad as I was making it out to be?
It sounded absurd, even in my head. But that's what my little ableist friend does - he takes the absurd, fuses it with some self-doubt and shame, and twists it around so it almost kind of sort of makes sense. And if I listen to him too long, I start to believe him. He takes all my insecurities about being "mildly" disabled that have been hard-wired in me since I was little and exploits them. He makes me feel like a fraud.
It's because of my little ableist friend that I grew up alone, never knowing other people like me, never having any disabled role models, never knowing that there was a whole other world out there. My parents were duped into thinking that I was "too mild" for activities designed for disabled kids. Even when I started attending a camp for kids with physical disabilities when I was 13, I was one of the only ones with my level of mobility and independence, and I could hear my little ableist friend in the back of my head, telling me I didn't belong. I eventually silenced him enough to discover I really did belong, and the six summers I spent at camp were absolutely amazing to a level I can't describe. But every once in awhile, even at camp, my little ableist friend would return. People make assumptions based on the fact that I don't "look" that disabled, and that's my little ableist friend's ideal breeding ground. Every time someone makes an assumption about how far I can walk, how much I can stand, what (if any) mobility aids I should be using, he pops up to accuse me of being lazy and taking advantage of my disability to get special treatment.
My little ableist friend is a chorus of all the voices that have shamed me over the years for being who I am. He is a reflection of a society that worships physical strength and beauty, a society that puts labels like "brave" and "inspirational" on anyone who pushes themselves through pain and/or fatigue to walk that extra step, run that extra mile, climb that extra mountain. Well, I'm sorry, but I don't want to spend my whole life in pain, trying not to complain, knowing people will see me as weak. It's a constant battle against my little ableist friend, a battle I fight every hour of every day. It's bad enough when I have to face other people's judgments and opinions, but when I start to internalize them....that's the scary part.
I am an ableist. That is not easy for me to admit. So here I am, exposing my little ableist friend to the public, hoping that in the harsh glare of the Internet, he will wither and die. It's a far-fetched hope, I know, but hey, I can dream. Maybe you know exactly what I'm talking about. Maybe you have a little ableist friend of your own. If you do, my heart goes out to you. Please know that you are not alone in this internal fight, you are not the only one fighting it. Perhaps if we band together, we can defeat our little ablelist friends together.