Should I have to defend my disability?

Hello! Bonjour! Hola! Ola! Ciao!

The namesake for this blog, the ‘TFL please offer me a seat‘ badge, was created to recognise invisible disabilities and the additional support those suffering with them may need at times. We are seeing more and more instances everyday of companies working hard to recognise invisible disabilities. Things like inclusive bathroom signs are springing up everywhere from Morrisons and Asda, to forward thinking football clubs (well done, Hibernian FC!)

But what about the rest of the general population? How are we working as a society to educate them?

A few days ago I was at a tube station waiting on the platform for the lift, because I struggle to take the stairs. A little old lady tottered over to wait and as she stood there she said something that I couldn’t quite make out because I had headphones on. I removed my headphones, smiled and she repeated herself, “Don’t be so lazy, take the stairs!” More than a little shocked I couldn’t even get the words out to defend myself. She made a flash judgement based on looking at me for a brief moment in time and decided that her opinion was worth sharing.  In that moment I felt ashamed; ashamed of my disability, ashamed of my desperate need to use the lift, but mostly ashamed that I couldn’t speak up for myself.

I made my way home and was able to think of little else than the lady’s words for the following hours. Defending yourself is something you become accustomed to when you have a hidden condition, but it doesn’t make it any easier or mean that sometimes I’m not lost for words.

Defending comes in different forms; sometimes its limping a little more obviously when I know there are people watching me go into the accessible bathroom. Or making sure to have my walking stick front and centre – whether I needed it that particular moment or not – to ‘validate’ my disability to the able-bodied people on the train/bus so someone would give up their seat (pre-badge). But why should I have to defend myself? Why don’t we instead educate everyone that it is absolutely fine to be inquisitive, but it is not always acceptable to pass judgement or impart your views.

I feel strongly that it is essential we curate an open minded society that is understanding and accepting of disabilities. No two people are born the same and the sooner that we collectively realise this – and this extends beyond just acceptance of disabilities – the better for everyone.  If we carry this open minded approach into everything we do, everyday, we could stand a chance of making a difference.

We must stop these negative thought patterns and this distrusting rhetoric, that is often perpetuated by the media. We must break the assumptions that a person is lazy or “faking” because they don’t meet some mental expectation of what a disabled person should look like. By changing our thoughts, we can in turn change our actions. Every small change we can make – from inclusive bathroom signs to blue badges – will have a positive impact on someone somewhere.

If there could be one thing I could ask society for, it would be to please stop judging my disability by it’s visibility. It’s hurtful. Until you stop, we will continue to desperately need more schemes like the ‘TFL please offer me a seat’ blue badge. Working hard to spread consciousness of the various shapes, sizes and abilities that disabilities come in. So that, maybe some day in the not so distant future, people who suffer from invisible disabilities can get the social support they need to live their lives as comfortably as the rest of the population.

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2 thoughts on “Should I have to defend my disability?”

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