Of Disability and Gratitude

The disabled are supposed to feel gratitude. Not once in awhile as when, without asking, someone who’s short is helped by a taller human in a supermarket, but always, especially when we’re in public. This is the thick of it.

I do not speak for all the disabled. I can’t speak for “the blind” whoever they are. I won’t tackle vast and abstract gratitudes or their opposites. But let’s imagine that you, a man or woman going about your business are told by word and gesture you’re lucky to be among others and this is a daily matter.

Of luck I know little like most Americans. I tend to think it concerns others and conceive of my fortunes as the consequences of sloth or industry but either way I’m a rootin’ tootin’ pull up his own bootstraps fantasist until I find myself in a foxhole. This is an excellent description of white privilege. It’s also a perfect example of what the disabled call “the super crip”–a deluded but addictive mindset that says you’re better than those other disabled. Super Crip says: “look I wrote a book!”; ‘I’m in a movie!”; “I’m a Washington insider!”; “I climbed a mountain, and you can too!”

Never mind that only one in four college students with a disability actually graduates or that 70 per cent of the disabled remain unemployed and are living in poverty in the US. Certainly you shouldn’t think too much about the dreadful ableism in education, employment, transportation, social services, medicine and health insurance.

This is the problem: if you succeed as a disabled citizen you’re likely going to stand out and the matter becomes central for strangers who think its novel and inspiriting that a man or woman with a guide dog has come to their business meeting. You stand for the possibility of disability inclusion even if the latter is still a dream. In your boxy little noggin you’re thinking “I made it here just like the rest of you even if the deck was stacked against me! Can’t you see? I pulled myself up by my Tony Lama bootstraps!” And they don’t see it because you’re lucky to be among them and aren’t they liberal for having you and someone leans close and says loudly so the others can hear: “We’re so fortunate to have you with us!”

You? Feel the gratitude! Slurp it down. Dribble some down your chin.

The gratitude mechanism is sentimental ableism and you’re supposed to think of your specialness.

Forget all those others out in the street.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

One thought on “Of Disability and Gratitude”

  1. Thanks for this. I experience this in the brain injury community. “I wrote a book about my injury and therefore you can too.” Usually, they are folks who have had their injury within two years of writing their book. And the brain recovery folks applaud and say how far these brain injured folks have come. Then they look at the rest of us, as if we are all slackers.


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