Out in public, I have two roles: the performative disabled person and the person that fads into the background.
What I mean by “performative disabled person” is when people supersize my disability so it becomes all that they see. They project their biases and ideas about disabled people on to me. It is a common occurrence in doctors and people who work in the service fields. They are coming from a place of helping and so most of the time, I don’t bother to correct their assumptions. I become an actress, molding myself into their perspective of me. This type of othering is easier (and almost preferable) to the type of othering I will talk about in a moment.
The other type is what I like to call fading. Fading is when one’s disability causes them to fade from thought or consideration. Fading is perpetuated most often be well meaning friends and family. Fading is what caused me to be left in an airport because they didn’t think I could keep up (not to worry, they came back). With fading, there is friction — kinda of like when the screen pixelates causing one to see some of the picture but not all of it. There was friction when a friend commented on my lack of cane to mean that I was feeling better. Friction when I felt left out of my friend group because I was given accommodations which was a blessing, but it disrupted our plan to sit together. A combination of fading and friction presents itself in media when the disabled character is grateful to be seen as themselves (often meaning sans disability). History supports it with disabilities fading from view. Anyone from Harriet Tubman to FDR. Their disabilities are forgotten to history as much as the daily details of their lives. And its shame that we don’t get to see them for the whole person that they were. I hope that doesn’t happen to me, regardless of whether or not I end up in history books.
If my life was a movie and there was a point where I could jump in with a grand realization that everyone would listen to, it would be this: Seeing me means seeing my disability as a part of the way that I exist in the world. See my cane. See my braces. See the way that my body moves sometimes weirdly. See me.
Because maybe if we did not hide disability or try to forgot about it, maybe we would end up with less moments like this:
Internalized shame is something that disabled people have to work through their whole lives because the lies that tell us disability is something to be ashamed of creep into our heads. Pleading with us not to talk about our disabilities will not make them go away, but it will certainly cause us to retreat inside ourselves. Meaning the world is left without another expression of how people exist in the world and that itself is a shame.