This week a man and his wife died because of the social constructs around disability. In Syracuse, NY the Myatt’s met the end of their lives at the front of a train. The husband felt that his wife’s life was no longer worth living, and so he walked his wife onto the train tracks.
The first piece that I read about this murder-suicide was one which framed their deaths as a love story. The final line was “They died as they lived. Together.”
This whole situation, from the deaths to the bad reporting could have been avoided if society handled disability in a much better way. If instead of devaluing disabled lives, society assumed that disabled lives are worth living.
Alas, that is not the world I live in.
I live in a world where I am told by total strangers that they would kill themselves if they went blind. I live in a world where physician assisted suicide is a slippery slope, leading from assisting those with terminal illnesses to a peaceful death, to allowing families to make decisions for people with disabilities about the lives they wish to lead.
I live in a world where pro-choice activists use the exsistence of tests for disabilities as a reason that we need abortion to be legal. I live in a world where my parents were told that they could “have another one”, and give me up.
I want to live in a world where disabled lives are valued, and where the fact that I live my life without regret is not something that seems shocking. Your first question to a person with a disability should never be “but how can you live like that?”
Because we don’t choose this life. It chooses us. For better or worse, I am a half blind, half deaf woman who lives with chronic pain. I am an activist not because I choose it, but because merely living my life, and supporting others who live their lives is considered radical.
Living the disabled life means making hard choices, it means valuing the lives of your brothers and sisters who also life this life above being “normal”. April was the first month that my husband and I lived in our new home, it was also Autism Awareness Month. When one of my neighbors brought over a blue lightbulb for us to show our support of people with autism, I ultimately chose not to put it in front of our home. Not because that was easy, but because that was right. Autism Speaks does not speak for my autistic friends, and therefore I cannot represent them on my home. Even if it was easy, it wouldn’t be right.
I value the lives of all people with disabilities, even if I cannot imagine what it is like to live them. I value them, because if I don’t, who will? Society tells us that we don’t marry, that we don’t have children. We do all of those things. We run, we dance, we fight, and we recognize injustice when we see it.
I am a disabled feminist, I am a disabled woman who is pro-choice, I am a disabled woman who practices religion, and I am a disabled woman who believes in the value of all lives, regardless of how they are lived.
Please remember this the next time you see me walking down the street with a cane, following my friends using electric scooters. Remember this the next time that you see someone talking candidly about mental illness.
Even if you don’t know how you would live our lives, know that you would. You would find yourself learning how to live with mental illness, or paralysis, or Deafness. You would adapt. Trust me. I know.
We do it because that’s who we are.