On Tuesday a 7-year old looked up at me and said “Mrs. Henry, I feel bad that you have a blind eye.”
And for a moment, I wasn’t sure how to respond.
“I’m okay, though. You don’t need to feel bad. This is just how I am and I’m okay with that” I say, ushering him out the door of the classroom where I tutor twice a week. His classmates are bustling out the door and he just keeps repeating “yeah, but I feel bad.”
When I started in this classroom, my students didn’t have judgements on my disability. When I started in the classroom, they would ask me how I got it, they’d ask me how I got around without a guide dog – questions that were invasive (see: 7 year olds), but harmless in my opinion because they’re kids, they’re curious and I’m a New Kind of Person that most of them haven’t interacted with before
So what happened?
I don’t know. I can only make guesses. I can only assume that he told his parents he had a new blind tutor. I can only assume the pat responses which got handed to him to make up his odd, sweet, but pretty hurtful comment. There’s some empathy there, I think. Overall, though, there’s a sense that he now feels sorry for me in some way.
There’s a sense that he has begun the process of learning to pity people with disabilities.
Now, this may seem like a long jump to some, but this is why I have an issue with The Mighty.
A few weeks back, I and a number of other disability advocates, bloggers, and members of the community participated in #CrippingtheMighty on twitter. We aired grievances, we talked about how The Mighty could do better, after fallout from a particular post about Autism Meltdown Bingo sparked yet another outburst of frustration from all of us. If you’d like to read about what happened there, here’s a breakdown at the Washington Post.
And The Mighty looked poised to respond. They started to follow me on twitter, and I know they emailed and spoke with a bunch of people I know and trust. At the time, I was annoyed that they hadn’t taken the time to speak with me, but now?
Now I know they truck in pity and inspiration, and have no actual interest in working with us, because of what those who did speak with them have experienced. Cara Liebowitz took the time to have a phone call with the editors of The Mighty, and in response to her sharing her thoughts about what they could do better with other Mighty contributors in their closed facebook group and as a result, she got banned.
I believe in nothing about us without us.
The reason that the Autism Bingo post particularly caused such a stir was that there has always been a certain level of discord between adults with disabilities and parents without disabilities who parent disabled children. Much of the strife over at The Mighty has to do with the parents of children with disabilities writing about their children online – and identifying themselves as their children’s voices.
And do you know what I see people saying about those parents? When they overshare their child’s bathroom stories? When they talk about how upsetting it is that their child is nonverbal?
People all across the internet pity those parents. They feel badly that they have a disabled child. It isn’t just about inspiration porn in this case, but about “Oh, look at how hard it is to raise a disabled child. Look at how upsetting it is. Poor me.”
These are the things which make parents say to their children “It’s so sad that she’s blind!” or “She must have had a very hard time when she was your age.”
And The Mighty isn’t listening.
The Mighty would rather lift up voices of people who *aren’t* disabled, people who overshare and violate their children’s privacy, all for clicks on a website which purports to represent me, and other disabled folks.
The Mighty does not represent me. It does not represent my interests of equality, of no shame, of no pity.
It’s pity when you tell a person with a disability not to call themselves disabled because it makes an able bodied person feel uncomfortable.
It’s pity which drives a person to grab my hand as I’m trying to cross the street by myself
It’s pity and that’s not the venue through which I choose to live my life. I want more for myself, more for the children with disabilities growing up now, more for those who are ahead of me, and more for my peers.
We’re headed into an election season, and no pity from my President. What I want is accountability, what I want is equal access. What I want is for the tectonic plates of society to shift so that I can go out in public, and not feel like someone is watching me, and feeling badly that I am not like them.