What is disability? Let me start with this question. Is it only something physical and visible to the eye? And do you have to have some kind of an official document confirming your disability? Can you be disabled without being diagnosed as such by a medical body? What about the non-visible disabilities? How much do they count? And where do we draw the line between what is perceived to be a “normal” state and a “disabled” state of being?
I am starting off tabula rasa. Except for the one process-oriented group of women with and without disabilities, and the fact that my own mother has been disabled for the past three and a half years, I haven’t dipped into this area. Before reading any articles, I want to explore this on my own first. To get down my thoughts and form them into some coherent sentences. I’m well aware of the fact that I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, but still – there is something about the raw and intuitive writing before rushing to drink up already confirmed knowledge or reading about what feminists in other parts of the world are doing on this issue.
So here we go: intuitively, and from my experience with my mom and the group, women with disabilities are treated differently. Their disability serves as a marker of their “otherness,” situating them outside of the “normal us.” The disability is also a clear mark of inferiority – intellectual, emotional, and physical.
In the public sphere, we become intolerable to any inconveniences caused by the disability of a woman (or a man for that matter). We prefer to exclude her from any kind of action/activity if her inclusion means we have to compromise or adapt to her needs. Their disability slows us down, diverts us from our real purpose; in short, it gets in our way in a most annoying and inconvenient way. Why can’t they just stay home and remain invisible?!
Why, indeed? Because they are us and we are them. They are not inferior to us and we are not superior to them – in any way! They are us and the we (them and us) have equal rights. To be, to live, to act in the public sphere. And if that means we have to adapt ourselves, our architecture, our fast pace, our language, our mode of existence – then that’s the way it will be. Just as we adapt and change to make room in the public sphere to other “others,” so it should be with women with disabilities – be they confirmed by an official body or not.
But what am I talking about? Our society is a very long way from recognizing the legitimacy of any “others” in the public sphere. Any “other” who inconveniences us is shunned to the margins.
In some more traditional communities, women with disabilities are shoved away, hidden in a dark corner of the house. Some, who are young and have a “light” disability, become the servants of the family.
Enough writing for one day. It is not an easy subject to write about. More later. Still don’t know what form this is taking. For now, I am posting as I write – unedited.
(c) khulud kh, June 2012