Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Discussion: Privilege and Disabilities

Happy for vacation! 
For the past few weeks I have been away in Jersey for vacation. I will not deny that I know I'm lucky to be able to afford to fly to New York but it is something I like to keep private. I have always kept my privilege in check or in other words, I admit to the privilege I have and I rarely talk about it to others. But as I sat at one of the iPad hubs in LaGuardia Airport, I overheard a conversation between two women. While it isn't necessarily a big aspect of this post, I would like to point out that these two women were Caucasian and at least in their late thirties (their age is something I am guessing based on their conversation I heard).

Anyways, they were discussing students and how they wanted to help the students who were incredibly bright but were often held back from the work they were required to do. One of the women's students was so bright that he would often finish one classes work well ahead of time and would often be left to do nothing else. I thought that this was a great conversation to have until they began talking about disabilities. One of the women was talking about a speech impediment a news anchor (or some job in the broadcast business; I didn't clearly hear it) had. According to the woman, he had a lisp that would often make the woman frustrated because while she could understand him, it baffled her that he couldn't just go and get help for the lisp. Then the conversation went onto about how the other woman had a mechanic who had a lisp and then a child of a friend who had another type of speech impediment.
This made me stop reading my book and pause. At first I thought that yes, the broadcaster should go and get some help for his lisp...but then I stopped. Who was I to decide that this broadcaster or the mechanic or a child should go and get help for something that I had a problem with? What if these people couldn't afford the help they didn't specifically need but could get to change something about them? Who the heck was I to say "Hey, you can get some help for that lisp because it would make me happier."

It made me think of privilege and disabilities and what people do and don't consider "socially appropriate." And how exactly could we change the way people think so that a disability, no matter what disability it is, isn't considered that person's flaw? For the purpose of this blog and because I usually talk about books, diversity in books. If we could have more books that showed characters with disabilities that didn't disable them then maybe we can change the way people think.

People with disabilities are people first and foremost. Their disability doesn't define who they are. It's their actions and feelings and what they say that matters. It doesn't matter if this person has a lisp or stutters or is in a wheelchair; they are people and deserve the same amount of respect as anyone how doesn't have disabilities.

In the end, these two women left before I did because I was so upset with their conversation. Yet the most shocking aspect of this conversation was the lack of awareness these two women had. They honest to goodness thought that what they were saying was relevant and right. They honestly thought that what they wanted to change about these people to fulfill their own desires was the right thing to do.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need diversity in books. We need to see teenagers and adults and just characters with disabilities who aren't defined by them. We need to show all people that no one needs to change or should be asked to change so that our personal wishes are granted.

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