Today is B.A.D.D.: and i’ve been racking my brains for the last couple of weeks, trying to come up with a subject to blog about. This is part of the problem of doing this every year – you eventually run out of subjects, especially when you think about your disabilities as little as i think about them.
However, each time i’ve thought about it i’ve come repeatedly back to a post by Goldfish, not written as part of B.A.D.D. (although it could’ve been), but well before this, on Susan Boyle. And since many many words have been written about Susan Boyle in the blogosphere, and in the media, i’m not going to add to them. But still… her post, and a couple other posts she linked to, troubles me.
What was it she said?
However, it is fair to say that the same thing happens to other disabled people all the time. We aren’t admired for the talents we happen to have or the things we happen to do, and we aren’t respected just for ourselves. We are admired and respected because we defy expectations. Expectations being so low, most of us defy them at least some of the time. When we fail to do so for some reason, we are no longer afforded the basic respect to which everyone is entitled.”
We’re admired and respected because we defy expectations. And that admiration, that respect, is another form of disabilism.
This makes me think. See, i’m deaf. Severely deaf: for the hearing people out there, my deafness is such that i can stand next to the speakers at a nightclub without my hearing aids quite happily, i can hear the music but it doesn’t – pun unintended – deafen me. Its not uncomfortable for me in the way that it probably would be for people who’s ears are working perfectly (The vibrations from said speaker, however, is another thing altogether).
However, i’ve worn hearing aids almost all my life – since they discovered i was deaf when i was 4 – very powerful hearing aids. I was brought up in a hearing family, an only child, and my parents devoted a lot of time to both teaching me to use my hearing aids to the full, but also to speaking clearly. I had speech therapy for much of my early life. This means that now, if you were to meet me, unless you were specifically aware of such things, there’s a reasonably good chance you wouldn’t even know i was deaf. My speech is – mostly – that of a hearing person, there’s just a few sounds i have trouble reproducing (And this brings its own problems, but that’s not for discussion here).
Because of this, when people realise i’m deaf, they often compliment me on my speech. And me, being a well brought up young lady (as my mother would say), would thank them for the compliment and go on my merry way.
But now, Goldfish’s blog has made me stop and think about this. About the attitude behind such a compliment. The expectation is that as a deaf person, i shouldn’t speak – or at least, i shouldn’t speak very well. Is this a reasonable expectation to have? Is having expectations of someone who is disabled a good thing? I’m trying now to put myself outside of my own knowledge of deafness.. asking myself: ‘if i saw someone in a wheelchair get up and walk, would i compliment them on their ability to do so?’. I have to say, my answer is no, but then… again, i’m somewhat better.. educated on the reasons that people might use a wheelchair than the average joe public might be. There comes the point where you ask yourself too: is this a reasonable opinion to hold, or am i being oversensitive?
But then, I certainly wouldn’t compliment someone in a wheelchair who’d just gotten up and walked on their walking ability because such a compliment is patronising in the extreme. I can *see* that, even without the knowledge that some people might use wheelchairs because although they can walk, they suffer from, say, fatigue related issues that mean that they can often do more if they take to a wheelchair for part of their day.
So really.. is complimenting someone for being able to speak well despite their deafness really any different?
So then the issue, for me, becomes… when someone does compliment me in such a way.. how do i respond?
I could educate them on their disabilism. I’m not sure this would get me anywhere since a) people often don’t want to hear about this because it makes them feel bad and b) do i really have to do this? I mean.. it is not my personal responsibility to go around correcting the world’s opinions and viewpoints on disability, or even on my own disability. This is something else Goldfish has touched on, today, in her post on “A living, learning experience“:
Well, I know a few things now, but I am not duty-bound to teach. I am not obliged to spend my life answering inappropriate questions or confronting ignorance whenever it arises.
Yes, of course, if i want to – if the person expressing such a viewpoint is someone i consider a friend, then yes, i probably would put the time and effort in anyway. If it was someone i didn’t know well, or was never likely to see again, then i could be quite rude, i suppose. But then, i’m not that kind of person: i have to be very angry to be rude to someone, and even then i often berate myself for it later.
So i’m not quite sure how i would respond. Maybe “thankyou very much” is a cop-out, but for someone who you don’t know well, perhaps someone who has indirect power over you (e.g. the boss’s wife), perhaps someone who you might never see again… maybe its the easier way out. Is there any shame in taking that easier route?
“I am not duty bound to teach. I am not obliged to spend my life answering inappropriate questions or confronting ignorance whenever it arises.”
Words to remember, for me, at least.