I recently sat down with a friend and listened to them complain about failing to find a job. No problems with that, I am always more than willing to offer a listening ear to anyone who wants to talk, rant, vent about whatever. What particularly caught my attention at this point in the conversation was when this person started venting about how the companies they have called up looking for a job only employ people with disabilities. This person went on to express how this was unfair because they were more than ready to start working. I was gobsmacked to say the very least. I tried to explain that some organizations have a equal opportunity policy in place but that fell on deaf ears. All I could then say was “keep looking, I am sure you will find something soon.”
I sat there in disbelief, trying to process what I had just heard. An able-bodied person complaining that there are organizations that only employ people with disabilities. WOW!!!! That night I was not felling well. I had a sore throat and I really did not feel like talking as my throat felt like it was on fire otherwise I would have schooled them on their ignorance.
Ok let me step aside and take myself out of the picture for a moment. Here’s a person who is obviously frustrated at not being able to find a job and wondering why the organizations they have been calling up won’t employ them yet they can do the job? *sounds too familiar* When I look at it from this person’s perspective, I now understand what was going through their head. I can empathize with them only to a certain extent because whilst our struggles may be similar, they are in fact very different. I cannot fully empathize with this person though we are both looking for jobs, because whilst I am limited to the type of jobs I can do, this person is not. In fact this person has privilege that I do no have.
You see contrary to popular belief not having a disability is a privilege in itself. You have the privilege to apply for any jobs you want. You have the privilege to go wherever you want without having to worry about whether there’s a ramp or not. You have the privilege to buy clothes that fit you, the privilege to buy shoes that don’t hurt your feet. The privilege to play sport. The privilege to travel without facing any challenges at all. The privilege to do certain things without actually thinking much about it. The privilege to pursue your dreams knowing that there’s nothing standing in your way or holding you back. You don’t have to endure the constant stares from people when you walk down the street. You don’t have to answer the ever so annoying “what happened to you?” question. You don’t have to deal with people treating you like a child.
The sooner able bodied people understood this, the sooner life would be much better for us because there would be no discrimination or ill treatment of people with disabilities. Rather able bodied people will wake up one day and realise what privilege they enjoy in life, privilege they have by virtue of not being born with a disability, privilege that some of us can only but dream of. This might be difficult for some people to digest. Some will argue that they face discrimination in their lives- in the workplace, for being a woman, for being a black person so therefore they do not have this privilege I speak of. I want to make it clear that these are legitimate claims of discrimination because this kind of discrimination happens all around me all the time. However truth be told as hard as it may be to accept, being able bodied gives you privilege that I can never have. No amount of positive talk or positive thinking can ever give me access to that privilege. It is just the way life was designed.
Being disabled is a hand I never chose to be dealt, but it is a hand I have to play because there is no alternative.
To anyone reading this who may be struggling to accept or understand how able bodied people have privilege, I pose this challenge to you. The next time you see a person with a disability, try to put yourself in their shoes and see life from their eyes. For example if the person is on a wheelchair or using crutches, think about how they have limited mobility and in most cases they have to depend on someone else for transport yet you can walk and move without any assistance-that in itself is privilege.
I am really interested to hear people’s opinions on this topic so don’t hesitate to comment and share your thoughts.