An Inconvenient Existence

Getting past a wheelchair that’s blocking the path; putting up with the screams of an intellectually disabled child in a restaurant; changing what’s in your child’s lunchbox to avoid the presence of deadly allergens that some other child reacts to at their preschool; not being able to use the closest car parks because they’re set aside for the disabled; teachers spending more time having to deal with the challenged child while the “normals” wait.

By Marcel Oosterwijk

Disabled people are often treated as an inconvenience for the rest of the public. They get in the way, they slow things down, their participation in society – in education, in eating and entertainment establishments, etc – is a nuisance for those who are just trying to enjoy themselves and get on with their day. I have often heard it said that these disabled people shouldn’t be in shopping malls and restaurants if they can’t do what everyone else does, that they should be put in different educational establishments – or taught at home – rather than inconvenience normal children and families. Their existence and desire to take part in the world, is treated like a privilege they don’t deserve, by people who did nothing to “deserve” it themselves.

Essentially, inconvenience of the “able-bodied” and “able-minded,” is rated as a higher consideration than the well-being and freedom of the disabled. The fact that 90% of the day they don’t have to accommodate people with disabilities, is considered irrelevant. The fact that 90% of a disabled person’s day is spent putting up with a world that is structured and preferential to others, is not considered part of the equation. The presence of small inconveniences – an altered lunch, a higher noise level, a longer distance to walk – are considered big enough issues to exclude disabled people from taking part in the same world.

The message is plain: Life would be so much easier for those without disabilities, if they just didn’t have to put up with the disabled. Tuck those with different and special needs away where they won’t bother others: They can eat in a restaurant, just not this one; they can attend a preschool, but not the same one as my child’s; they can get on a bus, but it will have to be the next one. And when that other restaurant, that other school and that next bus don’t exist or say “no” too? Well what does the able-person care, they’ve got on with their day in the meantime and that’s what matters.

Such an inconvenient existence. Just like people with different coloured skin, and different sexual preferences, and different beliefs; so “inconvenient.”  Just getting in the way of normal people and their normal lives. Until the parameters of “normal” shift again, or accident or age suddenly place you in the wrong category, and suddenly you’re the inconvenience that no one wants to see or work around, and your very existence is treated like a nuisance to those who don’t want their perfect lives interrupted. Perfection is fleeting, illusionary, subjective. Disability tends to be life-long, real, and objective. Just change your perspective, instead of expecting someone else to change their very existence.

Why is that such a hard thing for so many people to understand?

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10 Responses to An Inconvenient Existence

  1. First they came for the ________, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a ________.

    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

    Fill in Martin Niemoller’s basic poem. Hitler’s bloodbath started with the “mercy killing” of baby Knauer.

    Honest to God, in Sr. Lawrence’s third grade catechism class we talked about the Nazi’s. My little 8 year old mind thought, “What made the German’s so evil? ” She was wise enough to let us know that they were just like you and I. “How will I not be fooled like the German People were?”

    When we begin to think of flesh and blood people as “inconvenient”, we are on our way. Hitler dangled jobs, vacations, to help the Germans be comfortable in their lives…he gave them comfortable lives to fool them into thinking they could look away and their fellow man could be …erased. Believing we are owed comfort, and have no part in helping our fellow man…

  2. jimreeve says:

    To be honest, my life would be much easier if I didn’t have to put up with normal people. My parents always taught me to be considerate of others, but obviously some people didnt get the memo. Disability isn’t something that only happens to a select few, it happens to everyone at some point. But only when a normal person gets fired from their job, because they aren’t young anymore, will then learn what it’s like to be mistreated.

  3. Julie Sparks says:

    A very nice and well thought out blog post. Perfect for “Independence Day”.

  4. This is fantastic. Most people rarely understand the “other” – or frankly care to understand – until as you say something changes in their lives to force their perspective to change. I would say it happened to me too, in a way, when I became a parent, although I like to think I was never so selfish and close-minded. But I probably was to some degree. Here’s hoping with advocacy like this, more people can change their perspectives so we can all share this world equally.

    • Beautifully put stayquirky.

      I can honestly say that I was blissfully unaware and lacking of true empathy towards those is very different life circumstances from my own as a comparative youngster, it’s impossible to remain so blissfully ignorant as a mother now, let alone a mother of a different-kind-of kid. I hope that regardless of what I’ve been through in the past decade, that age and experience itself would have helped me and my views mature, I suppose I will never know though.

  5. Tsara says:

    I think one of the reasons it’s hard for people to understand is because so many people with disabilities learn (precisely from this unfortunate attitude) that it is true. So, they comply and stay home. They feel bad or get defensive when they do come out and ‘inconvenience’ others.

    (Not that I haven’t been guilty of it myself. There were many times when my kids were small that I would leave my severely autistic brother at home, just because I didn’t feel like dealing with his jumps and screams and food thievery.)

    Things will change when more people write posts like this. When parents don’t apologize for their children but rather take them and teach them and offer opportunities for others to connect with their disabled loved ones. When people with special needs continue to engage with the world and remind us that inconvenience is more about being inflexible, and that they can teach us plenty about flexibility and finding answers that are often hidden to those who forget to take the time to look. Things will change when we insist on always prioritizing connections and equal value in every life. We are not all the same, but we all are equally valuable.

    It’s not really the sort of thing that should have to be taught or fought for, but here we are. And I guess in a world that wants systems and rules I can see how we got here. But it’s truly beyond time to rethink our habits. Thank-you for this lovely and clear reminder!! xoxoxo

    • Perfectly said, as always Tsara, thank you.

      I used to be the mother who felt I had to stay at home with my child and felt I owed others apologies, but no more; my son and I are part of this society and part of this world, we belong here.

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