Every week lately I encounter a story that attacks the “special treatment” that the disabled receive. Whether it’s attacking the way that those with disabilities are “allowed” to skip queues, make more disruptive noises or movements than others, or in areas such as employment or education. I’ve seen counterattacks of course, where other writers have pointed out that this isn’t “special treatment,” rather it is a way of reaching meaningful equality, or that these allowances for the disabled are a product of the difficult and misunderstood lives of the disabled (whereby it’s not so much about equality as it is about deserved benefits for difficult lives).
I don’t see those counterattacks making much headway though; all I see is those already aware of the inequalities and difficulties of being disabled, supporting the arguments we’re already well aware of (which is not to say the counterattacks are worthless, it’s good to be reminded why we at times treat the disabled differently). Well I’m going to take a different approach to try to get through to those who think the disabled don’t deserve “special treatment” in so many areas of daily life. And maybe I’ll fail too, but I think it’s an under-appreciated point by the majority of society:
For the non-disabled people of this world, society is their special treatment.
The rules we create and how we disseminate them; the social expectations we hold of each other and the way we enforce them; the way employment is gained, held and sought; the way education is made available and experienced, and the results of that education tested and regarded. Life in this society is already set up to advantage those who don’t need the advantages; the non-disabled majority.
Beyond the most basic set of rights (and even those are still being fought for the world over), there is nothing pre-determined or un-artificial about the way we structure our society; that much is obvious by the way different cultures, in different countries, over the centuries, have chosen to run themselves. There is little that is not actively created about society and the way society is run and experienced. Guess what mass majority populace? It was created to make your lives easier and convenient. That’s your special treatment that you simply take for granted. As soon as another group – usually a disadvantaged group – wants society restructured to be more inclusive or responsive to the realities of those trying to exist within it, you label that “special treatment” as if what already exists is somehow perfectly as it should be.
This world is far from perfect. And a society that expects and requires its most vulnerable citizens to either adapt or stay at home locked up because they’re too noisy or a nuisance or too hard to accommodate, is a deeply imperfect society. Instead of telling the disabled to stay out of the mainstream of life – the restaurants, parks, events and schools that were created with their and their families’ money and time too – how about you take the challenge as an opportunity to make society better.
Because a society set up so that it provides “special treatment” to those who least need it, is a society that desperately needs to change. And a society where people dismissively label attempts to bring real equality to the disabled, as “special treatment,” are people who need to confront personal change for the better too.