Disabled Ableist Part 1 (Credentials)
The “MS” that rides caboose on my credential train (all aboard!) stands for Multiple Sclerosis. MS is by far the rarest of them, and it shows. The Ph.D. and RYT generally make people uncomfortable about their grammar (Ph.D.) or their posture (RYT).
MS makes people uncomfortable with their mortality in the face of an indifferent universe.
I was diagnosed seven years ago, and I still know much more about how scary other people find my disease than how frightened I should be. I’m still too afraid of disabled people to actually process being a disabled person. This series, which I was originally going to call “One to Drink On,” will be a place for me to process my visceral loathing for a category of difference that not only includes me, but will, in time, include almost everyone I know. Seems like it might be worth trying to get over that, and I’ll start by being honest about scary times I’ve had with disabled people. If you read these and think, "gosh, Margaret, these disabled folks don’t seem to pose much of a threat to you," you’re right! That’s why I’m sharing them. While public shame has not yet resulted in public accountability for a lot of folks, I want it to work for me. And I have been stupid afraid of disabled people.
I’m allowed to read whatever I want while I’m doing laundry. When I slapped the latest Sacramento News and Review on an empty table in the Lavender Heights district in 2007, my intention was to start my load and begin aggressively slagging on the advice offered by “Dear Joey,” a woman who was either local or has a much cheaper syndication fee than Dan Savage. As I shoved mostly similar items into a machine, I noted that I would now be sharing my table. My companion would be a woman in a stained orange sweatshirt and short curls. She was rocking herself a little, betraying an anxiety absent from her face, a face so placid and carefree that her mouth was not completely closed. I immediately identified her as disabled, and I was terrified. Would I have to abandon my (free) paper, resettle, and return to the newsstand for another (again, free) copy? I really wanted to.
Every coin, in each machine, was a pledge to myself that I would be better than that. I exhorted myself not to project onto this stranger the misery that washed over me when I imagined a life lived with less than total mastery of one’s faculties. This woman, who seemed to be about my age but with some sort of developmental delay, had as much right to that table as I did. (Though, to be fair, she did not appear to be doing laundry, so maybe I had a better claim on that table? Not important.) As the cycles started, I was determined to be a human, sharing space with all kinds of other human people without judgment or fear. I was not and am not that kind of person, but I did feel really good about myself for returning to my original seat and acknowledging her with a nod. My peripheral vision caught her pulling out a book, and my heart leapt. “She can read!” I thought. “She has an inner life, and thoughts and dreams!” She was reading Getting Your Life Back Together When You Have Schizophrenia.
I was disappointed for both of us, really. Just crazy? Does that even count?