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Day 20 of #30DaysofMD featuring Anna Landre and Recognizing Disability Rights Most people think that being a wheelchair user makes my life inherently harder than that of those around me. And sometimes, that's true—but not for the reasons you think. Being unable to walk, for example, just means that I “roll” through my daily life instead — hardly a qualitative difference. Disabled people do face more disadvantages in life than our nondisabled peers — but it’s important to realize that most of those disadvantages are man-made, constructed by a society that equates disability with deviance, defectiveness, and despair. Our failure to recognize disability as a normal part of human diversity has led to the exclusion and oppression of disabled people in so many facets of our daily lives. For example, I have a harder time navigating my physical environment than nondisabled people. A lack of curb cuts, accessible entrances, and elevators make my mobility almost impossible in some spaces. Most people would attribute this hardship to the fact that my disabled body is somehow flawed. But why don’t we instead attribute it to the fact that the owner of the building didn’t think it worthwhile to build a ramp? After all, when we’re talking about the way my body works and the way our world is constructed, only one of those things can feasibly change. The same is true when we’re talking about the personal assistant services that many disabled people need to go about their daily lives. Though many nondisabled people make many assumptions, I see little difference in the quality of life of someone who does their laundry alone or with an assistant. However, the true hardship arises when these services are denied or underprovided by insurance companies or state governments. The most consequential disadvantage that disabled people face is stigma—another factor that has little to do with our differences, and more to do with how others treat them. When we finally start seeing the disadvantages faced by disabled people as manifestations of systemic oppression and discrimination, rather than some “defectiveness” associated with disability, we’ll truly start to pursue equality.
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