In going through the numerous and interesting entries for Blogging Against Disablism Day, I’ve read a lot of posts that say, “We need people to see past the disability.” People name different things that need to be “seen past”: Wheelchairs, white canes, flapping hands, body or facial shape, etc. Apparently, what is “beyond” these things is the real person.
I’ll start by saying, I know what it is they mean by this, and I don’t need it explained to me. They mean that some people focus in on some attribute, and then sort of cover over the rest of you with the things they think that attribute means, rather than seeing you as a person.
It’s not as if I don’t encounter this on a regular basis. I use a wheelchair. I can’t use speech to communicate, which becomes obvious if you either know the significance of my communication boards or try to talk to me. I move and react to my surroundings in a way that’s distinctly atypical, in fact so atypical that many people seem to think I am not reacting to or understanding my surroundings at all. (That includes hand-flapping and other things like that.) I have a facial and body shape that, combined with these other things, subtly (sometimes not-so-subtly, as in I get remarks, but often I’m not even sure people realize they’re taking it into account) influences people’s perception of me. So I know very well what it’s like for people to not treat me like a person, on the basis of these things. And it’s definitely rare that people see me for who, and what, I am.
However, my wish is not for people to look past those attributes of me. Because it is not really those attributes of me that cause them to form all their stereotyped and mistaken opinions of me. And because, the term “looking past them,” even as a shorthand, turns these things into something undesirable, something not to be looked at.
I want people to be able to look at me, and see a person, and see all those other attributes and not have to look “past” them or minimize them in order to see me as a person. I want people to be able to see beauty in flapping hands. Not otherworldly, ethereal beauty attributed by someone going the other direction and putting us on a pedestal, just everyday ordinary beauty.
I don’t want people to have to look past anything. I mean, how insulted would most women be by “I look past the fact that you’re female and see that you’re a person”?
I want people to look straight at what they’re looking at, including all the things they supposedly have to look past, and like what they see instead of constructing all sorts of bizarre theories in their head about it, instead of being repulsed or frightened by it, and instead of concentrating on “looking past” certain aspects. If they have to look past those attributes in order to see us, they aren’t ever going to see us for who we are. They’re just going to see another substitute for who we are, little better than the first.
As long as people still have to “look past” things to see us, they’re never really going to see us. It’s the stereotypes they need to ditch, not the aspects of our appearance that they attach to those stereotypes. It may sound like only a semantic difference, but it’s more than that.