Saturday, July 22, 2006

Step Forward Or Step Back

There's a poem that circulates around communities for parents of disabled kids. A copy of it is available at the end of the story of a boy named Zachary, here. It's supposed to be wonderful, heartwarming poem about disabled kids. But it makes me uncomfortable.
It's all about the "gifts" a disabled child brings. But it seems to me that many of those "gifts" are actually expression of prejudice. For example:

"I am the child who cannot walk. The world seems to pass me by. You see the longing in my eyes to get out of this chair, to run and play like other children.There is much you take for granted. I want the toys on the shelf, I need to go to the bathroom, oh I've dropped my fork again. I am dependent on you in these ways.
My gift to you is to make you more aware of your great fortune, your healthy back and legs, your ability to do for yourself. Sometimes people appear not to notice me; I always notice them.I feel not so much envy as desire, desire to stand upright, to put one foot in front of the other, to be independent. I give you awareness.I am the child who cannot walk."

In other words, the "gift" a physically disabled child brings is to make you aware of how you're so lucky you can walk and don't have to live life like that poor, pitiful thing (note the dehumanising effect of pity).
I discussed this with my Dad. He said that it's good for people to be glad about their abilities. I agree, but not when it takes the form of viewing yourself as "better", in some way, because you can do x. Maybe that kind of competition helps the walking person, but it doesn't help the non-walking person.
One thing that made me wonder is that he says "at least it's a step forward". But is it really? I think of it more like a wrong turn. I don't think it brings you any closer to accepting diversity to value yourself as better because you can walk, or talk, or whatever. Taking those skills for granted isn't good either, because you tend to assume everyone can do what you can do.


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