Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Angry Disabled People

I was reading about how angry women are stereotyped, and was thinking 'how are angry disabled people viewed?' And here's what I think the answer is.
There are two ways angry disabled people can be viewed. The first is as 'bitter' about their disability. Even if their anger is not because they are disabled, but because they are discriminated against, it's viewed as an emotional reaction to disability. There's a phrase I've heard - 'bitter crpple' - which sums this up, except it's not just physically disabled people who are treated this way. Any disabled person who is treated as having enough of a mind to perceive how they differ from others may be viewed this way.
Michelle Dawson, an autistic woman, wrote a letter to the Canadian minister of health regarding autistic people being banned from speaking at an autism workshop where both parents of autistics and professionals working with autism would be allowed to contribute. She eventually received a reply in which the current minister of health said the following:

"I would like to express my sympathy to you for your struggle with autism. I appreciate how this disorder would have a profound impact on you and your family."

So rather than recognizing her anger at injustice, he decides to try to appease it by offering condolences, as if she was angry about being autistic, rather than angry about not being heard.
Some developmentally disabled or mentally ill people are not treated this way. Rather, they are viewed as if they are too incapable to notice that they are different or react to discrimination, and instead their anger is automatically attributed to their disability - for example, they are having an 'autistic meltdown'.
Even a neurotypical 2 year old can notice injustice, although they may not be able to explain or understand what is going on. If, whenever they expressed emotion, you immediately reinterpreted their emotion as something different and reacted as such, most toddlers would get angry. They would not be able to describe what you are doing, but they would be upset by it. Their anger would not be an inherent part of being a toddler or a reaction to how 'awful' it is to be so incapable. Instead, it would be a justified reaction to injustice.
Granted, toddlers, like anyone else, will get angry regardless. Frustration, tiredness, hunger - all those can make a toddler angry. But that doesn't mean they aren't capable of getting angry at injustice. People tend to overestimate what abilities are needed to recognize injustice. You need not be able to label it or understand words like 'discrimination'. All you need is to be able to feel unfairness.

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12:23 AM  
Blogger said...

I see that this bitter cripple device is used a lot in literature and in film. You are correct in that it the anger is blamed on having a disability not in how you are treated . This is well covered in the book The Cinema of Isolation ( a history of physical disability in the movies) by Matin F. Norden. You can even see eveidence of this today with the character Gregg House on TV.

2:01 PM  

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