After having observed a growing trend in the community of what I would call a forming schism between those with CP (or disabled in general) and those able bodied, in many cases parents of children with CP, I feel I have to write about this topic. It greatly saddens me to see this division forming, mostly because I think it does a great disservice to all of us, both those with CP and those that are parents. I do believe true ableism exists, but I also believe a lot of the conflict is not do to true ableism, but rather lack of understanding, leading to what I will call false ableism.
The root cause of this conflict is in my opinion lack of understanding. Some people with CP might find it offensive or hurtful that a parent is sharing their feelings of sadness and despair because her child has CP. I know that because I used to feel that way myself. Like I have written in some of my previous articles, I did not want to feel like there was something wrong with me, I did not want people to feel sorry for me because of my CP. Because in a way it would feel like they looked down upon, and pittied who I was, that’s never a great feeling. In fact I wanted to show that people shouldn’t pity me, they shouldn’t have to pat me on the back and say “You’re doing so great” just because I tied my shoelaces, they would never do that to anyone else.
Parents don’t share the same perspective as me, naturally, because their experiences, their perspective in life is completely different from mine. I know that they did not mean anything hurtful when they gave me words of encouragement, they only wanted to help and support. In the same way as I know my friend didn’t mean anything hurtful when he asked me “Do you want me to tie your shoelaces for you?” before soccer practice, even though I felt hurt by it.
True ableism in my opinion is when someone deliberately tries to discriminate against someone who is disabled and favor someone who is not. An example of this would be not hiring me because I had CP, and instead hiring someone able bodied even though we had equal experiences, just because they didn’t want the extra “headache” of dealing with any hypothetical or real challenges my CP would create. Another example of ableism would be someone close to my partner, telling them they should get out of the relationship, because they deserved someone that was “normal” and not someone who was handicapped. Having experienced this myself, I can honestly say, ableism is real, and it is a problem.
Differentiating and Spreading Knowledge
But when we start to confuse the attempts of support and help from people who come from a different background than us as ableism, we have a problem. The only way to close this gap is through understanding of each other. Those that have CP should attempt to help people understand where they are coming from and why. That will enable those around to understand more of how they should look at us and treat us. In the same way, we have the same responsibility to attempt to understand parents, and other people close to children with CP. To try to understand the heartache, the sadness and tears they feel when their life takes an unexpected and dramatic turn. Lets face it, people with CP are kind of special, there aren’t that many of us, the majority of children born are born without CP, or a disability. People don’t expect their child to have this extra challenge in life; they expect their child to be healthy and well, like other parents around them. Its only natural then, that when that does not happen, it creates a lot of emotions and fears, some because of sadness, some because of the uncertainty of not knowing this new reality etc. That is not a reflection of who you are as a person; those are just normal human reactions to a life-altering event.
So my wish to everyone, both fellow CP´ers and parents is: please, we need to work together to understand each other better, so that we can be strong and true supports that enable each other to achieve great things, to overcome obstacles and challenges, and to cherish what is truly important in the first place, that we have each other. Then using this common knowledge we should all stand up against unfair ableism, but do so in a way that make others understand, and change their ways, rather than dig in to their respective trenches and fire away.
Photo by Nathan Keirn