For Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009.
On April 13th, I posted to alert my readers to the annual Blogging Against Disablism Day event. I was umm-ing and aah-ing over what particular topic I should write about - and then, like a gift from the gods, came this comment:
have been reading your blog for a bit, & this is sort of a response to your wanting to have a kid with steve.
it makes me sad to read your struggles, but i would beg you to leave that idea (or even adoption or fostering behind.)
how on earth could you take care of a child when you spend most of your time seriously broken? you seem like a lovely person & to put a child in that position would be cruel no matter how much you craved being a mommy.
please be careful, stay on birth control & accept that your fate is to not be able to go down a maternal road.
best to you. sandy
My first thought was to write a blogpost (or fifty) explaining exactly how Steve and I intend to deal with some of the challenges posed by parenthood, the potential solutions we've discussed about logistics, equipment, safety, human support and so on. But why? This isn't a parenting blog, and until such time as Steve and I decide to take active steps to make a family, there's no good reason for it to become one. Justifying my life choices to internet strangers seems like a poor way to spend my time and energy.
That's when I started to become angry. Of all the topics covered on my blog, from knitting to job interviews, from Social Services to fun days out, how is it that a stranger feels the need to "respond" solely to the idea of Steve and I having a family together - an issue last mentioned several months previously and in the context of a 99 things blog meme?
Simple answer: Disablism.
This wasn't a personal attack on me, or even a well-meant but blundering remark on my life as an individual. It had very little to do with Mary, Batsgirl, aged 27 and living with a boyfriend and a robot vacuum cleaner.
Sandy wasn't thinking about my personal capabilities, or my personal circumstances, or my personal motivations - how could she? I'm hardly the world's most regular blogger and only a fraction of my life is displayed on here. She was writing about a stereotype of a disabled person, or as she put it, someone "seriously broken". When that stereotype was challenged by my offhand mention of a one-day ambition to have a family, she was so shocked by it that she felt the need to "beg" me not to do it.
Sandy was assuming that, as a couple which includes a disabled person, Steve and I would be unable to raise a child.
Sandy was assuming that Steve and I would be unable to consider our own circumstances and resources and make a sensible decision for ourselves, and that it was therefore perfectly okay for her to tell us what we should and should not do with our lives.
Sandy asked "how on earth could you take care of a child?" as a rhetorical question - she wasn't interested in waiting for (let alone listening to) any response before moving straight on to dictating my "fate" because she had already made up her mind that a disabled person such as myself cannot take care of a child.
Sandy cannot open her mind enough to consider that a child who has a disabled parent could be happy, comfortable, loved and well looked after. She considers disabled parents to be "cruel" for inflicting their horrible crippled selves on an innocent kiddie. I suspect she's thinking of the telethon image of a melancholy 'young carer' gazing soulfully out of the window and begging for their childhood back. This article by Lucy Scholl offers a different perspective, as does this one by Laurence Clark.
Sandy was writing about her own prejudices, her own unsubstantiated views, and her own baseless assumptions. Sandy was writing about her fears, her closed-mindedness, and her negative mental picture of disabled people - and then superimposing all that onto me to pre-emptively accuse me of child abuse.
What's encouraging, though, is that the tide is turning. After responding to Sandy's horrendous comment, I tweeted about how gobsmacked I was, and within minutes support was arriving in the form of blog comments, tweets, emails and suchlike, much of it from friends who aren't politically- or disability-minded. More and more 'ordinary people' are becoming more and more accepting of the idea that a disabled person is every bit as much a person as one who is not yet disabled. As a civilisation we have a lot of that journey still ahead of us, but I take heart from the knowledge that significant steps have been and will continue to be made.