Written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012.
I try to keep my personal and professional identities separate. When people ask me what I do, and they are potential friends rather than potential clients, I tend to grin and rather flippantly tell them that I write blethers for other people's websites. That's not all of what I do, not by a long way, although it's the favourite part of my job – it's interesting, I'm good at it, and I often enjoy it. But let's face facts, the question “what do you do?” rarely means “please describe to me in detail everything you do with your day,” rather it means “tell me something that will fill this conversational gap, and possibly help me to build my mental image of you.” Telling them with a smile that I write blethers for other people's websites is a short, good-humoured and effective way of filling this hole with the image of a woman who spends her day working in an office, at a computer, the image equivalent of a Visa card, acceptable everywhere.
What does that have to do with disablism? Well, it's about where the conversation will go from there.
Often people feel compelled to congratulate me. Good ways of congratulating a person include phrases like “Hey, that's great!”, “it must be so rewarding to have a job you enjoy,” or even “I wish I could do something like that!”
Unfortunately all too frequently I hear something along the lines of “Great! At least you're doing something with your time, not like all those lazy benefit spongers, half of them aren't what I'd call disabled anyway, I mean if you're doing it, why aren't they?” Often this is followed by an anti-welfare rant rounded off with a baseless assertion that “most” disabled people “won't even try,” and a final verbal pat-on-the-head to me for “giving it a go.”
TOP TIP. The way to compliment me is not to disparage the entire minority group to which I belong. Treating my work, where people pay me money for my skills, as nothing more than a time-filler is also insulting. Furthermore, it would be good if you can avoid waving around the negative stereotypes and slurs which have been applied to me and my disabled friends on a regular basis for the last few years, and while we're at it, please don't attack the welfare system which quite literally saved my life by keeping a roof over my head and food on my table for the first couple of years when I got sick.
I'm one of the lucky ones, and I don't want the price of that luck to be ignoramuses trying to use me as a stick to beat down the people who have not been as lucky in similar situations.