Disability Thought Of The Week: Toughness & Vulnerability

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When I was younger and just becoming familiar with disability activism and culture, one of the main ideas we were supposed to convey was that disabled people were tough. We were resilient, adaptive, persistent, low-maintenance, and easy to get along with. This message was deliberate. Disabled people are constantly underestimated and assumed to be weak, fragile, and just plain weird to be around, so it makes some sort of sense to emphasize the opposite qualities.

Now, roughly 30 years later, it feels like we are coming to grips again with vulnerability, not just as a community, but individually. Part of our message now is that we are not superhuman. We are not endlessly adaptable. Our resilience is not bottomless. Our patience and good cheer have limits. We get tired, anxious, depressed, and angry, and sick ... and not "just like" everyone else does, but in ways that are specific to our disabilities.

I appreciate this more balanced view of disability. It certainly fits my own disability experience, which is a combination of real capabilities and real weaknesses. But sometimes I sort of miss the tough, resilient, easygoing image. Because part of our reality is that we are tough, we are resilient, and given the crap we have to deal with every day, we are incredibly patient and damned delightful. Maybe we can be both. Maybe toughness and vulnerability are the true hallmarks of being a disabled person.