Disabled People Explained: Why we say we don’t want to be cured

Few ideas are as important to disabled people, and so widely misunderstood, as the assertion, “We don’t want to be cured!”

To many, if not most non-disabled people … and quite a few disabled people too … this seems bizarre. Either there’s something wrong with us that we feel this way, or we like the "special" feeling and privileges disability supposedly gives us, or it’s a lie we tell for some political or rhetorical purpose ... maybe to pump up the disability community or focus attention our material goals.

Two stick figures with overlapping speech balloons over their heads

So do we really mean it when we say we don’t want to be cured?

Yes, Sort of.

First of all, for some of us it’s a hard “Yes!” We literally do not want to be “cured." We don’t want our disabilities “fixed.” If a magic pill was available and affordable, we wouldn’t take it.

But I think for most of us, the feeling is genuine, but not quite as specific as the words suggest. Most of the time when we say we don’t want a cure, we mean that we are so used to our disabilities that we have a hard time imagining ourselves after a purely hypothetical cure. Many of us would appreciate some specific improvements or relief in certain aspects of our disabilities, such as less pain, more stamina, or maybe a fix for one particular impairment that would be nice to leave behind, even if other impairments remained. But we can’t really even guess who we would be without our underlying conditions.

I would love to be able to breathe better than I do. But I can’t fathom who I would be, what kind of life and even personality I would have, if I were 6 feet tall instead of 4, or didn’t have a deeply curved spine, or had a thicker, more solid, stronger physique. Besides, my disabilities aren’t the kind you can really cure, or even imagine curing. For me, a cure would have to entail more than repairing a malfunctioning part. It would be more like complete replacement of myself, and that's a weird thing to think about, much less wish for.

It's not like that for all disabled people. People who have been recently disabled, or who have very specific and isolated impairments, often feel that their disabilities really are just unwanted breakdowns that should be fixable. Many have pre-disability selves that are vividly remembered. That complicates the idea of disability being an integral part of themselves. Disabilities that come with age, or from disease or accident, sometimes don't feel like something you live with and embrace, at least not right away. And it should be noted that chronic pain and illness straddles the line between disability and sickness in ways that make these discussions of cure and improvement even more complicated.

Over time though, even people who on some level think about a cure tend gradually to adjust their self-image, so that while a cure may in some ways still feel desirable, the ramifications of it become harder to map out. That alone makes talk of cures, recovery, and even "overcoming" disability far more messy than it tends to be in popular rhetoric.

Finally, most of us have many more immediate things to think about, like whether a stranger will ask us a rude question in the line to get coffee, where and when we'll be able to go to the bathroom, or whether an extra hour of work or an extra $20 in earnings will causesus to lose hundreds of dollars in benefits, maybe our health insurance too.

So when the topic of a “someday” miracle cure comes up, or is shoved in our faces as the only sensible feeling to have about disability, we tend to say something along the lines of: “I don’t want to be cured!”

When you think about it, it’s really not that weird.