By Mark E. Smith
I was listening to the BBC disability-related talk show, OUCH!, a while back and they raised an interesting question: How often do you automatically attribute poor outcomes in your life to disability? For example, if you’ve ever been turned down for a date, did you automatically blame it on your disability?
Now, the OUCH! hosts, Liz and Matt, didn’t really explore the subject, but raised the question and moved on, per their fast-paced show. However, the subject remained with me because such thinking – …it was because of my disability – has been expressed to me by so many of my peers with disabilities when something doesn’t turn out the way they wish, and it’s always seemed like such an easy cop-out, hinged upon self-pity and shunning accountability.
An acquaintance with a disability recently requested my advice toward her job search. She was applying for jobs in a field requiring a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, with additional career certifications. She came to me frustrated that time after time, able-bodied individuals got the job, or she wasn’t called in for an interview at all – and she was convinced that it was all based on her having a disability, that she was being discriminated against by all. So, I asked to see her resume, as her story was quite compelling. To my surprise – based on how valid she expressed her concerns of discrimination – her resume told a totally different tale: She had an absolute lack of qualifications. She had no college education or certifications for the jobs she applied for, where if her resume came from anyone else, the human resources manager would just as quickly dismiss it. She blamed her inability to get a job on her disability, but the real problem was her resume – she was simply unqualified.
While injustice can occur based on disability, too often we use disability as a scapegoat in our lives, an easy pawn to shun accountability. Many of us know more than one guy who will swear that his wife or girlfriend left him because of his disability. In fact, if you ever run into a guy who uses a wheelchair who’s drinking alone in a bar, you’re almost guaranteed to hear such a sob story. And, in knowing couples who’ve gone through the process of disability, then divorce, such tales are true – the wife walked out on her husband with a disability (and, yes, men likewise leave women who become disabled). Yet, when you, as a third person, get a true glimpse into such failed relationships, virtually none failed directly due to disability, but due to extreme dysfunctions like addiction, emotional abuse, and a generally self-defeating attitude on the part of the person with a disability. In fact, a lot of times the disability factor causes the departing spouse to stick it out longer than she or he should have, not wanting to seemingly abandon the spouse “in a time of need,” whereas he or she would have left sooner if it was a non-disabled spouse who was such a mess. Yet, the person with the disability virtually never takes accountability, blaming it all on the disability, practically saying, Sure, I’m a pill-popping alcoholic, with no motivation, who hates the world, but she had no right to leave me just because I became paralyzed! Again, just asked the guy at the bar, he’ll tell you.
Of course, those who are single with disabilities can prove masters at blaming their disabilities for not finding love, conveniently overlooking every dysfunction in their lives. I have a buddy who I’ve known for ten years, and he calls me every few months with the same question: Why can’t women overlook my disability and love me for me?
And, on the surface it’s such a poignant, heartfelt question – but, my answer, not so much: You’re a 42-year-old, who’s never had a job, lives with your mom, plays video games all night, are 100 lbs. overweight, and your wardrobe consists of Twilight T-shirts and sweatpants. Disability maybe an issue for some women, but your overall lack of ambition is a problem for all women. If you have ten issues in your life and disability is one of them, address the other nine, and you’ll be 90% ahead of the game!
We know that discrimination occurs toward those with disabilities, and we likewise know that some are so uncomfortable around those with disabilities that they won’t accept us. However, those instances are few and far in-between. When we run into situations that don’t go the way we wish, we mustn’t blame disability by default, but analyze other areas of our lives with a possibly painful reality check. If I’m not getting jobs, is it because I’m not qualified? Did my spouse leave me because of my terrible behavior? Am I striking out in love because I have virtually nothing to offer someone? Then, when we answer such questions honestly, we know exactly what to work on to improve our lives and become better individuals. In many ways, taking disability out of the equation forces us to take responsibility – and that’s a life-bettering tool.
As for me, a harmless flirt, I get seemingly ignored by women all of the time. I suppose some could blame such rejection on my having cerebral palsy. However, in full accountability, I know the real answer: I’m just a creep. I need not worry about having cerebral palsy, but the creep in me certainly needs addressing. I really should work on that.