Ablecentric Thinking

Last week I’d been asked to evaluate modern implementations of accessibility. I wasn’t too sure exactly how to approach the topic. So I spent some time actually thinking about things first. Originally I was intent on declaring my concerns regarding “accessibility” were one of two things. Either they are accessible or inaccessible. Simple, right? I like simple.

But then I thought, I can, quite easily, get into any of the grocery stores, say, in my neighborhood. But I can’t reach, let alone confidently handle, anything, that has substantial weight or mass, on a shelf over 5 feet in height. So without varying degrees of help I’m unable to adequately make an independent trip out to the grocery store a worthwhile endeavor. And somehow that’s not a desired way to live a life and it’s, at least, a problem?

Which had me thinking about things in a drastically different light…

With the help of Marta Russell‘s “vividly written” book, “Beyond Ramps: Disability At The End Of The Social Contract,” she helped me consider a very unique and important way of looking on “accessibility.” Marta makes the point that society suffers from a term psychologist Dr. Carrol Gill has coined, “ablecentric thinking.” People measure a disabled individual’s life and experiences as it directly relates to their own. Or, better still, it’s “the old yardstick of human validity.” Eerily similar to Gary Francione‘s “exploration of our cognitive confusion—our “moral schizophrenia”—when it comes to nonhuman animals.” I relevantly digress.

Disability is too easily seen, or better yet “linked” with “uselessness.” No matter how hard they might deny it, people do treat me differently. And, all too often, flattering it’s not. Every time someone turns to the person I happen to be with without consulting me first, or worse just brushes me off, speaks volumes about assumptions they carry. And the effort they’re prepared to pay me. People don’t usually mingle with difference. For whatever reason there’s way too much emphasis put on “normalcy.” 

As I’ve seen many times before people are not ready, or just can’t accept I’m quite content not being like them. Their concern for me needing a cure is one I hear all to often. Especially from people working in the health care field itself. “Have you been keeping up with what they’re doing?” My answer, almost invariably, comes back “no, I have other things requiring my attention.” Mostly because I do.

But my point is I quite prefer how things have turned out. If I could do it over, I’m not so sure I would do it differently. And, no matter how deserving I think such an arrogant question is, giving someone shit over asking it of me is not my style.

Though maybe it should be. I should start copping an “uppity crip” attitude with people who continue to ask me such a question. Honestly there is nothing more frustrating than being misundstood and being unfair judged on such a mischaracterization.

Just because I’m not like you must mean there’s something wrong with me? And needs to be repaired in order to be deemed proper? And I must want that? What an absurd, small-minded view of life. 

So my attempt at evaluating accessibility has revealed something much more deserving of my attention. As it turns out my biggest concern with accessibility isn’t so much with any ability for a person to be able to reach something with a hope of making use of it. It is, however, with a much more pressing issue that is directly linked with how “accessibility” is even thought of in the first place.

“Ablecentric thinking” dictates accessibility is to provide disabled people a means for an end rather than a means to an end. I don’t require pity, just a little understanding, thanks…