It is a simple truth that to be disabled often means not having a voice in the world at large.
No matter the disability. No matter when you develop it; genetic all the way to accident related, having disabilities puts your voice on mute* even in our home communities.
Which is not to say people can not speak, self advocates speak all the time.
Call for change, call for equality, call for help.
They are largely unheard.
Achievements people want to hear about, but struggles are only of interest once they’re over, once they can be an inspiration; but listening only when someone has surmounted a problem defeats one of the primary utilities of being able to speak on a challenge. It removes the ability to ask for help.
While some people may have short term disabilities, most for most people living with a disability, there is no conclusion to be had.** We can not “defeat” who we are, triumph over parts of ourselves, or remove the fact that we must endure struggle. Does that mean, that because we can not overcome everything we live, we should be unheard?
From my perspective, listening to struggles only for inspiration, means listening not for compassion but for personal gain. Disabilities impact real people who need compassion and need real help, we are not just inspiration.
Abled people need to know that disabled voices, are peoples voices, we are a part of your communities, and we need to be heard. We need to be helped, and you can help us.
Listen with compassion, that is a start.
There are other ways a person can be silenced. If a person has a voice outside of their disability, they may be heard in one capacity and not another, namely in their able capacity they may have an audience while people tune out when they being speaking about their struggles. While it may not feel relevant to the abled people of the world, discussions about disability may seem like it doesn’t apply to them. This is not so, it impacts everyone whether they know it or not.
If they value the things a person says outside of speaking about their disability, they should listen too when they speak about their experience as a disabled person.
Again, we are a part of our communities, if you value people the people of your community, then you should value us as well. Please bear in mind:
If communities want only to know a person in an able capacity, & not about their disabilities, that is ableism.
It means that compassion is unseekable, & to struggle is unspeakable.
It means that our whole selves are unwanted.
Worse than just to have your voice stifled in your community at large, is to be unheard by your peers as well.
This can happen if you don’t have access to a peer group, if that peer group doesn’t have access to a meeting place, if there is not accessible transportation to that meeting place, if you are too impoverished to even afford to meet up with peers or friends. Poverty is the struggle spoken most about by self advocates, one that many disabled people face daily.
It can also happen if you don’t have a diagnosis.
Seeking a diagnosis is a costly process, if you need to get a diagnosis because you are struggling too greatly and may not even be able to support yourself, that puts you in the incredibly awkward cycle of: Too sick to not be poor, too poor to prove you are sick.
You may know you are disabled but have no means to prove it, which means your struggles are not validated.
Or you may not realize you are disabled, only that something is not quite right, and you may not know where to turn.
This is the most silent place of all.
Not having a diagnosis can prevent you from knowing you have peers, or disallow your access to them without official diagnosis, removing a source of solidarity and emotional support.
Supports must be in place to help people know they are disabled and gain aid for their struggles. It is cruelty is to leave someone unknowing why they have strife, and without a means to get aid.
There is much we that can be done to prevent each of these types of silencing, and we should do it, all of it.
Starting with the fact that we can all listen with compassion.
*Please note that people who are mute as a disability can often type and be heard in other ways. To have muteism is not a bad thing. To be silenced is. (If “on mute” is ablist please let me know and I’ll change it, I thought perhaps since it’s also a musical terminology and electronics function term it might be acceptable to use as a verb.)
**Which is not to say that those with short term disabilities are not also silenced, nor that their struggle is any less deserving of a voice. Merely that it is not an identical experience to living with disabilities life long.