I am an odd duck, kind of in the no man’s land between being bona fide disabled and normal. Until the age of 26 I didn’t self-identify as disabled. My hand was forced due to all the prejudice I encountered upon trying to find a job. I write some (probably very politically incorrect) thoughts on this below:
We fight to achieve the milestones those without a disability take for granted, and—upon achieving them—they mean so much more to us. I had a real job for two years of my life. It wasn’t an easy two years but I felt better about myself those two years than the rest of teen and my adult life. I think those with disabilities are actually judged more harshly when they do not reach these milestones or at least the judgement given is felt more acutely.
We recognize how amazing and life-giving conformity is. People like to pretend that self-expression and being unique are important. What you find out is usually these expressions are things that are under one’s control—there is always a way to go back to the conforming expression if one so chooses. For example white people can look brown without being subjected to prejudice where brown people cannot. Someone who has to use a wheelchair all the time will be subjected to scorn and ostracism that someone who is in one temporarily will not.
We’re a great test case for a lot of society’s myths. Do people like someone for who they really are or what they have to offer? Do people have innate worth? Will the church include us even when it involves some of the laity acting sacrificially (giving rides, etc..)? Is the workplace a fair place for all? Does one’s bigotry toward a minority going down as one’s IQ goes up apply to disability?
We are expected to be exceptional in some area (or at least have a really sunny attitude) to “make up” for our disability. A lot of time we have no choice but to be so good at something because, due to prejudice, the barrier of entry to anything is a lot higher for us. A lot of us resent this but we have no choice but to play along. Some of us are pretty talented but not talented enough to surmount the barrier of prejudice. We languish.
The Reason. This one applies to all minorities but hits us hard as well. When something negative happens to us we automatically assume it is because of—The Reason—our disability (or its fallout—i.e. not possessing vocational success). This makes navigating negative experiences more opaque, because sometimes negative things happen for other reasons, but situations are so mufti-faceted and there is so much latent hurt that they get lumped in.