I am asking everyone who reads this to spread the word about an affordable do-it-yourself eye-tracking device a smart kid is developing. It is only $300 and can be used to give quadriplegics the ability to move a cursor just with their eyes (commercial systems to do the same can be 10K or more). The software for it is open-source so I anyone could improve upon/add apps to it. He is soliciting donations to make a production run of these at his Kickstarter page.
Disability is like a funhouse mirror that makes us look ugly and contorted. We don’t like what acknowledging individuals with disabilities’ existence does to how we see ourselves. We like to think we love people for who they “really are”. Then someone in our lives gets afflicted with a disability. Cognitive dissonance enters our “upright” mind as we have to somehow reconcile dropping out of this individual’s life with the idea that we love people unconditionally. It’s hard going, and by acknowledging that we don’t actually love unconditionally we’re opening ourselves up to the idea that we don’t deserve be loved unconditionally.
Being at the right end of the power structure, therapists make up terms that cast the sufferer in a pejorative light.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Most people are anxious in social situations for a very good reason. They get rejected and even picked on. By calling it social anxiety disorder you are painting the condition as a deficit of the sufferer while failing to acknowledge the hostile social environment’s role. A better term for it would be snub sensitivity.
Co-dependence: Wow, having just one good friend is considered a disorder? Shouldn’t having no friends be considered a disorder? I would think having zero friends would be considered a worse disorder than having just one. I’m not trying to paint co-dependence as healthy but I think it’s very often the lesser of two evils.
Social Skills: Again this term does a poor job of describing what goes on in the real world. Take the term woodworking skills. It describes someone’s ability to form good things out of wood. The point here is the wood isn’t resistant, it is pliable and always stays the same. In social interactions there are all kinds of feedback loops going on. If there is something wrong with you the loop generally starts out negative and continues along on that path (as an individual with a physical disability and mental illness I experience this daily). A better word for “social skills” would be social traction because that is a more accurate and holistic way of describing what goes on.
Being an Enabler: We don’t like people who love unconditionally so we have to come up with fancy denigrating names for them. We do this because we know, despite what any significant other says, we are not loved unconditionally. So when we see someone who is we want do demonize the one doing the loving. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for “tough love” but from what I’ve seen people use the excuse of not being an enabler to withhold support from people who need it.
Social Independence: What social independence really means is you have enough social worth for others whose social interaction you depend on to come in to your life on their own free will.
It has been my experience that Christians treat people with disabilities (and especially mental illnesses) as bad or worse than their secular counterparts. People with temporary illnesses or injuries don’t get the same hostile treatment. If people actually prayed in faith for individuals with disabilities then, by that fact, they would believe these people were having temporary illnesses and thus would treat them better. Why don’t they?
Below are some reasons I think Evangelical Christianity is ableist (prejudiced against individuals with disabilities).
Biblical portrayals. In the Bible, individuals with disabilities are portrayed as objects of pity who are broken. This is particular true in the gospels. After a cursory reading you come away with the idea that the only way to be accepted in society is by a miracle of healing. This kind of thinking trickles down to the churches where modern notions of individuals with disabilities as people OK the way they are generally haven’t taken hold.
False hope of healing. Some churches believe if you just pray hard enough and have enough faith, your disability will be healed. This adds a whole new layer of hurt on a life already burdened by disability. Suddenly your faith is being called into question because you didn’t have enough to receive healing. Miracles rarely, if ever, happen.
The Pollyanna effect. There’s this current within Christianity to try to focus on silver linings and try to use them to justify the clouds because, after all, life is supposed to make sense backwards. It’s easy to have a romantic notion of suffering when you observe it from afar. After all, life is a story and there are challenges but those who suffer learn something won’t be worse for the wear. Unfortunately a disability actually makes your life worse in ways that cannot be romanticized, partly because of all the relationship and vocational opportunities you’ll lose out on. Also, there is this idea that individuals with disabilities are supposed to put on a happy face, despite the circumstances and are supposed to somehow overcome and do something heroic with their challenge (like the guy with no arms and no legs who pulls himself up in front of a crowd). Individuals with disabilities are just people like you and me. They aren’t heroes and they aren’t wallowing in self-pity and despair their whole life.
Intolerance. Christians generally have an aversion to people who are different (which individuals with disabilities definitely are). Part of this makes sense because if you look different that means you might think different and thinking different is frowned upon (especially when you think differently about God). Another part of it is just xenophobia and the fear of the unknown. It’s easier to function in a comfy little bubble and pretend brokenness doesn’t exist except in third world countries. Christians want to be happy and upbeat—there’s almost an aloofness in the whole thing.
Experience of God. Following the voice of God to me is just beautification of intuition. But to Christians (particularly Evangelicals) it is a way of life. It works well for the mentally healthy, God tells them what drapes to go with the new carpeting and stuff. Once you start telling mentally ill people to heed the voice of God things get very different. You are just giving them fodder for their next psychotic break. It’s a sad state. I think it has to do with the fact that religion wasn’t made to survive every test case (like when you engineer a car battery that has to work in a huge range of temperatures). Religion was just made to appeal to the experience of the dominate majority.