Why is it okay to pity visibly disabled people?

People with invisible impairments often complain that they do not receive the attention they deserve as well as not receiving the accommodations to meet the needs people with visible impairments seem to receive automatically. But I believe it is a case of believing the grass is greener on the other side. I am sure there are people with visible impairments who would be happy to swap places with someone with an invisible impairment.

The first thing to understand that is each visible impairment has a range of invisible issues. If we ignore my other impairments and concentrate on my cerebral palsy, everyone sees my bib, wheelchair, helmet, speech impairment and jerky movements. However, not everyone sees I get tired quickly, or I have chest issues.

Growing up, I had to conform to non-disabled standards if I wanted to be integrated as opposed to being included in society, especially at school. This meant a lot of the equipment like bibs and helmets was not even remotely considered. I, therefore, have some sympathy for people with invisible impairments who as a group, are developing their identity and breaking free from conformity.

One thing people with invisible impairments do not experience that people with visible impairments do all the time is pity from others. People talk about the rise in disability-related hate crime, and it is not something I can relate to. I believe each oppressed group is discriminated in their own way. Sexism is about the power of men to control and abuse women. Racism is a fear of black people due to immigration, and the fear resources and jobs are being taken away from white people. Homophobia is both about religious beliefs and the fact some heterosexual men simply refuse to accept sexual identity.

Impairmentism is both about environmental inaccessibility and societal attitudes, which is mostly pity. Pity is many things including undermining someone’s intelligence, treating them like a child, and believing they can never be full citizens as we are defective and this makes them sad.

The problem was pity is it is mostly unconscious and seen as an act of kindness. This makes it hard to challenge without being seen as being unfair as ‘they were only trying to be nice’. For people with visible impairments, they are constantly pitied verbally and with being stared at as soon as they leave their home, and there is no off switch.

I have discovered that the best weapon against pity is humour, as well as proofing your intelligence. This includes wearing outrageous funny t-shirts saying things like ‘I am a drooling spastic’ and using sarcasm, making witty observations with perfect timing. It does not involve telling jokes as they can be learnt and feel false. Humour can shift the power towards disabled people.

It will be a long time before pity is understood as a form of discrimination and has its ‘me too’ moment but it is something we must all work towards.