Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part blog series on “What do those with disabilities owe those without?” To read Part 1, which addresses the question of “The Debt of the Disabled,” click here.
The Debt of the Abled
The first thing those without disabilities owe to those with them is dignified treatment. This means that pity is often not one’s first best response when confronted with someone with a disability. Pity or compassion is a fine thing but not, for example, when a blind person is capable of doing a job and out of pity you forgo giving him the responsibility because the job is too strenuous. Furthermore, compassion is often a disguised form of guilt. I feel bad that I don’t have a disability and this other person over here does. Guilt then is translated into pity rather than dignified treatment. Compassion unchecked can often be a disguise for someone with a superiority complex. I’m better than this person over here with a disability, and so I will pity her even though I know in my heart that well, perhaps she deserves this disability.
Secondly, those with disabilities are owed trust. Practically, this means that a person with a disability knows better than anyone else what her capabilities are. Going back to the beginning of this piece, I said that too often, the question about how to help those with disabilities is raised before one has carefully considered whether they really need help or not. The best way to find out what those with disabilities need is to ask THEM. Of course, when first meeting someone with a disability, the first thing to say is hello. Many times, the question of help need not arise. People often are willing to tell you what they need especially when what they need is integral to their ability to function. To ask someone you don’t know if she needs help is to put her in an awkward spot. “What am I doing that makes it look like I need help? Assuming capability until proven incompetent is best and safest.
Asking the question “What do those with disabilities owe to those without disabilities and vice versa?” is a way to start a necessary conversation. For one thing, the question makes it clear that both groups of people owe something to the other. It is not a one-sided situation. Treating this issue as if all burdens of responsibility ought to be placed on what I will call the “abled” group intentionally or unintentionally fosters a custodial mentality and often resentment on the part of those who help. Framing the question in the way that I have places ownership on everyone to do their part in seeing that those with and those without disabilities are treated as fairly by one another as possible.
This is the second in a two-part series on “What do those with disabilities owe those without?” The full article first appeared at the Reformation21 blog.