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The First Time Someone Told Me 'You Don't Look Disabled'

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Being an activist for the chronic illness and disabled community, I have always heard of others hearing people say they do not look disabled. I would be appalled upon hearing so, because there is not a “look” to being disabled. In the spring semester of my freshman year at university, I decided to take a disability studies course, because it was something I could relate to and receive graduation credit for. After the first day of the class, I felt uneasy about it, due to the teacher making us with disabilities look like “inspiration porn” because we could function and do normal things like what people without disabilities do on the daily.  After the second day of class, I would have to hand her my 504 accommodations for the class. When talking to her, she said she liked my use of “inspiration porn” in class. Then she said, “You don’t look disabled.”

I was in complete shock. I couldn’t believe the first time I would hear this said about me, it would come from a disability studies teacher.  My initial response was to say, “Well you cannot see my feeding tube, the long scars from cancer, or the years of hard work I had to put into school because of being dyslexic and having auditory processing disorder.” However, I realize her saying that is one of the major problems with how disabled people are treated. There should not have to be a physical impairment or a “sign” of something to call someone disabled. Even when there is a visible physical impairment, people with disabilities are treated differently or made to look like an inspiration for doing day-to-day things.  I have faced this myself when I leave my feeding tube in while going out. People will be nice to me because I am the “sick girl.” Or when people hear I have had cancer, those “mean girls” in class will suddenly be nice to me.

I would have never thought that a teacher in a disability studies class would tell me “you do not look disabled,” however it did make me realize that the idea of looking disabled is a massive flaw in our society. When you say someone does not look disabled, you completely debunk all of the hardships they may have faced to be there. There is not a look for being disabled, and most of the time we look like average people. When we do wear our disabilities or impairment for people to see, we are treated differently. However, we do not want to be an everyday person’s inspiration; we want to be treated normally. Yes, sometimes we might need help with something, but that’s no reason to treat us differently than an average person who needs help with something.

This idea of someone needing to “look disabled” needs to be expunged from society.

Getty image by Lucky Business.

Originally published: February 27, 2018
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