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When Your Disability Becomes Someone's Joke

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Disability isn’t funny. It’s not rare; it’s a part of life for many. It can be hard, scary, and something those who experience it have to come to terms with. It’s often something people fight not to be defined by, even when they are open about it.

What happens when your disability becomes someone else’s joke? I experienced this myself not long ago, when somebody who I’d known from school, but not spoken to in several years messaged me out of the blue with a degrading joke, apparently an inside joke between him and his friends about me and my disability.

Was it a simple joke? Yes. Was it fairly basic, without any real intellectual value? Yes. Was it completely random, and therefore a sign that this person was thinking about me much, much more than I was thinking about him? Yes. Did it hurt anyway? Too right it did.

For many of us, disability is the hardest thing we have ever, or will ever, have to face, because it can be life-changing, and isolating. Mean, targeted jokes about disability do not run off like water off of a duck’s back, they stick like oil, and they leave us feeling dirty, and attacked.

Nasty, uninformed jokes about disability do not make feelings of loneliness easier, they do not make us feel more liked, and they do not put us in the mood for the fights we have to face each day, sometimes just to get up in the morning. They are degrading, and they are harmful. They make us feel like we are nothing.

We are not the only victims. There are people in the spotlight who this has happened to, and to whom we can look for example when we wonder how to handle it. Lizzie Velasquez has more than once been a victim of awful comments made online, by strangers, and by supposed peers. Was she upset, hurt, violated, degraded? I’m sure she was, but it did not defeat her. She rose above. She is now a successful motivational speaker, author of multiple books, has made a documentary, and is said to soon be working on a television show.

A reporter with a disability at a press conference during the American election was belittled by Donald Trump; his disability was ridiculed. Did this hurt him, degrade him, and make him doubt himself? It must have done, but Serge Kovaleski is not only a person with a disability, but a person who has achieved, who has risen to an esteemed position in his career because he is good at what he does. A degrading remark is not nearly enough to steal away these things.

We will receive hate, we will be bullied, ridiculed, judged, and degraded for our disabilities. We will be told we are lying, or making it up, or that we are just a little too precious, or that the bullying is not as bad as we make it out to be. We will not listen.

We need to educate those who do not understand, teach them what is OK, and spread the definition of ableism, so people know when they are perpetrators of it. We must treat ourselves with kindness, and strive to overcome those who aim only to tear us down.

The oil this comment has left on me will not wash off overnight, but it will eventually, and my skin will be stronger for having soaked in it.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 18, 2017
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