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How Society's Focus on 'Curing' Disability Can Harm Disabled People

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There’s something I feel needs clarifying between many abled and disabled people. There is a major problem with society thinking disabled people’s greatest, most pressing need is to be cured. It’s difficult to explain and I hope I can find the right words to help people understand and to help disabled people be heard.

When people believe disabled people’s main concern should be looking for a cure, it can lead to an inordinate amount of emphasis on a person’s physical body, or on their mind when it comes to mental illness or intellectual disabilities. This can lead to disabled people being treated as flawed and even subhuman. Focusing on cure emphasizes the person’s physical being and overshadows them being viewed as a whole person.

If a cure is considered to be what a disabled person should desire most, it seems to go along with the idea that disabled people are broken and need to be put back together. We are seen as less than, almost as if we’re bad people. Yes, I have physical inabilities, but that does not make me lesser or a “bad” person somehow.

That’s one of the biggest issues: not only is there an extreme focus on our physical forms or our mental capabilities, but a variation from the supposed norm is considered negative and unwanted. Because the world often sees the physical or mental disability as the entirety of the person, the negativity people associate with disability can become associated with the person. This is incredibly hurtful and unfair. This kind of thinking needs to be eradicated — quickly.

The emotional and social aspects of being a disabled person are constantly getting overshadowed by their disability. We are still people! We have lives outside of attending to our disabilities. Of course, disabilities can create an actual needed increased focus on the physical or mental. But that doesn’t give the world permission to objectify us.

We still laugh, we cry, we love — we don’t suddenly stop living and experiencing things when we are born with a disability or become disabled. And we often do all of this while fighting the medical system, fighting ableism, fighting for accessibility and accommodations, even fighting for our lives! We’re kinda badass, if you didn’t already know.

This obsession with a cure also harms disabled people by affecting our daily quality of life. Not only are we often not treated with respect, but we still struggle with seriously basic accessibility issues that should not exist in the year 2017! We are not given accommodations we need; we are instead told to “be more positive,” to “not accept our limitations” and “fight for a cure!” These are things I’ve been told. In real life. By serious people. Yeah. The focus needs to be shifted. Of course I’m not suggesting we stop looking to cure diseases, just that we pay more attention and give more resources to the daily needs of disabled people.

Even if there were a cure for any given disability, I know there are disabled people who would choose not to be cured. And that is their choice to make, no one else’s. Personally, I wish to get rid of the physical pain my disabilities cause me, but I can see why some people with disabilities would not want to change part of themselves.

Our disabilities have helped shape who we are today and are part of our identity. A part of our identity, not the entire thing. Because we’re still people — people with fulfilling lives lived with our disabilities, not fighting against them. We’re people with kick-ass lives who deserve respect and kindness like everyone else, and we’re deserving of that whether a cure is ever found or not.

I think people can mean well and actually believe they are helping disabled people when they say all we need is a cure. I can understand to some degree why people who have no idea what our daily realities are like, who see us trying to navigate in an extremely inaccessible and unaccepting world would think a cure may be the answer. I kind of get it. But once their eyes are opened to our lives and our existence, this view should quickly change, right? You’d think?

I want to try to be understanding, but it’s hard at times. How would they feel if they were in our shoes? It feels like some people believe there’s something wrong about our existence. It feels like being told “You need changing to have the right to live in our world.” I suppose that’s what it all comes down to.

I try very hard to look at it from others’ point of view, but it feels very much like those who focus on cure don’t care about our daily quality of life. They just want us “fixed.” But I don’t believe that’s the most urgent need the average disabled person has, especially because in most cases a cure seems rather far off. I’m not aware of a disability close to being cured, or to having that cure made widely available anytime soon. There will be many more days disabled people have to battle with accessibility issues and ableism before a cure would be an option, should they even want it.

The way the world addresses disability needs some serious reform. Hopefully we can all get on the same page and begin to work together to make the world accessible and accepting.

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Thinkstock photo by Bubutu.

Originally published: September 13, 2017
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