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How the Disability Community Is Like an Island

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It’s finals time at school. I’ve been studying really hard for all of my exams, especially Science. In Science, we have to take a Regents exam, which was made by the state. They’re a lot harder than regular district finals. One of the things we have to study are the state labs we’ve done. State labs are basically experiments that the state requires you to do.

The most recent was about evolution. It was simulating finches with different beaks, living on different islands, trying to get enough food to survive. We learned before this that the theory of evolution was brought about when Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands and studied the finches that lived there. They all used to live on one island, but then all migrated to different islands. These islands all had different features, and the finches and their beaks became adapted to these environments, until they weren’t all one species anymore. Something similar has started to happen to humans. And no, I’m not talking about skin color.

All humans started on the same island, the mainland. Some migrated to different islands. Right now, we’ll talk about the disability community, so let’s call this island Disability Island. Disability Island has different, and sometimes less, resources than the mainland. Some people on Disability Island need resources from the mainland, so the people on the mainland will ship some over to Disability Island. Some people on the mainland are upset that they have to give some of their resources to people on Disability Island, saying they should just work harder.

Eventually, the people on Disability Island start “evolving.” They talk about different things, they watch different shows, listen to different music, and even start creating their own language (spoonie, gaslighting, ableism, etc.). This isn’t exactly bad though. They lean on each other for support, because these people live on the same island, with similar resources, similar lives, and similar experiences.

But the more they evolve, the more different they become from those on the mainland. And the more different they become, the less people on the mainland want to try to understand them. This isn’t at the fault of the people on Disability Island; evolution is involuntary. Yet the people on the mainland don’t care. All they care about is staying on their own island. Does this sound familiar? This is one way communities, and more importantly, cultures are formed.

So what can we learn from this? Well, I’d love to write something that sounds wise, like something you’d find inside a greeting card, but I gotta be honest with you all: I have no idea. It brings up a lot of questions, and the answers aren’t so black-and-white. For example, is this kind of evolution good or bad? It depends.

The people on the mainland like being with those like themselves, and the people on Disability Island take comfort in each others’ presence. But in the grand scheme of things, these two kinds of people are being pulled apart by their differences. Both groups of people are scared to visit the others’ island because the people on the other island seem so different.

Another tough question: if we stay on our own islands and continue to evolve, will we all become “different species?” Meaning will we all eventually become so different that we have nothing in common? There’s probably no way to know until the future. So for now, don’t be afraid to visit other islands. You never know what you’ll find there.

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Thinkstock image by TongRo Images.

Originally published: June 19, 2017
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