When we consider the word disabled, what do we think? How do we feel? Who are we imagining? Why?
A common perspective of disable can be found in the definition: Something limits someone in some way. Some questions pop up: Do disabilities limit our sense of vitality? Do we limit the sense of vitality of those with perceived disabilities? Are my limitations perceived as a disability? Have you yourself ever felt limited in your journey, understanding or participation in life? Mostly though I wonder…is it our limitations that cause us to be disabled or is it that our abilities, our vitality, our inclusion are not enabled? If someone is labelled as being disabled, who is disabling them?
I’d like to introduce ableism, discrimination in favour of able-bodied people. Stigmatization towards those with differing abilities reflects the second definition of disable, one we are all a part of. When we disable another we put them out of action, we disarm their abilities, we defuse their perceptions and we deactivate their ways of being. We have created a ‘you’ in contrast to ‘me’. What we may forget to recognize is that our world has been built upon a specific view of what it means to be able. Our world has been developed for individuals with two strong legs, two strong arms, two seeing eyes, two hearing ears, and the capacity to live amongst the symbols, information, health status and processes all considered as what is needed to maintain our life in society.
Are we unable or are we being disabled? Are we not getting into the bank because we are unable to walk up the stairs or because the bank has disabled us to enter? Are we not being hired at that company because we are unable to see with our eyes or because they are disabling our ability to see in other ways? Do we become less able as we enter later life or are we disabled by a stigmatized perception of living longer? Do we find ourselves unable to learn or has the curriculum disabled the way in which we learn? Is it that when we have no place to call home that we are unable to find such a place or have certain influential experiences disabled our resources for finding a home?
As we experience our life, we develop the ability to think and act from what we have lived. To live the way that brings us a sense of vitality, to live a life with liberty for how we choose to be, to know that as we live with liberty we are grounded in security…these are not desires. They are our right to life, liberty and security as determined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
When we believe we are more able than others, we project that because X limits X for you, you are unable. On the flip side, if we project our experiences with disablement as more X than another’s limitation, we disable. When we don’t enable, we disable.
When we enable one another to live everyday with the possibilities that bring us life, liberty and security, we move beyond the awareness ‘me’, past the understanding of ‘you’ and into living through the perception of ‘we’. We all have the right to life, liberty, and security. We are not all free to do so. We all have the right to the possibilities that bring us our individual sense of vitality. We are not all enabled to do so. When we disable another’s ability for a sense of vitality, we regress into ‘you versus me’. We limit another’s right to life, liberty and security. On the other hand, if we enable one another, if we provide the authority or means to do so, we may discover the power in numbers and begin to collectively fight for our right to vitality. Our freedom becomes a team effort.
What is the meaning of life, or our right to life, liberty and security, without each of us being able to freely live our lives the way we are most able? How do we recognize the power in our collective limitations to life, liberty and security? How do we hold our society’s disablers accountable?
We unite. We encourage. We collaborate. We take back our collective freedom for life, liberty and security to provide a life worth living for us all.
We don’t disable, we enable.