Recently, there has been much discussion about privilege, what it is and who has it. In the media, privilege often focuses on race, gender or sexual identity. Although ableism is becoming more and more discussed, it is less frequently mentioned, but is just as important.
Perhaps many able-bodied people are simply unaware of the struggles those with physical disabilities face. That’s understandable, but it’s important we continue to raise awareness. As Thanksgiving approaches, take a moment to be thankful for the good fortune you have, and then spread the word to help others. Here are 10 privileges you may be unaware you have if you’ve never been disabled.
1. Your Life Doesn’t Revolve Around the “Go”
When was the last time you avoided going somewhere new because you weren’t sure of the bathroom location? For patients with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases, knowing where the nearest restroom is before heading out is part of the daily routine.
2. Air Travel Is Just a Matter of Course for You
Traveling for work or personal reasons probably gripes you no further than waiting in a long security line. For those with epilepsy, hemiplegic or basilar migraine, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or any number of other diseases, both neurological and non-neurological, flying can become nearly impossible. Changes in barometric pressure can cause intense pain and even loss of consciousness.
3. You Can Drive or Use Public Transportation
Run out of toilet tissue or dish soap? Just hop in the car and head to the store, right? This is not so quick and easy when you are disabled. If you can’t drive or use public transportation due to disability, simple things such like grocery shopping or even going to the doctor need to be planned well in advance so you can secure a ride.
4. You Never Feel Inferior Due to Illness
Think about the last time you got sick. Did anyone ridicule you for it? Did anyone sigh in exasperation that you were ill yet again? Those who suffer from an invisible disability, though, are often accustomed to frustration when they try to explain that they simply have to take time to rest and heal. The lost friendships that stem from “flaking” on people once too often can end up leaving some very lonely.
5. Reading Subtitles Is a Necessity, Not a Luxury
Reading subtitles can be a fun thing to do when watching a foreign movie or if you just like to have backup for those little moments you don’t catch. For those who are hearing-impaired, however, it is a necessity. All programming must feature subtitles for the film or TV show to make sense and be enjoyable.
6. You’ve Never Been a Medical Guinea Pig
Many people with difficult-to-diagnose chronic diseases have medications with adverse reactions prescribed by their doctors. When there isn’t enough research available on a given chronic issue, physicians often have to just make educated guesses as to which medications may help.
Sometimes, the meds do help. Other times, the side effects make people sicker. Finding that one medication or cocktail of medications that truly works can be a long and exhausting process.
7. You Don’t Have to Convince Anyone of Your Honesty
From their physicians to their employers to their family members, people with disabilities often must constantly try to convince others that thinking positively is not the be-all-and-end-all cure.
This particularly holds true for those disabled by mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. No one would fake being sick to the extent that their career and personal lives lie in ruins. So be patient when people call out sick and listen to their concerns.
8. You Aren’t Privy to Everyone’s Favorite Miracle Cure
Dealing with people who don’t believe in certain disabilities is tough. Once they’re convinced of the presence of a disability, though, those who are disabled will often be advised to try anything from yoga to drinking enough water to kill a camel to dancing by the light of the full moon clad in nothing but a chicken-foot necklace to cure them.
Everyone from their mom to that random hot guy they met online will suddenly have a miracle cure for whatever ails them. After all, it worked for that guy’s best friend’s cousin’s former college roommate, so it has to work for someone else, right?
9. You Can Enjoy Spontaneity
When your college chums proposed a spontaneous road trip, were you the first in the car? Perhaps when your girl crew decided to paint the town, you were the first one into your party dress. But for those who are disabled, any outing can require energy they may not have. Even simple outings such as meeting a friend for tea can be tricky to pull off if it falls on a day when the pain is particularly bad.
10. You Can Afford to Care for Yourself
This is particularly true in the United States, where your ability to maintain health insurance coverage often depends on your employer. The problem with this system is, if you become too ill or injured to work, you’re on your own.
Many disabled people turn to self-employment to make ends meet, but recent changes to key provisions of the Affordable Care Act by the Trump administration have made purchasing private health insurance far out of the reach of the average person. This will only become worse if the administration moves forward with allowing insurers to drive those with pre-existing conditions into a high-risk pool. It’s the ultimate Catch 22: You need to be healthy in order to work, but you need to work in order to be able to get the care you need to stay well.
Hopefully, this short list has opened your eyes to privileges you may not know you have. Better still, hopefully it raised your level of empathy for those who are disabled. Next time you see someone struggling, don’t hesitate to lend a hand or a listening ear. It can truly make all the difference in the world to the disabled person you care about.