I've seen it happen to able-bodied people once in awhile. Someone approaches and starts a conversation, and after a moment or two of confusion, there's a realization that the approaching person has mistaken my friend or family member for someone else – someone of the same race, similar height and weight, similar age, similar facial characteristics.
“I’m not who you think I am; you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”
Humbly backing away, the bewildered individual is embarrassed and apologetic, “How silly of me! I’m so sorry.”
It might be surprising to hear that I have never been confused with a person of my same build, same age, same facial characteristics, same race. But, I, a brown-eyed, light-brown-haired white male, have been confused with males significantly larger than me, smaller than me, older than me, younger than me, and surprisingly, even of different ethnicities! A blond child, I was often mistaken in my own school by teachers, staff, and students for a dark complexioned student of Laotian descent who was much smaller than me, or, with an older blue eyed student who was 40-50 pounds heavier than me. Over the years, I have been mistaken as well for a black male and a male of Egyptian descent by people who know one or both of us. And, when I travel, strangers often mistake me for someone they know; it’s a regular part of visiting a new place.
My silliest incident of mistaken identity occurred when I was an audience member at a theatrical production. The show’s lead actor, onstage for most of the 2 ½ hour production, had just completed his final bow. The curtain closed; the lights came up and the crowd slowly started to leave the packed auditorium. A woman maneuvered her way over to me and said, “You have a wonderful voice.” She kept talking, and it took me a few minutes to process that she had confused me with the lead actor, a black-haired teenager of Indian descent with a very small build. Not only would the actor still have been in full costume, he would have had to do a major leap over the audience to get to the back of the theatre in such a short time.
How could this happen, you wonder? Why these repeated bizarre mix-ups??
Because in all these cases, both I and the person I am mistaken for, use a wheelchair.
And, in most cases, after I tell the offender, “You have me mixed up with someone else,” the response is not apologetic. No embarrassment. Just a laugh at the “coincidence” of it all. They seem to think that theirs was an obvious, easy, natural mistake that anyone would make.
You see, when you use a wheelchair, some people don’t look you in the eye, don’t take in your personal physical characteristics, let alone see you as a unique distinct complex individual. They see the equipment, not the person.
And this inability to see is where ableism starts.
I have come to believe that seeing someone for only the equipment, or for just one piece of his or her external appearance, is a root cause of discrimination. Seeing a wheelchair, a white cane, a speech impediment, a gender, a skin color and then making an assumption that we now know the individual gets us into trouble. When we believe that we know someone’s identity and that they and their “group” are one, not only are we wrong, we are arrogant and we open the door to justifying to ourselves our superiority. There begins the slippery descent down into the swamp of dehumanization.
If you have a story about mistaken identity, feel free to share it in the comments.
Be sure to check out the other posts for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008. Thanks Goldfish for once again organizing this amazing event!
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
With the busy-ness of life, I've gotten behind on updating my blog.
Here are a few additions to my blogroll:
Radar: The Disability Network - This is a new blog from RADAR, the disability rights network of the U.K. They have a vision for, "a just and equal society whose strength is human difference." The blog has a varied mix of noteworthy stories.
Also from the U.K. - Ableize - a "resource directory of disabled aids information products services and advice," run for and by persons with disabilities.
Coping with disability has original articles on living with cerebral palsy, and also regular updates on and links to a variety of health, disability, and social news.
Disabled Soapbox - A wealth of advocacy for disablity rights, including right now the coverage of ADAPT activists advocating for (and being arrested for rallying about) the Community Choice Act in Washington, DC.
Bits and Pieces of Me is a blog written by a mom sharing her experiences as the parent of Lena and Kassie, her twin daughters born very prematurely.
My Disability Blog shares a wealth of information about disability and the social security system. Tim's most recent post, Being Prepared for a Social Security Disability Hearing, discusses the process and how to be best prepared for success.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
On May 1, Goldfish will host the 3rd Blogging Against Disablism Day. (You can check out the last two B.A.D.D.s from the links in my sidebar.) This is a day of coming together to write about discrimination against persons with disabilities, also known as ableism or disablism. Last year more than 170 people wrote on a range of topics covering personal experiences, societal experiences, education, health, children, intersections with racism and sexism and more.
I really encourage YOU to share your thoughts and experiences. If you have a blog, read the details and sign up over at Diary of a Goldfish. If you don't have a blog, I'd be happy to post your writing here - just send me an email (address in my profile). This is a time for solidarity and support of one another. I especially encourage parents and allies to contribute. You don't have to have a disability to be opposed to discrimination against people with disabilities. All are welcome.
A note on language - there is a whole assortment of language about disability - handicapped, disabled, disability, etc. etc. May 1 is a day of language amnesty, write in the way that works for you. Goldfish has put together a language guide for reference.
Hope to see you May 1!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Disability Blog Carnival #36 is up over at Abnormal Diversity. The topic is a difficult one - ABUSE. Yet, it's such an important topic. Abuse of persons with disabilities, both subtle and overt, both by individuals and by society is incredibly prevalent, and also incredibly unacknowledged. I especially identified with terror and vulnerability of Kay's post.
Unfortunately, I've been very busy and didn't have a chance to write a post for this carnival. And a few people have emailed me about my blogroll - I haven't had a chance to update it in a while, but I will soon.
The next carnival will be on the topic of Disability and Identity. Head over to Crip Chick's for the details.
Friday, April 11, 2008
"A diamond is the ultimate gemstone, having few weaknesses and many strengths. Formed under pressure, the diamond is the hardest substance found in nature. There is nothing on earth that is stronger, more durable and enduring than diamonds. An uncut diamond represents the untapped potential that lies in all of us."
Head on over to Carnival #35, "The Hardest Part." I have been too busy with school to post, but lots of other bloggers have written great stuff on the topic of "The Hardest Part." Jodi Reimer, at Reimer Reason, has put together a wide assortment of posts on personal issues - pain, loneliness, vulnerability, lack of privacy; family expectations; health care providers; and the ever present societal issues of prejudice and discrimination. When life settles down for me, I'll be checking out the posts. I hope you'll head over, too.