Do people with disabilities experience privilege?
From a young age Peta knew she was both very lucky but also a bit unlucky in what cards she had been dealt. Overall though she knew she was privileged. Peta feels grateful for the privileges she has in life, but when her disability is what others see it can be hard to have her voice reflect others in the disability community.
This week Peta discusses the guilt she feels for not truly reflecting the minority group she is apart of.
Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast, answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta and this week's question from a listener is a real doozy. Hold on tight. Let's hope I don't annoy or upset anyone. These are just my opinions. So let's get into the episode.
Peta [00:00:40] This week's question was from Sarah. Sarah asked, "Do people with disabilities experience privilege, and if they do, do they ever feel guilty for their privilege?"
Peta [00:00:54] I love this question. I think it's because it came out of left field, and to be honest, I really don't think people associate the fact that people with disabilities can be privileged because, of course, we can.
Peta [00:01:10] You don't have to be male, white, middle-aged, well-educated. To experience privilege and to also feel guilty for the privileges, because, in the end, many privileges are just the luck of the draw. Being born into the family, being born in the right country, having the opportunities that many other people don't have or can't access.
Peta [00:01:40] As a kid, if you're privileged, I don't really think you realise you are. Until you're faced with an alternative example of how life could have been. The concept of privilege wasn't something I thought much about during my childhood other than the odd English essay I set at school.
Peta [00:02:04] To you, that's probably a large neon sign of how privileged I am, the fact that I didn't need to think about it. But in other ways, I was the example shown to other children of how lucky they were. How lucky that they could jump on the monkey bars. How lucky that they could climb a tree and how lucky that they are that they could run or walk or do anything physical.
Peta [00:02:34] While I did experience a very privileged childhood. It's not like I wasn't aware of the many challenges that I was going to face throughout my life. From a young age, I was taught to focus on the things that I could do versus thinking about all the things I could not do. Looking back, I'm quite baffled by how well I coped, watching my friends do, all the things I couldn't do. I don't really remember being jealous of the girls playing on the monkey bars, but I do remember that I wish I could play with them.
Four-year-old Peta knew she couldn't play on the monkey bars, so instead, I happily talk to them while they play it on the monkey bars. Clearly not much has changed.
Peta [00:03:33] It was only until after high school when I started my first full-time job I realised that my identity didn't really fit with how society viewed me. I was totally a square peg in a round hole.
Peta [00:03:54] At the time, to my knowledge, I was the only person with the disability working in that organisation. So when I arrived, I feel like my disability was the thing that people attributed to me as having the most value. It wasn't my degrees. It wasn't my experience. It was the fact that I was the only voice with a disability. Therefore, I felt a huge responsibility to reflect the disability community when I was using my voice and my opinions. I wasn't 'Peta.' I was 'Peta with the disability.'.
Peta [00:04:46] This experience really highlighted to me how privileged I am. That I've had the privilege of being defined as just Peta. Versus people viewing my disability first, the fact that I had the luxury to be viewed as myself first. So I very quickly felt like I was not the right person to speak on behalf of people with disabilities. I didn't feel like I reflected anybody with a disability other than myself.
Peta [00:05:25] My inability to fully represent people with disabilities while at the organisation was only highlighted to me when one day my manager pulled me aside and asked me not to refer to myself as disabled while at work. She told me the word disabled was now considered an offensive term and not fully accepted in the disability community. Given that we working directly with people with disabilities, I'm very thankful that she gave me this piece of information as I would never want to upset or insult anyone.
This is where I discovered the importance of the word. The power of a word. I was never told that my disability was a negative, so I never associated any word really to be negative and that was because the word disabled in my family didn't have the inherent negativity placed upon it. It was just seen as a descriptive word, a neutral one. No different from having blue or green eyes. I was disabled.
Peta [00:06:55] This only highlighted to me the level of privilege I have faced, in the acceptance that my friends and family had in and around my disability. I one hundred per cent took for granted that my disability had never defined me, up until this point. But once I started working for this organisation I felt extremely guilty that I had experienced so many things, particularly in comparison to the people that we were helping, working directly with those with a disability. Their stories to mine were so different and that was only really through sheer luck. While there are many privileges I wish I had like being able to exercise be fit, go for a walk, even walk my dog. Having my dating life be so much easier without having to explain to them that, yes, in fact, I do have a disability. And yes, in fact, I do own a bed.
Peta [00:08:08] I have realised that by feeling guilty of my privilege. Is a complete disservice to those who wish they had my privilege. I want to embrace all the privileges that are being given, and that's no different to any of you guys, we don't have a disability. I don't begrudge you for wanting to be fit, wanting to wear those beautiful high heels that my feet are personally fit into. I said, go for it.
Peta [00:08:42] I think the key to managing the guilt of whatever privilege that you have is being cognizant that not everybody has that privilege, whatever it is. In the end, feeling guilty isn't going to fix anything. It's not going to change anything. The last thing I want to do is waste all the many privileges that I've been given. That, to me, is the definition of unfair.
Peta [00:09:19] Oh, well, you still there? Thank you so much for listening to this episode, as you can tell. I'll answer any question that you may have. The way to do that is either via Instagram @icantstandpodcast or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by the website www.icantstandpodcast.com. I can't wait for more of your questions and hopefully, I'll have your ears again next week.