Society’s expectations of people with disability are generally far too low. I’ve always said that we should do what we can to change that perception. It starts with active listening, offering choices and holding everyone to a higher standard. It involves assuming ability first and adjusting our support based on what we need. It means being open to different perspectives and new ways of doing things especially if you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. It’s really important to consider other possibilities. After all, there’s already so much ableism in the world – we shouldn’t have to battle against ourselves or the people closest to us.
But as with everything when it comes to disability, raising expectations is not always that simple. It can be a double-edged sword. A friend of mine puts it this way:
“You have to work twice as hard to be seen as half as good.”
That’s such a good way to explain it.
When people with disability do have the opportunity to take up positions of power, you can be pretty sure we won’t take it lightly. Often, we feel a greater sense of responsibility because it’s such an uphill fight to get there and stay there in the first place. People look at me as a relatively young disabled woman and assume I can’t be the leader or be trusted to make important creative decisions. So, I work that much harder.
All that has a price though – and it’s no good for anyone if we work so hard at our goals that we run ourselves into the ground. So, when we think about raising expectations, it’s always important to be aware of the limitations we are dealing with.
Discovering your limitations can be a hard thing to come to terms with, whether you are disabled or not. It’s certainly something that I’m still learning. It’s different for everyone, so I can’t give you a formula that will apply to everyone. But rest and self-care are essential, whatever that means for you.
Learning how to work effectively within your limitations doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your goals or be excellent at what you choose to do. In fact, finding creative solutions to things is a strength that can benefit you.
If you can understand what you really need and learn to communicate those needs in your own way, you’ll be in a much better position to give your best, be your best and raise expectations.
If you are supporting someone with disability, you could have an important role to play here too. With an open mind, support people to think through what they want to do and explore what could be put in place to assist them. It could be anything from technology to equipment to your own skills.
Just as each person’s abilities and limitations differ, so do their support needs. Each of my support workers has their own interests and strengths, so I organise my time based on what they can be most helpful with. It helps me be more efficient and effective in reaching my goals, and it’s more fun for everyone involved.
We can and should all work together to raise society’s expectations of (and for) people with disability. But it’s crucial to strike a balance between raising those expectations and recognising, understanding and supporting limitations. It’s all about empathy, authenticity, flexibility, and the willingness to adapt.
And remember, you don’t have to be a superhero to change people’s attitudes. Having the courage to stand up for what we need is a great way to start building a more equitable and inclusive society.
Emily Dash – Artist, Academic, Member, and Advocate