A response to National Disability Awareness Month

Listen to this post:

Click on the title to read an amazing article I found online today, called “National Disability Awareness Month: The Best Compliment Is No Compliment at All.”

She tells about how offensive it is when people

  • talk to her disabled 70-year old husband like he is a child
  • ignore him and talk to her about him as if he’s not there
  • compliment her for staying married to him “despite” his disability

She understands the good intention behind the compliments. But make no mistake: “Wow, you’re amazing for being married to a physically disabled person! I could never do that!” is not empathy. It’s also really not a compliment. After all, we live the lives we live because well, we live the lives we live. Disabled people are not angels, and our loved ones are not saints for “putting up with us.”

National Disability Awareness Month ends this evening.

What happens tomorrow and the day after? Are we still allowed to talk about these things  and continue to request that people talk to us like regular people?

Mary Pleshette Willis recommends that people give the same types of compliments or comments to a disabled person you might give to a non-disabled person. Just focus on the “person” part.

And if you wish to give us a compliment, stop and observe first. We can let you know what we’re proud of and what we want compliments on.

This is why I feel like documentary films where people tell their own stories in their own way are so critical.

I saw a documentary where most of the film is about lots of people talking about one disabled guy. You figure he must have died already because they all talk about him in the past. In the last few minutes of the film, the camera turns to the subject of the film, and he is allowed to talk about himself in his own words very briefly.

What?

The non-disabled people spend 95% of the film telling his story for him in their words.

So we won’t make a film like that.

I don’t want to make an Inspirational!! film where audiences walk away glowing inside feeling like brain-injured artists are amazing but will be forgotten in an hour. Nor will I make a film where the artists are Sad!! Bitter!! Helpless!! or Without A Voice Of Their Own!!

We’re going to show them just as they are, who they are, so they can share their stories about art themselves. After you hear them tell their stories, you’ll know more about them and what they value. Just the same as when any other person tells their story.

Happy National Disability Awareness Month! Let’s remain aware!