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The truth about disability

No one has a disability until disabled by us.

Time to read

, 1009 words, 3rd grade

When we say that a person has a “disability”, what do we mean? How did that disability arise? Are people born with disabilities? Letʼs consider.

I have a terrible disability. I worry about it daily. I have considered getting a prosthetic, but they are so expensive. Iʼm not sure I can afford one.

What is my disability? Oh, I have several. Here's one: I am not bulletproof.

Shocking, I know, but bullets will go right through me and either injure or even kill me. (I admit: I have yet to test this.) This is a very serious disability, and I must spend all my waking hours aware of the danger. I try to avoid situations where bullets are flying toward me. Flying anywhere, really.

I could buy a prosthetic: a bullet “proof” vest. But these prosthetics are very primitive. And expensive. For one thing, they are not truly bullet proof. For another, they only cover the torso. What if a bullet goes through my head? As Woody Allen quips, my second-favorite organ is in there.

Is this some kind of sick joke?

You might think Iʼm joking, but Iʼm not. Ask soldiers, police officers, and others who encounter flying bullets on occasion. Is lack of bulletproofness is a disability? You bet it is.

But most of us donʼt see it as a disability. Why is this? Isnʼt it because none of us is bulletproof? Hence, we find lack of bulletproofness “normal”. Thus, not a disability, per se.

We confuse normal with typical. That is to say, most humans have or lack that ability. It is typical for humans to be susceptible to sudden bullet death.

What are my other disabilties? Oh, they are myriad! I cannot, for example, fly. I am forced to use various prosthetics to overcome this disability. Stairs. Elevators. Airplanes. Zeppelins. We created these “prosthetics” to permit us to overcome our lack of certain abilities.

I canʼt breathe underwater. Prosthetic: scuba gear. I canʼt see my insides. Prosthetic: X-rays, MRIs, etc. If you think about it, all tools are, in a sense, prosthetics. We invent them to extend our abilities.

So how is a wheelchair, a screen reader, a sip-and-puff, or a hearing aid any different? These are tools we have invented to extend our abilities. Some of us need them all the time, others only now and then. But they are just tools.

Disabled woman wearing prosthetics. Such a pity.
Apparently, the woman pictured is not bulletproof. Hence, the bulletproof vest prosthetic.

All disabilities are culturally created

No one is born with a dis-ability. We are all born with abilities. These differ in type and extent from person to person and throughout our lives.

I am reliably informed (although I suspect that they are lying) that ages ago I was very small. I could not walk, talk, or even use a toilet. They say I could not even feed myself! Talk about disabled!

But no one saw the infant me as disabled. Thatʼs because there was no expectation that an infant would have those abilities.

My parents and others worked together as a team to ensure that I was able to live my life to my fullest potential. This despite being so “disabled.” I did learn to walk, talk, and (mostly) feed myself. But I still lacked the power to make serious decisions about my future. Overcoming that took eighteen years!

But all through my young life others acted to remove barriers so that I would not suffer. I even remember some of this. So that I could live to my fullest potential.

Some of us are not so lucky. Many humans have decided that there is a time limit on developing these abilities. So if you reach a certain age and you still canʼt walk, well, good luck to you. We built our society without giving much thought to your needs.

Over the past half century we have started to grow up a little as a species. Weʼve begun to realize that it is not about abilities or lack thereof. It is about the bigotry of those among us who see ourselves as “normal” … and others as lacking.

So we have curb cuts and ramps and walk lights that click at us. We have real-time translators and closed captions and sign language interpreters.

But we are still talking about accessibility to persons with disabilities. It is time to let that go. It is not accessibility to persons with disabilities. It is simply accessibility. To everyone.

And it is not that every one of us must be able to do everything. I am never going to be a great dancer or singer. Trust me. But it is not about being able to be anything you want to be.

It is about being able to live up to your full potential, whatever that is. It is about the absence of artificial and unnecessary barriers. Barriers erected by our ignorance or insouciance.

It is not about removing barriers

It is about not erecting barriers in the first place. Why has it taken us so long to learn to respect others? Why are so many of us seemingly so eager to see it as “us and them”.

And to be clear, these barriers are not limited to physical ones or cognitive ones. Any kind of unfair discrimination is a barrier. Racism, sexism, misogyny or misandry, homophobia, transphobia … all prevent us unfairly from living our lives to our full potential. And so does unequal distribution of wealth. Poverty is a noxious barrier, destroying millions of lives.

In the end, accessibility is about justice. As such it should not be an afterthought. It should be the natural way to build anything, from a web app to a community to a nation.

To this end, Craft Code embraces Universal Design. We strongly recommend that you do so as well. Itʼs about justice for all.

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Essays about code. Essays about connection. Essays about context. Critiques of coding practices.

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