“I used to try to explain that in fact I enjoy my life, that it’s a great sensual pleasure to zoom by power chair on these delicious muggy streets, that I have no more reason to kill myself than most people. But it gets tedious. God didn’t put me on this street to provide disability awareness training to the likes of them…”
Reading this quote from American activist, attorney, and author Harriet McBryde Johnson I laughed aloud in recognition. Acerbic, life affirming. It came from her New York Times piece “Unspeakable Conversations” in which she recounts meeting utilitarian moral philosopher and professor, Peter Singer: “…he doesn’t want to kill me. He simply thinks it would have been better all things considered if my parents had been given the option to kill the baby I once was.”
I laughed because I’m aghast at the fact that disability seems to mandate debate from everywhere—is it possible for us to live good lives? Historically our schooling and living arrangements have been segregated denying us the pleasure of friends and society, our romantic and sexual pleasure has been pathologized, and so many advances pivot around changing our bodies not social norms. Yet we remind non-crips to be thankful they are not us.
Being disabled can be difficult. Some days, I’d like a holiday in able-bodied-land. I also know disabled people on both sides of the euthanasia debate with disability rights at the heart of their arguments. However having recently warded off a man who offered me $50 and Jesus—commiseration—I wondered: is the happy cripple so impossible to comprehend?
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I’m speaking from a privileged space as far as the hierarchy of disability goes. I’m educated, I have had a fairly self-determined life. I can articulate my thoughts independently. Even when we talk about inclusive change for this community we talk about it in watery terms: a “normal” and “good” life. These words seem to prescribe limits for our community. I wonder what would happen if we aspired to full lives, interesting lives, varied lives, complex lives, with ambiguous and challenging and radically pleasurable aspects? What if “good” living was about expecting the full spectrum of experience?