New Internationalist

Simply… Friend Or Foe?

July 1992

new internationalist
issue 233 - July 1992

Simply... Friend or Foe?

The able-bodied can be allies of disabled people - or they can be patronizing oppressors.
Here are a few ways in which non-disabled readers can be friends instead of foes.

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ASK exactly what you can do if you want to help a disabled person - and listen to the reply. We know our needs best. Never help us without asking first whether your help is wanted. And don't expect us to be eternally grateful to you for the help you do offer...


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ACKNOWLEDGE our differences. For many disabled people our difference is an important part of our identity. Don't assume that our one wish in life is to be normal' or imagine that it is 'progressive' or 'liberal' to ignore our differences.


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RESPECT our privacy and our need for independence. Don't assume that because we are disabled you can ask us more personal questions than you would a non-disabled person.


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THINK about the way society creates barriers for us. Take account of the social and economic context in which we experience our medical condition. But don't reduce us to our medical conditions. Why should it matter to you what our condition is called?


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CHALLENGE patronizing attitudes towards us. We want your empathy not your pity. Putting us on a pedestal or telling us how 'wonderful' and 'heroic' we are does not help. This attitude often conceals the judgement that having an impairment is intolerable - which is very undermining for us.


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RECOGNIZE our existence. A gaze can express recognition and warmth. Talk to us directly. Neither stare at us - nor immediately look away either. And never talk about us as if we weren't there.


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REALIZE that we are sexual beings, with the same wishes, needs and desire for fulfilling relationships as non-disabled people. Don't assume that we will never have children. And if a disabled person has a non-disabled lover don't jump to the conclusion that the latter is either a saint or has an ulterior motive.


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APPRECIATE the contribution that we make to society in the fields of work, politics and culture. We engage in these activities for the same reasons as you do - but we may have some different insights to offer. Don't assume that we are passive - or that our activities are a form of 'therapy' to take our mind off our disability. Most disabled people are financially hard up and so we may have a greater need to earn a living than you.

This section is inspired by Pride Against Prejudice by Jenny Morris and produced in
conjunction with Claire King and Beverly Ashton. The cartoons are by Tony Meredith.

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This feature was published in the July 1992 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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