Sometimes I think I should start carrying a dictaphone or similar around with me everywhere and recording my conversations. Because just lately so many people have said things to me – people who I know – and have come across so ableist that I’ve been shocked. And in a couple of the cases I’ve known what they’ve actually meant and suspected that if I made them listen back to what they said they may well realise how inappropriate their wording was.
In two of the three most recent cases I feel confident that the other person in the conversation didn’t mean to hurt me and was just wording things wrong (and in one case was trying to play devil’s advocate). But that doesn’t take away the sting and the hurt in hearing people I have an ongoing relationship with (in most cases by necessity although they are friendly relationships built I thought on mutual respect and in at least one case I could maybe see actual friendship developing if we met in a different setting) say things which lessen my worth and discriminate against me because I’m disabled. I’m not less but their careless comments suggest I am and show a thoughtlessness I didn’t expect from most of them.
Those comments hurt more than similar ones from complete strangers. Because I’m not just a random girl in a wheelchair to them. They know that I’m Emma. And we don’t know each other well so they may well not know very much about Emma but in almost all cases they we’ve known each other a couple of years and we know enough about each other for them to have a pretty decent idea of who I am and what I believe in even if they don’t know all the ins and the outs of what makes me tick and my day to day life. And those comments that hurt me aren’t being said by the stranger on the street or the woman in sainsburys but by someone I volunteer with. Or who I sail with or who goes to Thursday night crafts or the disability group I chair or the NaNo group I’m part of or whatever.
I can, often, come up with some snappy response that makes it clear it’s inappropriate and ableist. But sometimes it’s not appropriate for me to do so. Or I can’t because I’ll lose my shit completely if I do so. and sometimes like one occasion this week I can’t actually respond properly because I’m just blindsided and left gaping that someone would have the sheer audacity to think that was acceptable. So I flail and try to say something but don’t actually manage to respond how I should. So I just get silently frustrated and wonder if they can actually hear what they’re saying?
And then I think how handy that mythical dictaphone may come in because if I could play it back and make them realise what they’ve said I probably wouldn’t need to say anything at all.