Last week when I said I would be participating in “Blogging Against Disablism Day” I wasn’t sure what I would end up posting. I haven’t really talked that much about my disabilities on this blog, but the two most obvious disabilities that I have are my hearing loss and right side facial paralysis. There are other things I could add to the list but that delves into more personal topics I’d rather not discuss here. Let’s talk about assumptions.
People have assumed that the ear I don’t wear a hearing aid in is my better ear – and it occurs to me that it might be because it’s the same side that’s not paralyzed. However, I’m totally deaf in the ear and only mostly deaf in the other. And I’m sure people have assumed that I have cognitive disabilities because of the hearing loss combined with my facial paralyses – both of which can cause me to struggle with speaking if I’m over tired or stressed – which doesn’t help with the assumptions.
My mother tells a story of when I was very young and I was being tested at some school to see what I knew. They were showing me flashcards with different objects and I was supposed to name them. When they were done they told my mother something was wrong with me because I didn’t know what some of the objects were. Fortunately she was smart enough to ask to see the cards I hadn’t known. One of them was an ironing board – had never seen an ironing board in my left at that point. And yet the people doing the testing just assumed I had cognitive disabilities because I couldn’t name an object.
I’ve seen old school papers of mine where I was being tested or evaluated to see how much I knew at the time or if I could do certain things. There are a couple that pointed out that there would come a point during the testing that I would become bored or tired or hungry and start answering “I don’t know” to every question. Luckily for me they also recorded that if I was given time to do something else or have a snack I would come back to the questions or tasks being asked to complete and do them correctly. I wonder how many other children people have made assumptions about because they got bored with the test or needed a break to have something to eat.
Assumptions help no one and sometimes they can be dangerous. Like the time when a teacher assumed a child was lying about being stun by a bee – the child was allergic and fortunately my mother, a nurse, happened to be walking into the school and heard the commotion on the playground. Or more tragically the time when LAPD officers assumed a man who was reaching into his waistband was reaching for a weapon and opened fire on him. The man was autistic and was simply walking home from a friend’s house.
It doesn’t help that the entertainment industry tends to portray disabilities in stereotypical ways. Recently I posted about being tired of disability stereotypes and tropes in which I talked about how disabilities tend to get portrayed in various forms of entertainment. Before that I wrote a post about learning to pay attention to the stereotypes in which I talked about how stereotypes can influence what viewers believe about people.
Changing the assumptions people have can be difficult, but it needs to be done. We all need to pay attention to what we believe and what we think to be true. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know something or admitting that you’re not sure about something. There is however, something terribly wrong about making assumptions about people.