GETTING FAMILY AND FRIENDS TO UNDERSTAND YOU’RE DISABLED

This is a tough one. Not only do disabled people have to do the work to get over internalised ableism and accept that yes, we are actually disabled, but we have to break it to everyone else in our lives too.

Cue the litany of “but you’re not like real disabled”, “you’re not disabled” and, my personal favourite, “you shouldn’t call yourself that”.

The problem we have is that most people’s understanding of disability starts and ends with wheelchairs and the idea that this is incredibly tragic. Because your family and friends love you, it means they fight extra hard to protect you from what they believe is a tragedy. But, as many of us in the disabled community know (or I hope we are learning), disability isn’t the suck fest that everyone makes it out to be.

Yes, there are bad days and things we wish didn’t exist *cough cough ableism cough* but being disabled isn’t something to be ashamed of. For many in our community, identifying as disabled enables us access to the services and support we vitally need.

So, how do we get them to understand?

I mean first off just casually sharing this blog with friends and family can spread awareness. Introducing them to disabled people who are happily living their life is always a good way to get them to change their perception of disability.

Otherwise, you want to start with the basics. Show them the official explanation for what counts as a disability and explain that there are as many different ways to be disabled as there are disabled people. Reassuring your loved ones that visible and non-visible disabilities are just as valid as each other is another good step (it also explains why they shouldn’t shout abuse if they see someone walk away from a disabled parking spot because they automatically assume their Blue Badge is a fake – they’re not just for wheelchair users!).

Next up, try to explain to family and friends how saying you’re disabled might personally help you. For instance, being able to get support in uni or having access to benefits. Taking ownership of your disability can also make you feel more confident saying “no” to social events etc, because sometimes it’s just as important to have access to an event as it is knowing when to turn down an invitation, and being able to say “Thanks for the invite, but my disability means I’d be too tired for that event” can be quite freeing.

You can also showcase the amazing range of mobility aids currently available, and how they actually give you the capacity to thrive and engage more in activities (which can only be good for them too).

Ultimately, just be patient with them. You are tackling years of them being told that disability is wrong or bad, they might not get it from just one conversation. In fact, it might be an ongoing thing you have to explain more than once.

And remember, just because the people around you don’t get it, it doesn’t mean you can’t call yourself disabled. You can always find support from the wider disabled community too, you’re not alone.