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One of the things that I started to pay more attention to after I wrote about the intersection of pain in blindness (reference at end of this entry), was the ways in which pain and ablism intersect. I termed it “pianism” more because I figured it’d make people go “what?” than because I wanted to create a new term. However, if someone wants to pay me to use it, I’d never turn that down (just kidding, though I am a broke college student). I found three main ways that these topics intersect: ablism directed at people with pain, ablism coming from people with pain and the ablism that gets directed at people with addiction.
I mention addiction for a few reasons. One is that I feel addiction is also a chronic illness that is perceived as a disability a lot. Try getting a job if you’re in recovery. Try getting funding for college if you’ve had a run-in with the law but are now in recovery. If you’re honest, these things are hard to do. And that, my friends is a form of ablism. Its discrimination based on the basis of ability. Even some expressions express ablism. I’ve heard the expression “he can’t hold his liquor” used to describe someone who is an alcoholic. Instead of being affirming that a person chose not to drink, many view it as an inability.
Next, let’s address the issue of ablism directed at people with pain. First, there are physical barriers. These barriers are problematic for people who are traditionally viewed as having a disability too. A car in the accessible parking spot in front of the pharmacy. A building that only has stairs at the entrance (not to point fingers at some buildings on campus or anything). A bathroom that is not wheelchair accessible. A door that can’t be opened if you don’t have good use of your hands. Any of these physical barriers can be problems for people with pain, and I’m sure you can think of a few in the comments if you like.
Then, there are the societal barriers that we face. People have a lot of assumptions about pain. They assume that all pain is either bad or good. There probably are people who want to never feel pain. There are good reasons to feel pain, though. Feeling the pain of the bruised leg permitted me to reflexively back out of the way of the car (too late to not get hit, but fast enough to not get flattened). A scalded finger tells you not to touch that pot of coffee the way you just did. Those are important messages. But I think a lot of people mistake my desire and that of other people with RSD/CRPS to simply manage our pain and get it to a handleable level as one to feel no pain. Yeah, given the choice, I’d prefer my leg pain and foot pain to go to 0, but I’d settle for a four or five at the moment. People then view my needing medical help as an inability, and it can get downright discriminatory.
Here are a few examples. Getting medical care could be difficult, since RSD might be viewed as a pre-existing condition. The way in which our work day is constructed may make it hard to work if you have pain. Accommodations are definitely necessary for me to succeed at college. I need to be able to drink something to deal with dry-mouth or take as—needed meds, for example. These accommodations haven’t been too hard to get at this particular school, but I’ve still dealt with some really negative comments before (see previous entries).
The last issue is the ablism I’ve seen in the RSD/CRPS stuff I’ve read. I don’t want this to be the blame game, which is why I’m specifically not citing the source. But I saw a comparison of the way RSD was diagnosed twenty years ago to that poem about the blind man and the elephant. It was a well-intentioned comparison. I know that the author didn’t intend to say that blind people are “stupid”, but I do get tired of seeing that reference and implication of blindness as stupidity.
It also saddens me to see that so many people have to struggle with loss of physical ability. Even though I know people with physical disabilities, and am blind, I even found the transition to using a support cane to be sad and challenging. I now accept it as a different way to move, but if I struggled, others definitely do to. And that can be traced back to society’s view of ability as only a continuum, not more of a circle where someone using a wheelchair has ability, but uses it differently.
I hope that soon, Blogging against Disablism Day won’t be needed. I would love to see the day when we can say that ability is no longer a means for discrimination, or discrimination really never happens. I want pain to not be a means for discrimination. It’s enough to deal with the pain, not to mention the societal implications.
Blogging Against Disablism Day Masterlist:
Intersection of Pain and Blindness