What scares me

By Adelyn VanTol-Wooden

May 11, 2017

Write about what scares you, is a recent work assignment and something easily said and hard to do. I have to start by saying this blog might be one of the hardest things I have done in a long time. When I have written about disability issues before, it has been from more of a distant, academic perspective. Writing from more of personal perspective, especially writing about my own feelings makes this a more difficult task and, to be honest, it scares me.

I believe that one of the reasons it is hard for me is because the disability identity can be so hard to define. For example, sometimes there are months when I am so depressed and even getting out of bed is a challenge. This impacts my daily living. Other times I am depressed and yet from the outside, I may look the same as I do when living without depression. Then, other months I do not come close to fitting the symptoms of depression. How do I fit into the disability community when my disability is something that comes and goes? The second layer of confusion is the broadness of the label. For example, I have close family and friends for whom the disability labels impact the way society views them because they have visible impairments. When people look at me they don’t see a disability, so in our society, there is a certain level of privilege that I have and they do not. Is it fair for me to include myself with a group of people who have struggles that I have only observed secondhand?

Finally, the more I personally challenge myself to deal with this topic, the more I recognize the strength and seduction of ableism. We have found ourselves in a society where being able-bodied and neurologically typical is so desirable, that we don’t even notice when Disabled people aren’t included. As I learn more about disability pride and examine my own thoughts, I am forced to reconsider what I consider desirable. In the words of Mia Mingus, Disability has forced me to shift racist, gendered, and capitalist notions of desire; of who and what is desirable. This is a deeply rooted problem, and I can certainly say as I start to write this blog, I am scared.


There is no normal.

By Adelyn VanTol-Wooden

January 23, 2017

What is normal? There is no normal. This is something I hear a lot when people start to talk about disability. I am going to ask you to think twice before saying it.

Let’s start with a discussion on normal. I typically wear dresses to work, it’s a personal choice I make because it’s quicker and easy to put on. If one day I decided to wear pants, people might notice because it’s different, however, no one would judge me because it still fits the norm of our society. However, if my fiance who identifies as male, chooses to wear a dress to work, people might stare and think differently about him. While there is no one way to do things in our society, we do have norms. With these norms come binaries. We live in a society filled with distinctions between us and themâ, insider or outsider.

People within the disability community live in both/and meaning we find ourselves in different spaces between normal and outside of the norm. Some of us are able to fit society’s norms pretty nicely most of the time. For example, someone who is aging may notice their physical abilities diminishing and use a walker for mobility. However, it isn’t normal for an 85-year-old to be running around a park or participating in soccer or basketball. So there might be a difference in how they experience disability as compared to my younger sister who might use the exact same walker but during recess with her peers.

In society, we do have unspoken rules about what is normal and what is not. Being able to fit in with the “normal crowd” comes with a sense of belonging and privilege. Ask any middle schooler. Before we start to talk about a world where people’s differences are honored and celebrated, we have to critically examine the world in which we currently live.

I asked you to think twice before saying there is no normal. Think about the person with a noticeable disability who is qualified but can’t seem to get past the first interview, think about the way media has portrayed people who see and hear reality differently and think about the young girl wondering where she belongs because she cannot keep up with the developmental milestones she sees her peers reaching.

Whenever I find myself saying There is no normal, I have to ask myself if I am saying that from inside the norm.


We all have something . . .

By Cassaundra Bell

November 3, 2016

We all have something.

This is a phrase that I commonly use when I speak about disability to those individuals for whom the concept of disability is entirely new, foreign or scary. In using unifying terms like We, and all, it is my hope that I am normalizing the disability experience bringing it back to the common human experience. I say this because I recognize that it’s tricky, this business of living, no matter who you are, or what struggles you face in your day-to-day. We all have something. Just because my challenges are visibly present in the form of a severe visual impairment, or a mobility disability, doesn’t make my life any more difficult, or special than the guy sitting next to me who doesn’t have any disabilities, but has difficult financial stress, or a rough family past. Life isn’t perfect, no matter who you are.

We all have something. Not every person who has a disability would agree with this statement. In fact, I’m guessing that a lot of people reading this blog might be very upset at me for stating this. You might be angry that I am painting the experience of disability in such broad, unifying strokes. You might be angry that I use this statement to “normalize” our experience to those who don’t have disabilities. You might argue that folks with disabilities shouldn’t have to use this type of language to make others comfortable. Disability isn’t something that people need to feel comfortable about, you might say. Disability has its own set of unique challenges and barriers, strengths and perspectives. Not everyone can understand or relate to this.

And I understand those arguments and any others that might be associated with them. I might even totally agree with them, someday, and look back on this blog post, and realize how very wrong I was! I am continually processing my identity as a disabled woman. Or a woman with disabilities. Or whatever is the correct way to talk about my identity and my impairments. I am still trying to figure out how to graciously speak on behalf of a community that I am a proud member of, without being militant and possibly alienating about our cause because that’s not my nature. I’d rather work out of a place of quiet connection, and if that means making people without disabilities feel comfortable in “We all have something, then I will start there, and allow that vulnerability to lead into the deeper, important conversations of differences, struggles, and what needs to be done to ensure that we all have the ability to thrive.

I invite you into a conversation about this statement. I know we may not agree, but I am so excited to learn from your perspective, no matter what it is.