Special Rights in a “Normal” world
April 21, 2010 3 Comments
During a conversation with a friend last night, my epilepsy came up. We were talking about housing, and something my friend said really struck me.
“You know, you probably could have gotten private [on-campus] housing because of your epilepsy.”
I was dumbfounded for a moment, stumbling over my words. While I didn’t get angry or upset, those words resonated, and they bothered me. My friend had only the best intentions. I only replied that I hadn’t been comfortable disclosing my medical issue, and that it’s better that I live with someone anyway.
But that’s not the point. I had never, ever thought about using my epilepsy for personal gain, and basically, that’s what that would be. I have no need of having a private room.
That conversation was my first experience with someone focusing on my epilepsy as a means for gain or personal benefit. Differently-abled people experience this all the time from abled individuals. Accommodations for us are often labeled “special rights.” See, we get to sit down all day! We get deadlines extended! Private housing! Aren’t all these things great?
“Special rights” is a term I view with contempt. It’s a malicious, inconsiderate, ignorant, and hateful term. We call ourselves differently-abled in a world that views us as other. We call ourselves differently abled because the world views us as other. We’re some kind of anomaly. We’re not normal. The world isn’t constructed with us in mind. Hence, the need for “special accommodations” for us. If this world was truly one that accepted people in all their glorious diversity, “normal” would be an extinct, useless word, and accommodations wouldn’t need to be made. Our cities, homes, and schools would be constructed with everyone in mind. As it is, these places are constructed with only the “normal” in mind, and if we’re lucky, the rest of us are tossed a breadcrumb or two.
That is not to say, that everyone who says things like this are hateful. My friend is not hateful. He is equally contemptuous of the term “special rights.” But he is privileged in a few ways, and one of them is his ablism. Many incidents like mine are due to ignorance. However, this is not to say that their ignorance is acceptable. Everyone should make an effort to understand, or at least empathize, with others who experience the world differently. This makes us better people, and it slowly improves the lives of Different People.
All of this to say, that to me, epilepsy is normal. I live my life around my epilepsy. I have no other choice. It is not “special” and it is not something I have for use to my benefit. It simply is.
I will take medication twice daily for the rest of my life. I will still have partial and grand mal seizures. Stress and sleep deprivation are triggers, and I cannot avoid those. Sometimes I have to stop and sleep. Sometimes that means I can’t meet deadlines, or fulfill commitments. That’s not a special right. That’s something I have to do to ensure my safety.
It’s not a special right. It simply is.