What, you were expecting….?

Meg Ryan made the fake female orgasm famous in When Harry Met Sally. When I saw her scream it out in a diner I realized how ignorant I was of past lovers and how technical I could be in ending doldrums with current or future partners. Not to say Meg Ryan was a teachable moment, but that scene made an impression.

This afternoon I was accused of faking it. I wasn’t screaming in a diner, there was no cute elderly applause from a few tables over asking if they could have what I was having. In fact I wasn’t doing much of anything really, just using a cell phone. I was typing away and listening to music while my dog laid curled at my feet on another dirty bus when I heard, “she’s not really blind.”

Oh really?

The women speculated loud enough for me to hear, whether the dog was really a guide dog. I had incriminated myself by using a cellphone. Only sighted, able-bodied people used those. While I could sarcastically theorize the various ways in which blind people would communicate in their world, I’ll focus instead on the problem at hand: identifying and defining one’s disability for them.

Oh it’s true, bus drivers tell riders they don’t need the bus lowered because they should be able to hop down, paratransit and shuttle drivers assert that guide dogs are really pets in disguise. It happens. And every time it does, someone has identified a person with a disability and redefined their body and self based on some preconceived notion. Not limping enough? Doesn’t need that cane! Not drooling? Doesn’t need that chair! Not waiving arms frantically in front and to the sides? Not blind!

Folks with disabilities in the UK are feeling it right.now. Per the new governing body of the United Kingdom and a large spending deficit, the government has decided to review and overhaul how disability benefits (in particular living allowances) are divvied up to the folks who currently receive them. Assuming there’s a huge abuse, the government is arguing that there should be a medicalized overhaul of how benefits and funds are provided. Not unlike the US system of Social Security for Disability, folks would have to resubmit their applications (note: they’re already receiving funds – already approved!) and be reviewed by a medical board to see if they do indeed qualify.

But, you say – the US does it, it’s fair! Life’s not fair, child. And external (nay, medical!) observations of disability or disabling condition are quite bias. Take for example my optometrist of 2001. He encouraged me to get my drivers license. I had 20/200 vision in one eye and the other was fake – completely and wholly unqualified to drive a motor vehicle. He also was the doctor I was sent to by the Social Security Administration when I applied for disability benefits. I was denied, of course – probably because I was supposed to drive a hummer later. He also tried to dilate my prosthesis….

I do not currently drive, fyi.

Even within the construct of medical and scientific opinion, disability is in flux. Many diagnoses are by exclusion or elimination. Many are invisible. Some may seem to be less burdensome to the individual than they actually are. Many seem fake. If relying on able-bodied opinions and observations of disability were to define the livelihood and access of a group of people, we’d all be screwed.

Oh wait….we are.


6 responses to “What, you were expecting….?

  1. it’s ironic that at the end of this post, the ad is from a for-profit law firm encouraging people to contact them to get their eligibility evaluation to get on ssdi.
    i am constantly trying to think about how so many ideas around disability are tied up in capitalism, and to finish this post and then have that jump in my face was a pretty stark one.


  2. God, yes. There used to be one subway station I would go out of my way to avoid because not only did the guard outright refused to unlock the disabled gate for me, but he would come out of his booth and berate me for using a disability pass when he could see perfectly well that I could walk (because that’s the only kind of disability!). Once I stood in the station and called the MBTA police and waited for 15 minutes until the cop showed up and yelled at the guy and told him he had to let me through.

    (invisible disability; I needed the gate because the old turnstiles were too narrow to let me through with the special bag I have to use because of my disability.)


    • Isn’t it a pain in the ass to have to call the police? I’ve done it too, and while it’s the ‘right thing’ and definitely a way to protect ourselves, I feel like it also outs us as rabbler-rousers and targets for potential future discrimination or victimization.
      I have a friend who secret-rides the T and has told me countless stories of drivers not putting the ramp out when requested, even though the ramp (used only for people in wheelchairs) is for anyone who requests it. Drivers don’t get to decide who needs a service! The individual does!



  3. I had a bus driver drive right past my bus stop on Friday evening when she saw I had my non-service dog with me. But there was no way she could have known that Misty wasn’t a service dog without asking me – non-service dogs are at driver discretion, but service dogs have to be allowed at all times. Rather than stop the bus and ask, and politely decline to carry a non-service dog due to not liking dogs, she just blew right past. If Misty were a service dog, I’d have been super pissed.


  4. My favorite response is “You don’t _look_ stupid.” but I don’t usually have the guts to say it.


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