It seems like one of the main differences within the disability community is over how disabled people actually interpret the importance of disability itself. They aren’t quite in conflict, but it often seems like there are two schools of thought about how to think about and above all explain disability to the wider society:
1. Disability doesn't matter.
Disability doesn’t define me. Look past my disability and see the real me. I have a disability, but it doesn’t have me. See my abilities, not my disabilities. Social acceptance and equal opportunities require people to see people, not their disabilities. We need to stop labeling people! People are people, and we all have some kind of disability. Disability is just one thing about me, like the color of my eyes or my aptitude for math.
2. Disability matters.
Disability is an important part of who I am. Disability isn’t a bad thing anyway, so I don’t need you to “see past it”. It doesn’t feel like a compliment when people say, “I don’t think of you as disabled.” Other people inevitably define me by my disability, at least partly, so it would be foolish for me to pretend otherwise. Disability really does impose hardships, as does the social stigma that comes with it … that’s just a fact. Disability isn’t just an characteristic I can shed; it doesn’t define me, but it greatly influences who I am. I don’t have to convince you that disability is no problem at all for me to show that I’m competent and capable.
Which school of thought you prefer has a huge effect on how you approach just about every possible disability issue. These different approaches also seem to underlie just about every conversation we have about disability.
It’s kind of obvious, but worth repeating, that there’s truth in both approaches. But I really think it’s important to figure out which you tend to use.