In a comment to my blog post, "Do Older People Have 'Disabilities,'" J Cornelisse wrote: "Isn't it funny how we have so many things to make our lives more convenient (remote controls, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, little things on our key chains to lock and unlock our cars, automatic windows and doors, garage door openers - you get the point) and yet if using a hearing aid or a walker would make our lives easier..."
Thanks, J, for helping me to see the obvious. Accommodations of many kinds fill and enhance our lives, yet the accommodations that people are not used to, those that are used by people with disabilities (wheelchairs, hearing aids, van lifts, sip-puffs, walkers, and so on) carry a stigma.
The same is true of human assistants. When a prima dona neurologist came to the hospital when one of our children was there, he had an assistant following him wherever he went. She wrote down notes, checked on things for him, helped him with his tasks. That assistant was a mark of his power and status. When people would address this pair, they would always talk to the doctor. However, I have also met a number of people with disabilities who have assistants to help them in their tasks. Ironically, in this case the assistant is not a mark of power and status, but of dependence and disgrace. Unlike the doctor, when most people address the person with a disability and his or her assistant, they talk to the assistant, talking about the person with the disability in the third person - "What would he like for lunch?"
It seems that we humans have a deep need to separate people into the "normal" and the "abnormal." That drive extends to the use of accommodations and assistants.
I wonder why eyeglasses can be a fashion accessory, yet no one wears a hearing aid to accessorize an outfit. Would our world be a better place if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt appeared together sometimes in matching wheelchairs as a fashion statement? (Okay, maybe not, but you get the point.)
But the world will be a better place if we all recognize that people with disabilities and nondisabled people live in the same world, not two separate worlds.
If you are interested in reading more, here's an article in Fast Company magazine by an author who describes some of the advantages of being a double below-the-knee amputee, including a sidebar about a woman who has 12 prosthetic arms to use for different occasions. (Fascinating article, though I don't endorse some of the language in it.)