Disability 101: Remembering, Part Two

[Content Note: References to trauma.]

Part One is here. Again, I want to reiterate I don't fancy myself, nor should I be received as, some sort of spokesperson for a community of people with disabilities or an expert on disability advocacy. This is a piece born of my own personal experience as a person with disabilities and as a person who loves and interacts with people with disabilities.

So, here's the other thing about failing to remember that your family member, friend, or colleague has a disability: It can be triggering.

Many, though not all, people with disabilities have trauma associated with their disability/s. People with visible disabilities may have been bullied, excluded, had movement or stability aids snatched or broken for "fun." People born with disabilities, or disabled during childhood, may have been exhorted to hide visible disabilities or deny invisible disabilities in order to pretend they were "normal." Some disabilities, physical and psychological, have their roots in trauma—paralysis from a car accident; PTSD from a rape.

That's not a comprehensive list. It's but a few examples of how disability can be associated with trauma.

Forcing someone to disclose a disability over and over, because you can't be arsed to remember, thus potentially risks repeatedly triggering someone—not necessarily because simply having to discuss one's disability is triggering (although for some people, it may be), but because many of us have had to navigate the secondary trauma of "forgetting" where forgetting is not so much "forgetting" as "ignoring."

We may have been obliged as children to pretend we weren't disabled by other children who were scared of difference, by schools who were lacking in appropriate accommodations and accessibility, by parents who were disappointed or embarrassed by a less than perfect child, or who disbelieved us, or who didn't have the resources—financial, emotional—to provide proper care, or who sought to deny the origin of disability to salve misplaced self-blame or actual neglect.

We may have been obliged as adults to pretend we aren't disabled by friends who are scared or intolerant of difference, by workplaces that lack accessibility compliance, by medical practitioners who disbelieve us, by parents who won't deal or can't deal, by partners who don't get it, by our own internalized fear, self-hatred, ableism.

People with trauma-induced disabilities may have had to weather layer upon layer of denialism, neglect, and "forgetting"—silence surrounding the original trauma, being obliged to pretend it never happened, silence around the resultant disability, being obliged to pretend that doesn't exist, silence around the institutional "forgetting," secondary trauma by way of indifference, abandonment, distancing from accountability via accusations of "craziness," in a vicious cycle of emotional abuse that is difficult to navigate and highly resistant to change.

These dynamics may be exacerbated by the fact that they exist between people with disabilities and the people on whom they depend for care, or on whom they were dependent as children.

In some cases, the enforced "forgetting" of disability may have made the disabilities worse than they might have been with proper acknowledgment, care, and treatment.

Failing to remember thus risks triggering not just trauma surrounding disability, but the secondary trauma of enforced "forgetting," to which many of us have been subjected.

It is important to recognize that "forgetting" disability is a common unconsciously or consciously deployed strategy of people and places that are unable or unwilling to compassionately interact with people with disabilities and meaningfully respond to our needs.

Even if that isn't your intent, even if your failure to remember is really just carelessness and not an attempt to harm or silence, that's the backdrop of "forgetting" in the lives of many people with disabilities.

It is important to remember.

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