Future Voices is a regular column in PosAbility Magazine, where we encourage young disabled people to speak their mind on the things that matter to them. If you’d like to contribute to the column and have your work published in PosAbility, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the August/September 2020 issue of PosAbility Magazine.
Zan Godden is passionate about disability, mental health and LGBTQ advocacy. If they aren’t in bed with a fatigue spell, you can find them watching drag queen videos or obsessing over comic books. Follow them on Twitter at @ZanSaysStuff.
Can I sit in that priority seat? Should I use the lift to go up just one floor? Will someone yell at me if I use that toilet? Why am I even asking myself these questions?
The idea of being ‘not disabled enough’ is felt by many in our community. It’s a common occurrence for ambulatory wheelchair users to face discrimination if they are seen to get up from their mobility aid, whilst people with invisible disabilities can be interrogated for getting a free carers ticket.
I’ve known I was autistic since my early teens; yet I didn’t seek an assessment until I was 18, as I felt I didn’t need additional support to help me through my daily life. In reality, this was because I learned to hide my more overt traits so that I wouldn’t be bullied by my peers. Like many autistic women, I ‘masked’ my disabled self, presenting the world with an acceptable, able-bodied version that could just about cope.
I experienced this disability denialism for the first time when I sought my diagnosis for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I remember getting my blood taken after finally finding a GP who took my concerns seriously, how excited I was to get an explanation for why I had been struggling, only for the nurse to comment that my fatigue was likely due to “being a busy university student”. However, the whole reason I plucked up the courage to even see a doctor was that I was too inexplicably exhausted to attend my lectures and was terrified of failing my degree. I was being gaslighted, like many of us experience as we navigate ableist societal perceptions of how a disabled person should look and act.
For some, these gruelling examinations of our identities can be a matter of life or death. As it currently stands, the process of gaining Universal Credit is deliberately designed to be exclusionary. I know of far too many disabled people dying after they are deemed fit to work, with the Department for Work and Pensions’ ridiculous reasons for rejection ranging from being dressed smartly to walking up the stairs to an assessment unaided.
Unsurprisingly, I do not qualify for any form of Universal Credit, as my symptoms are not as ‘severe’ as the DWP desires. Also unsurprisingly, I am still very much autistic and constantly fatigued, regardless of whether the government chooses to pay me.
When I am allowed some small ‘perk’ of being disabled, such as a radar key or skipping the queues at a theme park, I have to remind myself that despite the scolding stares from staff or bystanders, I am allowed to have things that make my disabilities that little bit easier to manage. These accommodations are vital to people like me so that we can alleviate (and sometimes altogether avoid) being consumed by an anxiety attack, sensory overload, or fatigue spell.
I may forever have that inner voice telling me that there is always a disabled person more in need of support than I ever will be. And you know what? They’re valid. And so am I. We are all disabled enough, and must continually challenge the stereotypes that prevent us from getting the support we need to thrive.