Earlier today, SF Signal put up a sickeningly ableist post by Amy Sterling Casil, which you can see at this link, courtesy of Rose Fox (obviously, trigger warning for ableism, especially against autistic people). The fact that SF Signal’s already taken the post down and I have to show it to you as a screenshot should give a sense of how they’re reacting to the outrage of disabled SFF fans – they’re desperately trying to cover their tracks. (ETA: SF Signal has now published an apology. I don’t stand by the previous sentence anymore, as they evidently aren’t attempting to hide the fact that they posted this thing.) The whole situation is an embarrassment to the SFF community. Jim C. Hines has a great post about it here. This paragraph from Hines’s post spoke to me:
“Everyone has limits and flaws, yes. That doesn’t mean everyone is disabled. Claiming otherwise dilutes both the terminology and our efforts to make the world more accessible to those with disabilities. Who needs accessibility policies if we’re all disabled?”
I’ve seen claims like Casil’s before, that imply or outright state that everyday limitations are identical to disabling conditions. The special, stomach-turning twist in Casil’s essay is that rather than rooting that nonsense in evident hatred of the disabled, she drapes it in supposed empathy and care for us. Typically, someone who pretends there’s no difference between abled and disabled people is trying to say that the disabled are faking, as a prelude to arguing that the services that keep us alive should be cut or even that we should be publicly shamed for existing and taking up space. Casil is essentially saying the same thing here – “no one really needs special care more than anyone else” is the necessary corollary to the central point of her essay. The fact that she manages to pretend that this violent lie stems from her empathy and even her maternal love makes it far more dangerous. I can actually imagine an abled person who cares about me reading an article like this and thinking it somehow enhances my dignity, and that horrifies me.
Casil has immersed herself fully in a flawed understanding of disability that I tend to think of as the “character balance” fallacy. In a tabletop RPG, character types are generally written to be balanced, so that each player will have a fun and interesting experience. A swordfighter might be better at up-close combat but vulnerable to magical attacks, for example, while a mage might have the ability to shoot long-distance firebolts but be unable to wear much armor. Ideally, characters have equal advantages and disadvantages. Some games even have systems where you can “buy” advantages with disadvantages. Want more points to spend on more impressive spells? Find something that will make your character’s life more difficult, and maybe you can make that work.
That’s fine for a game. But human lives don’t work like that. We, the disabled, do not receive special bonuses to make up for our suffering. Some of us do find meaning or community in our disabled experiences, but these positive aspects of disability do not somehow add up with the negative to make zero. It can be incredibly hard to accept this, hence the cliche “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”. I personally constantly find myself wishing I had Daredevil-esque superpowers to make up for the “normal” abilities I lack or struggle with. But I don’t. And I know that I don’t. Only someone who does not live with the reality of disability firsthand could imagine that every single disabled person’s life is somehow enhanced by their disability, and that therefore disability is the same thing as character complexity.
It’s sad and painful to accept the realities of human suffering. It’s comforting to imagine that God never really allows anyone to experience disability, only struggle through which we grow as people. When abled people write these unthinking reactions to disabled people’s lives as though they are fact, they are heard and believed. That has to stop. I cannot accept the silencing, suffering, and death of people like me just so Amy Sterling Casil can pretend everything is okay.