Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Disability 101: Able-Bodied Privilege

What is able-bodied privilege?

The term able-bodied privilege refers to the numerous benefits—-some hidden, many not—-that many societies and cultures accord to able-bodied people. Despite many folks’ paying lip service to notions of equality for PWDs, the chronically ill, and those with chronic health conditions, able-bodied privilege still exists, and there are still a lot of people who are resistant to the idea of a truly equitable, accessible society, whether because of possible cost to the public or other objections. Able-bodied privilege is often hard for non-disabled people to spot; yet, in the words of the famous Palmolive dish soap ad, most of us are “soaking in it.”

Many cultures have social expectations, structures, cultural mores, and institutions that are set up to accommodate able-bodied people with the most ease; this is, of course, problematic for those who do not fit the standard of “able-bodied,” whether in whole or part. Able-bodied privilege also encompasses things like not having to worry about one’s energy level and/or pain level on any given day, the possible negative reactions of others to one’s needs due to his/her/zie’s disability or chronic condition, being stared at or questioned about (with varying degrees of invasiveness) his/her/zie’s disability or condition by strangers, her/his/zie’s ability to move for long distances or on a variety of surfaces without inconvenience/discomfort/pain and at a pace considered “appropriate” by others, or being ignored by able-bodied people when one needs assistance in public. For more examples, see Rio’s update on Peggy McIntosh’s famous article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

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