“Your Expectations Are Disabling”
It’s exhausting to seek accommodations. Here’s how to make it smoother.
“I am disabled” and “I have X disability” don’t mean what you think they mean. To you they reference ableist norms and practices — the very stuff of late-bootstrap grind culture. But to your interlocutor, they mean something very different. They hear, “something is wrong with me”; and they’re invited to the level-up their ableism. Cue paternalism, discrimination and stigma. Don’t let it happen. You can’t crash-course them in disability studies, but you can realign their gaze.
Name the culprit, not yourself
Instead of “I am disabled”, shift to “These stairs disable me” or “this audio format disables me” or, sharpest of all, “YOUR EXPECTATIONS are disabling me”. Name the disabler. Not the person. The thing.
Suppose you’re AuDHD including audio processing ecentricities, as I am, and work shoots you a rendez-vous, like mine just did:
Hi everyone, let’s meet at Nico’s Trattoria at 1 to discuss the plan…
And like me, you won’t stay with the conversation in that clatter. It might feel best to ask for accommodation in the following way:
I am Autistic and I have audio-processing difficulties. Can we meet somewhere quieter?
And to give you credit, that might serve you better than just going along and being disabled by the conditions during the meeting. But there’s a better way. Try this:
The audioscape in that place disables me. I need less clatter to hear what’s being communicated. How about this place instead?
Lots of great things just happened. Let’s unpack:
- “The audioscape” — their attention is drawn to the problem, which is not you, it’s the noisy environment.
- “disables” —this is an active, transitive verb: one thing disables another. People don’t actually get that. So guide them. Hide the message in the grammar.
- “I need” — not “please accommodate me”. Never ask for your need to be accommodated. State your need, and make a suggestion.
- “to hear” — which ability has been compromised? Make it plain so they can co-operate in solving the problem.
- “How about this place instead?” — this is get-it-done-101. Finish with a suggestion.
Here’s the program:
- IMPLICATE the disabling technology/expectation by naming it and what it does.
- State your need.
- Make a suggestion.
To put this into practice, practice first. Do it now by writing down an awkward moment that might come up and then practice your script. Then write down another awkward situation and practice that. And so on, until you’re the boss.