Privilege is a thing many choose not to acknowledge as if it can only be negative. Ignorance of privilege perpetuates the crime of limiting opportunities for disadvantaged groups. Acknowledging one’s privilege can turn it into a force for good and positive change. It’s hard to imagine that I, a person with a severe physical disability, is privileged but I am. I am a straight, white male and disabled enough to qualify for 24 hours a day for personal caregivers. Privilege, whether we accept it or not, is power.
If I were not white would I still have been in regular education or labeled a “difficult” case and segregated into special education? The truth is uncomfortable. Even disabled communities are guilty of racial disparities. Take for example the early disabled rights groups and leaders. When you look at history it looks a lot like our list of Presidents. The disabled are coming to terms with this uncomfortable truth and diversity is growing. Many adults with disabilities I look up to are strong women and/or people of color. One of those strong women became an excellent mentor and quite possibly why I have my first job. I hope one day I am in a position to elevate voices and open doors for those who deserve a chance like I have been given.
My privilege also comes from how I was raised. As I became more connected to the disabled I learned a sad reality. My mother is not common. Many parents either control too much or outright hate their disabled children. It’s painful to see the trauma that causes and how many years it takes to be able to form meaningful relationships. I never realized how much knowing I was loved shaped who I am. I am able to be alone yet still find happiness with myself. I have been able to avoid abuse and being taken advantage of by people that prey on the desperate. It happens more than you think to both disabled men and women.
I’m not saying my privilege is the reason for my success, because the world assumes I’m incompetent just for being visibly disabled. That being said, I may have been given more opportunities and leeway. I could have been hated by my mother, in a nursing home, labeled a problem, or had doors shut because of the color of my skin.
I hope that after reading this you not only accept your privilege but use it to open doors for others. We all deserve the opportunity to not only grow but also have the freedom to fail. If I fail at something I know I have the opportunity to try again. So as you grow make sure you widen the path for others less fortunate. Otherwise how can you claim you earned your position?