Possibly my favorite two posts at Shakesville is Liss' two-part series on disability and remembering. (Here and here.) Liss discusses something that I'm not sure I've ever seen discussed elsewhere: that part of being an ally to the disabled means remembering that they are disabled. That part of loving a disabled friend or family member means not forcing them to repeat, over and over, that they are disabled.
Failing to remember, thus obliging someone to repeatedly disclose a disability, also risks making that person feel like they're "talking too much" about hir disability, or "complaining." Many people with disabilities have experienced criticism for talking about their disabilities, or have been on the receiving end of exasperation expressed by someone who doesn't want to hear about it, [...] We often struggle to strike a balance between making sure people around us are aware of our disabilities and not playing into perceptions of attention-seeking, and "forgetting" makes finding that balance all the more difficult.
I know that this isn't always easy. I know that there's a big difference between living with a disability and knowing someone with a disability. I don't expect people who are able-bodied to instinctively grok every facet of disability or to understand instantly and immediately every thing that a person with a specific disability can and cannot do. Disabilities infiltrate our lives in strange and unexpected ways, and I recognize that the ripple-effect is not something that can always be instinctively intuited. This is not a post about "grr, able-bodied people who are not psychic". That is not this post.
But this is a post about life as a disabled person surrounded by people with able-bodies. People who sometimes fail to remember, and who perhaps sometimes don't even try to remember. (If nothing else, consider this fodder for that disabled character you've always thought about including in your NaNoWriMo novel.)
Being disabled means that people who know that walking hurts you will still turn around and opine that you should walk more often because that's what their health magazines recommend.
Being disabled means that people who know you cry at commercials with babies in them will still call to tell you that they bumped into your childhood friend at the mall and she had newborn infant twins.
Being disabled means that people who know that you have a handicap parking permit will still park at the back of the lot because it's "less crowded" back there and everyone "needs the exercise" anyway.
Being disabled means that people who know you are infertile will still rush to tell you that they're pregnant and will expect you to shriek with joy and ask All The Details because of course you must care.
Being disabled means that people who know you can't easily sleep in hotel beds will still apply strong emotional pressure for you to come visit them because they haven't seen you in so long.
Being disabled means that people who know you can't walk long distances will still plan family vacations at enormous national parks with no public transportation options or handicap paths for wheelchairs.
Being disabled means that people who know you can't have children will still expect you to listen to stories about their children and react with enthusiasm and happiness for them.
Being disabled means that people familiar with your lifetime of difficult and painful experiences with dozens of unsympathetic doctors will still insist that you just need to keep looking for the "right" one.
Being disabled means that people who know that an activity hurts you will still forget, and ask for an explanation again each time, for why it hurts you even if you do it just so as they suggest.
Being disabled means that people who know you are disabled will favorably compare you to all the other awful disabled people who aren't really disabled, but just lazy and unhealthy.
Being disabled means that people who know you are disabled will express sympathy that you are disabled while still making it clear that you really need to stop talking about it "so much".
Being disabled means that people who know you are disabled will explain to you why disability accommodations are bad for businesses and reflect inappropriate entitled attitudes.
Being disabled means that people who know you are disabled will tell you that your experiences and opinions are wrong because they know other disabled people who feel differently.
Most of all, being disabled means that usually when any of the above happens, it happens from someone you liked or loved or trusted. It's family members, lovers, and friends who often drop an unthinking, unremembering sentence into the conversation, about how you should like cute babies more, or travel more often, or walk a little more for your "health". It's the people you trust who haul out platitudes about how wonderful the medical establishment is, despite being blissfully free of your own experiences with it. It's the people you care about who get several months into planning that family vacation to hike up Mt. Everest before you have to remind them -- gently, haltingly, tentatively -- that thank you but, ummm, you won't be able to attend. You have that whole disability thing, remember? And, no, you can't just shake it off for the sake of seeing the whole group, even if everyone really was so looking forward to seeing you again. Sorry!
Being disabled doesn't just mean missing out on dozens if not hundreds of fun things in the course of a single month. Being disabled doesn't just mean counting and hoarding spoons, and having to consider things like "if I walk to the cafeteria with the rest of the group, will I have the ability to get back to my desk afterward?" Being disabled also means having to explain that thought process and the need behind it over and over and over again to people who are otherwise remarkably intelligent and possessed of strong memories. Being disabled means apologizing -- profusely and obsessively -- for not just having the disability, but also for having to remind people of it.
Being disabled means, more often than not, feeling terribly alone. Not because the people around you don't care about your disability, but because they're so unaffected by it that they have the ability to repeatedly forget about it.
If you are an able-bodied person, and if you really care about the disabled persons in your life, please try to remember that they are disabled. Create an opening for them to talk about it in ways that makes them feel like they're not ruining your day by bringing it up. "I'd like to plan a group hike, but does that mean you won't be able to come?" reminds them that you know about their disability and that they have a space to safely talk about it. "Would it help if I didn't talk about cute babies for awhile?" gives them the space to say that, yeah, maybe that would help. "I'm sorry to have forgotten, but are you capable of doing this activity?" at least clarifies that you do remember their disability, even if you don't remember every aspect of it. (And then when they tell you yes/no, don't grill them about why or suggest alternative ways that they should try to approach the situation. Try to remember that living with a disability means that they've put hundreds more hours of thought into the problem than you have.)
Being an ally to people with disabilities means remembering that those disabilities don't stop existing whenever you're not looking.