Yesterday I got a haircut.
For most people this sentence is seemingly innocuous, perhaps offered as a response to someone asking “What’s new?” or traded in other casual conversation. For me, it brought home a really powerful lesson of how no matter what I do, no matter how seemingly innocent or normal my activities might be, it is impossible to separate out me from my disabilities. While it would seem silly to say that I got a disabled haircut, that is in fact exactly what happened.
To start off, where I get my hair cut is often fairly busy, and through the process of going there for years I have learned that the best way to make sure that I get an appointment to get my hair cut when needed is to book my next appointment when I am leaving the current one. For me though, this is always a moment of pause. I have a chronic illness that flares up, often with no warning, and while flares vary, a flare can easily put me in the hospital. It can sometimes very much be like a dice roll to know whether or not I will be well enough to actually go to the appointment that I make. In fact, had this particular appointment been a week earlier I would have been too sick to go. I’m not saying that planning in advance is a bad thing, and while appointments can easily be rescheduled if need be, when you have a chronic illness trying to make plans for your future with uncertain health can be difficult.
Then, when I arrive at my appointment using my walker, my disability again becomes highlighted by the fact that the building is not in fact accessible. As I’ve been to this location many times I knew what to expect, and knew that the stairs in question were within my abilities. However, the angle of the door and the step to get in meant that I could not get myself and my walker into the building without help. Once I got inside the staff were excellent about consulting me about the kind of help I would need to get upstairs and providing it. I can’t say enough about how awesome it is when people are willing to ask what kind of help is needed/if help is needed and provide it under direction.
To add to this, there is the appendage known as a hearing aid sticking out of my ear and the need to keep water out of it. Typically during a haircut the hearing aid stays out of my ear, and a swim plug to keep out the water goes in. This means that communication can be difficult. When you factor in getting your hair washed, and the sound of water near your head, communication can be almost impossible at times. Again, this time my hair dresser was awesome, repeating things that others said close to my good ear for me, making sure the water was off before she talked to me, acting as a communication facilitator while cutting my hair, perhaps even unknowingly.
Yesterday I got my hair cut and I had a great time. The cut is incredible, the hairdresser and all the staff there were awesome as always, and it was a great experience. It was still however a disabled experience. I am always struck with the contrast when I see how non-disabled people approach seemingly mundane activities compared to what is involved for me. In this setting accommodations were seamless and I was fully accommodated, but something regarded as so simple and taken for granted is greatly altered by the presence of disability. For me the point that this story brings home more than anything else is that in any setting I am disabled, and when someone sees me they need to see my disability. Without seeing my disability and accounting for it I cannot be properly accommodated. I can’t be included. My voice doesn’t represent me unless it is understood to be a disabled voice. While it can be controversial, for me this extends to why I don’t identify with person-first language (ie. that I am a person with a disability) but rather as a disabled person. When others deny to see me as a disabled person, they deny to see that everything that I do has that ridiculous sounding (disabled) written in front of it.