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Why the “fake disabled person” myth is damaging to disabled people

A+picture+of+a+cane.
A picture of a cane.

A picture of a cane.

Abby Hagle

Abby Hagle

A picture of a cane.

Abby Hagle, Reporter

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People talk a lot about disabled “fakers”. You know, the people who are accused of being “too young” to use things like canes, walkers, or wheelchairs or the people who are considered “not disabled enough” for the accommodations they need, like the semi-verbal autistic person who asks for a text to speech device despite “being able to speak fine”?

Well, chances are they’re not faking. Speaking from personal experience as a disabled person, most of the time, these people actually are disabled and need those accommodations. Unfortunately, the “disabled faker” myth is still prevalent in the nondisabled conscious.

Maybe it’s because nondisabled people don’t like to think about us? Maybe they don’t realize how large or how common the disabled population is? (The disabled community is the only community that anyone can join at any time) Maybe its because a lot of disabled people’s abilities fluctuate depending on certain factors or because a lot can “pass” as non-disabled?

This usually leads to the nondisabled person asking invasive questions of the disabled person or dismissing the person’s struggles as them “not trying hard enough” and can cause disabled people to either not want to tell people about their struggles, ask for help, or think that everything they do is a sign that they’re “faking” their disability.

Another consequence of the “disabled faker” myth is that disabled people can get their accommodations they need taken away or even outright denied if nondisabled people “don’t think they need them” or think that they’re just “privileges”, despite the fact said accommodations are needed to allow disabled people to function and navigate the world in the same way nondisabled people do.

This can eventually start taking a toll on the person’s emotional, physical, and/or mental health.

I personally have experienced this. I’ve only recently found out that I could possibly use a cane to cut down on physical exhaustion when walking for a long time or long distances (because of my cerebral palsy), but I’m kind of afraid that if I take it to school or out in public, people will accuse me of faking.

I’ve also had other people tell me “Oh, you just need to talk to people more often. You’re just shy.” even after I try to tell them, no, I’m not shy. I’m semi-verbal and my verbal speech is not very good because I rely mostly on a process known as “scripting” (coming up with what I can say before I speak).

I’ve also had people (too many to count) accuse me and a couple of others, like my sister, for example, of using our disabilities, such as ADHD memory problems, mood swings, auditory processing disorder, or crappy autistic/ADHD executive functioning issues, as excuses instead of explanations. To be considered “disabled enough” to nondisabled people, you practically have be either A) dead, or B) completely helpless.

A good lit of things you should do:

Take the person’s word for it. Trust that they know their own needs and limitations and respect them.

Listen to them when they ask for help. Ask them what they need help on and try to find a way to do so. When someone is obviously uncomfortable about you asking them about their disabilities, back off and leave them alone. If they tell you why they can’t do something, treat it as explanations, not excuses.

The point I’m trying to make is, if you find one “faker” and out them as such, how many more “real” disabled people will you have shamed into silence or caused to endure mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion or pain in the process?

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