Playing the Disability Card- It’s a Full House

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It’s human nature to want to avoid things we don’t want to do or to make up excuses for why we failed. Everyone does it, but people with disabilities have an obvious cop-out just sitting there waiting to be used. It would be so easy to blame everything on one’s disability. Perhaps it’s because there is still a lot of misinformation and stigma surrounding disability, or maybe it’s because those without disabilities just feel awkward talking about it, but it’s certainly easy to get away with playing the disability card.

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The first time I had a disability card worthy of being played was at the end of high school. I didn’t use it. In university I had another opportunity to get special treatment due to my disability. At first I refused to use it as I didn’t want to be seen as getting favoured or have people think that I wasn’t working as hard as everyone else. It wasn’t until my fourth year that I really understood that the special treatment wasn’t actually “special” it was just a way to put me on a level playing field with my peers. I wasn’t less intelligent or less hard working, I was just in a different set of circumstances. I finally took the accommodations and graduated with an honours degree.

I soon realized that dealing with an organization or institution like a university was the easy part! They understood disability far better than your average person in the “real world.” Over time I found that most people either didn’t have any sympathy for my disability or they had too much. I swung on a pendulum between avoiding talking about it and using it as a crutch. I distinctly remember this one incident at my first job after getting my own place. Money was tight, the economy was horrible and I didn’t want to lose my job. For some reason my asthma was flaring up and I had forgotten my puffer at home. I stood at my cash register for what seemed like an eternity hoping that if I stayed calm it would go away. Looking back I can’t help thinking what an idiot I was. Luckily, one of my co-workers noticed I was acting strangely and forced me to go home and get it (I lived a 5 minute walk from work). On the other hand, some of my closer friends have a broader understanding of disabilities and I would often use their sympathy to my advantage. When I was going through one of my worst periods of anxiety I would constantly use that as an excuse- for everything. I never pushed myself and I suffered because of it. There’s definitely a delicate balance between necessary accommodations and playing the disability card.

I know I shouldn’t play my cards. I know it perpetuates disability stereotypes. I know I’m better than that. But sometimes you get to a point where you are so frustrated that it seems like the easiest and fair thing to do is to lay down all your cards and let the chips fall. I’m the kind of girl who feels guilty using the fast passes at Disney Word even though they are a legitimate service. But, there have been two instances in the past year when I used my asthma or anxiety to my advantage when it was a bit dubious. I was a tad hyperbolic about how much my disabilities played a role when in discussion with an organization who’s main goal seemed to be to make my life miserable. It wasn’t a lie, but it was a stretch. However, if I hadn’t used my disabilities I would have gotten completely taken advantage of and I would have suffered. Do the ends justify the means? Does having a disability grant you a few free passes in life?

I’m sure over the years I’ll use my card on occasion, but we all know there are people out there who abuse the system and make it more difficult for the rest of us so please, sometimes, call my bluff.

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