Disabled people NEED disabled friends
You know when your life is falling apart and you just need your best friend for five minutes because she’s the only person who can simultaneously call you out on your crap and hold your hand as she talks you off the edge of a breakdown? Or when you miss your mom because she knows what you need without you having to ask? We’re constantly looking for the people who understand us. Everyone needs that.
Which is why disabled people NEED disabled friends. For my entire life, the majority of my friends have been abled, and as much as I love them, it can be so hard to be the only disabled one in a group of friends.
The only people who get what it’s like to be disabled are disabled people.
Nothing sends me packing for a trip to bitter town like an abled person telling me that understand what I’m going through when I’m talking about my disability. No, you don’t. You don’t get what it’s like to be in a wheelchair because you hurt your ankle once. You don’t know how isolating it is because you were the only girl in your class. That time you couldn’t reach the top shelf at the grocery store and had no one to help you didn’t give you some meaningful insight into my life.
Abled people don’t get it, and they never will. That’s fine! It’s not like it’s their fault or that there’s even any blame to place. It’s just how it is, so it’s important to find the people who do get it. The ones who can help you through things like figuring out doctors and treatments, or ones who can laugh with you when a random guy stops to pray for you in the food court.
They’ll understand your sense of humor in a way others probably won’t
Generally speaking, people get uncomfortable when I make wheelchair jokes and call myself a cripple. I’m lucky that I’ve got abled friends I’m close enough to joke around with, but even with them, it’s different than when I joke with my friend, Sarah. She has Spina Bifida, and we met in high school in the PI classroom. How wild that we’ve known each other for like a decade now!
Sarah and I can joke about things like surgeries and pain, wheelchairs and abled people. I can’t do that with my abled friends, at least not in the same way. With her, we’re both in on the joke. We’re a team, and nothing is off limits because she’ll never get weird or uncomfortable because she’s in the same boat.
Community is important
I literally can’t overstate the value of community, and the disability community is incredible. It’s massive, overlapping and intersecting with everyone and everything. It’s vibrant, it’s creative, and it’s the most supportive group I’ve ever encountered.
Sarah and I share that community. We can offer each other advice that abled friends could never think of. We can learn from each other. Sometimes we swap stories from our hospital stays or insurance battles.
I’m really grateful that I had a friend like Sarah in high school because it’s hard enough to be a kid in school, let alone being the only disabled kid in class.
It’s nice to have a break from ableism
Full disclosure, disabled people can be ableist too, but if you find a good bud like Sarah it’s just really nice to have someone to talk to who will never have ableist trash come out of their mouth.
We know that we can call each other out if/when we slip up because we both agree that if something is hurtful, we don’t want to say it. I mean, you’d think everyone could agree on that but you’d be surprised at how many people find ableist language okay.
Ableism is everywhere. It’s so ingrained in our language and our society that sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to avoid. Even when you’re with the people you trust the most. It’s such a relief to have someone I can talk to who understands that experience.
If you couldn’t tell already, Sarah is one of the most important people in my life, not just because she’s been my friend for so long, but because we share such a big experience. Having a disabled friend is a constant source of comfort, validation, and honestly some of the best jokes. Sidenote: Sarah also has a blog and wrote a post about our friendship today, too!
I hope that this encourages you to seek out a new friend. Now more than ever disabled people gotta stick together!