It’s always puzzled me, when watching interviews with artists and musicians who’ve made it big in the industry, that almost without fail, the interviewer asks a question along the lines of, “What would you do if you hadn’t pursued music?”
I understand that the underlying intent of the question is a curiosity about the artist’s other interests. After all, not everyone who pursues music makes it to a level where they can rely on it to pay their bills. Most creatives have full-time jobs, or several, with their creative passion as a side hustle or hobby.
But whenever this question arises, a lump forms in my stomach, and only recently, have I begun to realize why.
As a disabled woman, I’ve been asked a similar question but with a completely different underlying message.
“So Rhianna, what do you think your life would be like if you weren’t blind?”
For some, it may be simple curiosity. Maybe, if I hadn’t become blind, I’d be an airline pilot, something I am unequivocally unable to do, and that’s all they’re after.
But, there’s an hidden ableism in this question that even I didn’t realize for years, and it needs to stop.
Why are you asking me about what my life would be like without a disability? I am disabled, and unlike pursuing a career in the music industry, my disability wasn’t a choice. What good does it do to play the what-if game about my life now? — I can’t change it. And in truth, I wouldn’t change it even if I had the choice.
Is my disabled life that sad or pitiable that you need to imagine it, able-bodied and “normal” to cope? Are you really going to wallow in the “what might have been” pity pool?
These mindsets don’t do anyone good, but especially not for the disabled person for whose life you’re talking about like nothing more than a hypothetical rather than a human being. Our lives aren’t a guessing game, or a puzzle that’s missing a piece that you need to find so we’ll be whole again. You don’t need to feel sadness at what might have been if we weren’t disabled.
Because being disabled isn’t something to be sad about or pitied, and it isn’t something anyone needs to regret. You don’t need to dwell on the past in a vain hope to offer sympathy; all it does is tell me that you don’t see the value of my disabled body the same way I do.
And that’s what makes me sad.
I’m not sad that I’m disabled. I love my disabled self, because it’s who I am and life is only good when you accept yourself for who you are and who God created you to be.
So, before you ask your disabled friend what they imagine their life would be like if they weren’t disabled, do them a favour and don’t. Move on from the what ifs and might-have-beens, and accept that their life is just as valuable and fulfilling as anyone’s. And pardon my bluntness, but it’d be a lot easier to live like that without having to fight these ableist mindsets that are far, far too prevalent in our society.
Be part of the solution, and cut this question from your conversations with disabled people. On behalf of the 25% of the population, I thank you.