The Official Blog of Ramona Harvey

Author of "Unclipped Wings"

The Problem with Priviledge

The problem with privilege isn’t that you are privileged so much as when you are privileged you don’t realize how much you are until you aren’t anymore — and that it is human nature to think certain things you don’t want to happen to you never will simply because it hasn’t happened yet.

Working with folks with disabilities I actually see this more often then some of you might think… someone is in an accident and suddenly acquires a disability and their whole world changes not just because they are no longer able to do some major life function, but because society treats them differently.

More then once, someone has came to me because they are having an access issue they want me to fix…. one time a man who discovered it is possible to be walking unaided one day and unable to transfer out of a wheelchair the next came to me asking me to do something to fix the problem of lack of ramp access at his work. He told me adamantly   something needed to be done about this issue.  He shared his frustration nobody at work got this though he knew there were laws that dealt with this thing and protected people from this kind of discrimination. The kind of discrimination he never imagined he would experience.

I agreed there were laws in place to protect him, but told him the truth that the laws only protected him to the degree that people were willing to enforce and protect the law… I explained to him that was why it was important to advocate and educate.

He shared his frustration believing there should have already been a ramp in the building. He wanted to know why I had not done more — why I had not pushed harder for the ramp in the first place so this would not have been a problem for him — after all wasn’t that what I did?

Here I had to stop him and ask him why hadn’t he done something? He explained he hadn’t because before he didn’t realize it was that big a deal — because he had always assumed if he needed something like that his business would take care of it. He told me it wasn’t his job to do something about it, but he knew it was mine because I had a disability and I had approached him before his accident pointing out the access issue.

I knew it wasn’t something he wanted to hear, but it was something he needed to hear so I was frank with him. I told him it was just as much his responsibility as it was mine to advocate for accessibility in his workplace.  In fact, he had a greater responsibility because it was his workplace. I told him: Right now you wish I had done more to insist your workplace had been accessible, but when I approached you on the matter you were the one who chose not to do something when you had more power and authority to do something about it.

He agreed he wished he had done more in the past when he was more listened too. He wished he had not spent his time trying to prove to me did not need access. He said he was sorry, and he was because he knew it was partially his actions which resulted in his work being less accessible than it could have been.

Please be tolerant of people advocating for the rights of others — even if they are advocating for things you don’t think apply to you, because some day they just might.

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