Invisible Privilege

By Alice Mander

We've all heard of invisible disabilities, now Alice introduces us to the world of invisible privilege.

A few weeks ago, I was forced to miss class due to the inaccessibility of the law school and, while this has happened to me before, this particular instance felt different. I remember calling my Mum in tears, not because I was upset, but because I was just so angry, so outraged, so shocked. Because this was just so unacceptable, right? So inherently wrong, so unfair. Why should I not have the same access to education as everyone else?

You could explain my reaction another, much simpler way: middle class, well-educated, New Zealand-born, cis-gendered white person faces a genuine barrier outside of her control for the first time in her life. Looking at it this way, I have suddenly switched from feeling the angriest I’ve ever felt, to the most naive.

Now, this realization doesn’t make my experience irrelevant, it has simply reminded me of something that we can all be guilty of forgetting- I am privileged. And, because I pride myself on writing a column which I like to think is honest and vulnerable, I also need to be frank with you about this part of myself. For the most part, I am a disabled person who can interact in an abled-bodied world because of privilege. I do well at University and can afford to attend, my energy levels allow me to keep up with my mates, I drink champagne while discussing classism, my disability won’t really impact on my career as a professional, I speak like everyone else, and I look like everyone else. In fact, I look so like everyone else that I’ve been left this lovely note on my car (word for word):

“Don’t know how u got that disable sticker? There don’t seem to be bugger all wrong with you. What scam are you into?”

The ability to “pass” is a privilege. For most of my life I have been able to fit in with the majority, reaping the social benefits which comes with that. It also means I am able to hide behind my keyboard - write articles, advocate for my cause, wreak havoc - and yet go out into the world unnoticed, quiet, and unassuming. Right now, I don’t look like my little wheelchair logo at the top of this column, but this isn’t going to be the case forever. And as this time draws nearer, I’ve often found myself stopping and asking whether it is fair that I lead a double life: educated, cisgendered, straight, and visually ‘able bodied’ by day, and a voice for an often-unheard community by night? Even more, is it because I sit in this position of social privilege that anyone even listens? Honestly... it probably is.

Reminding myself of that is important, because it ensures that I be careful not to perpetuate the trope of the “good” disabled person- high achieving, advocate for disability, socially integrated. I’m not these things because of me. I’m these things because, in many ways, I’m more able bodied than most disabled people. I’m these things because I’m privileged.

ANYWAY, my ego has definitely grown due to positive feedback to this column, and so I felt this article was important just to bring myself down to earth a tiny bit aye. So, on that, I want to hear from you. If you feel like my writing hasn’t represented you, and you feel like it should have, please get in touch with me (I’m not hard to find on the world wide web). If this was too introspective, don’t worry, next time I’ll just bitch about Bryan Cranston or banning plastic straws or something.

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