On “They’re Just Faking It”

Imagine that people didn’t believe in blindness. That being unable to see was perceived to be a matter of defiance or laziness. Seeking excuses. Being stubborn.

“Everybody’s a little blind, when you think about it.”

“How do you know you’re really blind?”

“So many kids these days are acting blind to get attention.”

In this hypothetical, blind children grow up thinking there’s something wrong with them. People around them are acting in a certain way, talking about colors and vistas and facial expressions that they can interpret from a distance, and the children ask themselves why they can’t see them.

This was originally intended as a metaphor about Autism. Then I realized it applied to all neurodiversity. Then I realized it applied to all brain differences. Then I realized:

Deaf people are often accused of faking it if they make or respond to any sounds. Non-Deaf people all too often see Deafness as a binary: Either you can’t hear anything at all, or you’re not “really” Deaf.

People with physical illnesses are often accused of faking it. For instance, Rush Limbaugh once mocked Michael J. Fox of “exaggerating” his Parkinson’s disease symptoms for cynical gain.

People who only use mobility aids some of the time are often accused of faking it.

And the beat goes on.

Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that blindness is a rare disability in how seldom (relatively speaking) people get accused of faking it. Maybe it’s because many of us have to use glasses, so we’re more aware that yes, it’s possible for our eyes to fail us.

As someone who grew up in a household with a parent that did seem to exaggerate the impact of their conditions, I understand the urge to question people. At the same time: This parent was a woman born in the 1940s, raised in the 1950s, when mental illness was even more stigmatized than it is now, and misogyny was even deeper. It’s difficult to honestly ferret out how much of her apparent exaggerations were truly needless attention-seeking and how much were deemed “exaggerations” by others who didn’t want to accept her mental illness as real (including my father).

As someone who grew up with unacknowledged Autism, I have trouble retconning which of my reactions were due to that, due to CPTSD from my parents and environment, and due to other things, including laziness and attention-seeking (which many Autistic support groups would rightly insist was due, in turn, to my Autism not being respected).

It all gets so complicated.

I’m not going to say that some people, in some situations, use their disabilities as an excuse. I know that I sometimes do; I might play up my reaction to things I don’t want to do as if they’re things I can’t do. I struggle with that daily.

I’m not going to say that some people lately aren’t using Autism as the Condition du Jour, a trendy condition that gets whatever attention the person feels they’re lacking.

But what I’m going to say is that that behavior is a lot less common than many people are acting like it is, and that that behavior itself reflects an underlying condition of some sort.

And I’m also going to say that it’s far, far more common for abled people to act like disabled people are “faking it” unless the disability is so blatant as to be impossible to reject.

Kaelynn_VP recently posted a TikTok pointing out that “invisible disabilities” are really just disabilities that aren’t immediately obvious to casual observers, and that all disabilities are visible* to people who know where to look.

Respect people. Honor their requests for support. Don’t just discount them because of the possibility that some people are exaggerating their needs.

* Post-script callback: Our very language gives prominence to sightedness as the One True Sense. As I try to remove ableist language from my lexicon, I find that metaphorical references to sight are the hardest to get rid of.

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