“Privilege is not having to add the extra steps to make the recipe taste good.” – Jon Stewart
Let’s think about that by looking at the concept of privilege. Privilege, from a sociological perspective is defined as: “Unearned access to resources only readily available to some people as a result of their advantaged social group membership.”
What does this mean?
Instead of taking it from a black/white paradigm, let’s look at it from a able/disabled paradigm.
If you do not have to live life from a wheelchair, you normally don’t think about NOT having to be in a wheelchair. You don’t think about the access you get to have. You don’t think about how you will get from Point A to Point B on a daily basis. You don’t think about whether or not you will be able to get into Building One or Building Two. You don’t have to know how to evacuate the building in the case of a fire, as a wheelchair user.
If you DO have a wheelchair, you can’t NOT think about these things. You always have to be aware of where you CAN and CANNOT go, the places you DO and DO NOT have access to.
How am I privileged for being in a wheelchair when I was born unable to walk? I need it for mobility. These places aren’t wheelchair accessible!
How am I privileged for getting extra help in class or exams? I have learning difficulties. Or if I apply for learning support, I have to pay for it?
How am I privileged if I sign up to join a ministry team at church and the leader insist that I get supervised even after being trained?
How am I privileged if my parents get asked to supervise me in class, because the Ministry of Education refuses to provide a Para-educator due to personal prejudices, preferences and opinions?
You don’t have to walk up these hills. You don’t have to climb the stairs. You’re lucky.
Attention both positive and negative
Wheelchair users have to deal with dirty looks people through their way, especially when driving to a wheelchair parking space. Social stigmas are very evident as you’ll see frequent glares, discrimination in public transportation, public ridicule, and pinpointing as one drives to disabled parking spots.
Even positive attention isn’t necessary as even well intended comments can get overwhelming.
The race for getting into the elevator
Wheelchair users find themselves competing with the rest to get to the elevator first. This is never fair since other people can climb the stairs fast and get into the elevator first.
Some people are confident to ask wheelchair users to wait and go last as the wheelchair will take more space in the elevator. This is very hurtful.
The struggle for parking the vehicle
Nowadays, most places, especially public areas, have parking for the disabled. These parking spots are near the entrance/exits and are bigger than standard park spaces. This hurts some non-disabled people, and they think it’s a privilege that wheelchair users don’t deserve; sometimes, you’ll find them discussing this.
Parking in accessible parking areas isn’t that easy as it sounds. Non-disabled people often park their vehicles in these spaces. Whereas they may find it enjoyable, it greatly inconveniences actual wheelchair users.
The other challenge is people parking too close to cars parked in the accessible parking spaces. This limits the use of the wheelchair ramp, which is very inconvenient.
The grass only looks greener on the other side. Sometimes the wheelchair makes it look ‘easy to get by.’ We’ve simply been misunderstood.
These days, the term “privilege” might be used to explain at least some of these hugely varied outcomes. The term is often poorly understood and sometimes misused. But it’s also often based on a solid base of real-life experience. This is certainly true for people with disabilities. Disability is most often a social and financial disadvantage. But that doesn’t mean people with disabilities can’t have and enjoy what in current parlance we call “privilege.”