When I started delivering training, people would say to me all the time:

I asked if a disabled person needed help and they were rude to me so I don’t want to ask again 

And my response was often: 

I think, as disabled people it is our responsibility to be polite because, if we are rude, next time people may not ask again 

I don’t say that anymore. For many reasons, I don’t think it is our responsibility as disabled people to educate society. Personally I choose to take it as my responsibility. However, I don’t believe that just because a person is disabled, they must take responsibility for everybody else’s learning. 

Unnecessary use of a disabled person’s energy levels

Thinking back to where we started in this blog article, often when a disabled person snaps, it is not because they are meaning to be rude, it can be because a person has come to the end of their tether. Considering all of the other barriers that person may have faced in the day, one more barrier may break the camels back as it were.

This is a nomad way suggesting that it’s okay for people to be rude. I am simply trying to offer another side of the coin to consider.

It is also not a suggestion that nobody should ever ask a disabled person a question. However there are appropriate times to ask questions and there are times when it is not appropriate:

An appropriate time may be when a person has built a rapport with the other person. Due to their relationship, they understand that this is something that is welcomed.

An inappropriate time maybe on the street because the person doesn’t know what else to say. I have experienced this from time to time. It may be when I’m ordering a drink, it may be waiting for a bus.

Spoon Theory

I came across this theory originally hypothesised by Christine Miserandino. She utilised this as a way of describing disabled people’s energy levels; that everyone has a finite amount of spoons per day. Spoons translate to the levels of energy we have. Each spoon represents one strand of energy. Depending on the circumstances, our experiences, our encounters that day, our backgrounds, our exposures to oppression, how we identify – we may exert more or less effort and therefore energy over certain tasks. Everyone has 10 spoons per day and when those spoons are gone, they are gone.

A disabled person, exposed to ablism may at times, may use several spoons on one activity. To another person, this activity may seem relatively simple and straightforward and it’s hard to understand why it would take so much effort to achieve. However, to that disabled person, attempting to achieve a task in an environment not designed to support them, this can be quite difficult. We talk about ways in which the workplace can be made more accessible for disabled people in many other blogs. Including this one.

People with invisible disabilities sacrifice their spoons because as well as managing their impairment on a daily basis, their energy levels are used up when forced to justify their impairment time and time again.

For disabled people, it’s often hard for us to articulate how the spoons are being utilised. Especially when much of what is happening is going on behind-the-scenes. But many of us have an invisible backpack that we carry around every day. Depending on the day, we may manage fine, another day, everything may be too much. The example below is taken from the perspective of somebody with anxiety and depression. 

You wake up with your alarm at 7:30. You were anxious during the night and therefore could not turn off and did not sleep very well.

You look out the window and realise it’s quite cloudy outside. You were hoping for better weather as you thought this might improve how you’re feeling. You’re just gonna have to manage. All you want to do is crawl back under the covers

Your daughter comes running in with marmite all over her hands telling you that she’s made her own breakfast! She comes to give you a hug, misses and get marmite all over your bedsheets

You pull yourself out of bed and go into the bathroom. You realise that the toothpaste is empty and has been put back in the toothbrush holder. You feel exhausted

After rummaging around for another tube of toothpaste, your anxiety is building as you realise that it is now 8:15 and your daughter is still not ready for school

It’s so hard to find the energy to get dressed. However, somehow you manage

Your partner calls upstairs to say that they are take your daughter to school. Although this relieves some of your anxiety, it is swiftly replaced with guilt for not doing yourself

Somehow it’s 9 o’clock. How did that happen? You go into your home office and turn on your computer but it has decided to do an upload. You are going to be late for your 9:15 am meeting

You are revelling in the peace and quiet you have for 5 minutes. Just as you are beginning to relax, your partner comes in and offers you a cup of coffee. Your moment of peace is lost

The zoom meeting loads up, your manager sees you have entered the room and says: “nice that you could join us”. You burst into tears

A lot of the time, many of the tasks that we face as disabled people go on behind the scenes. They can be, as the example above suggests be internalised. However, they can also be physical barriers that happen without anybody seeing. For example, a physically disabled person in accessible loo wouldn’t necessarily be showing that they were struggling because they were behind the door before. An individual may think that they are taking a longer amount of time but do not realise what is going on in that room. Meanwhile that disabled person may be using energy on such activities as:

  • Mentally scooping the room to see where the dangers and potential trip hazards are 
  • Manoeuvering a wheelchair to park in a certain place 
  • Shutting and locking the door 
  • Reaching for the toilet roll without falling off the toilet

All of which may be happening whilst they know that their family/ friends/colleague/clients are waiting for them. They may be aware that other disabled people are queueing outside to use the toilet or that whilst they are in the toilet, they are missing the event/gig/talk/meeting that they are meant to be in. 

2 questions to consider: 

How do your spoons get used up? 

How can you articulate to your customers, colleagues and employees that you realise they have spoons of their own?

Our video demonstrating accessibility versus inclusion enables practical applications of how disabled people’s energy levels are used up on daily basis. Click here to watch the video