Speaker challenges disability privilege


By Lidia Montiel, CONTRIBUTOR

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It may be your primary instinct to hold the door open for a person in a wheelchair, or with any other disability when you see them approaching it; however, some people may not appreciate the gesture.
Matt Glowacki, a professional civility speaker of 20 years who was born with no legs, tries to live just like everyone else to the most of his abilities.
“I would rather have you assume I can do stuff and then be my friend, rather than have a relationship with you that’s based on you helping me when I don’t really even need the help,” Glowacki said. “All you’re doing is making me feel disabled and I’m not disabled, I’m only disabled in your eyes.”
California State University, East Bay welcomed Glowacki as part of Beyond the Chalk Speaker Series and Make a Difference Week 2018, late last month.
Glowacki introduced the concept of disability privilege, which is a higher class of service that he receives from able-bodied people simply because he uses a wheelchair.
“I’m trying to teach people that, the one thing that they think is the right thing to do which is to help me, is exactly the wrong thing that I don’t want them to do,” Glowacki told The Pioneer. “So how do you tell someone that instinctively the right thing they think for them to do, is exactly the wrong thing for them to do?”
He also argues that disability privilege is oppressive because people assume that he cannot do as much as able-bodied people. Disability privilege is largely given to those with sympathetic stories and how well they pass as being able-bodied.
“I’m trying to change people’s view of disability and really teach people to see potential in other people rather than judge them based on pre-existing stereotypes that exist in their mind, not in the person’s mind who’s actually experiencing the unique situation,” Glowacki said.
Glowacki presented his “Nurture Your Nature” talk at CSUEB to introduce the concept of disability privilege and focus on the topics of intersectionality, code-switching and passing within a framework of social justice.
During the lecture, Glowacki explained that life is like a Venn diagram. One side focuses on intersectionality, which includes aspects of personal identities, such as, community, class, gender and social life.
The other side consists of code-switching, which occurs when someone presents different versions of themselves depending on individual situations and scenarios in order to fit in.
“Your identity is simply the story that you tell yourself about yourself,” Glowacki said. “My program is kind of about you and I’m using my examples about my life as the techniques and the teaching moments to try and actually make you think more critically about yours.”
Glowacki says that the program “Nurture Your Nature” developed after he finished his book, “Able-Bodied Like Me.”
“I was telling people my story from an able-bodied model, not acknowledging the fact that I truly am disabled,” Glowacki says. “Today what I wanted to is to try to bring other people to a different level of understanding and of themselves and their own identity based on things they might have a blind spot to.”
Glowacki hopes to make the book available for purchase by next year.