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Candice M. Lee's From 'Passing' to 'Coming Out'


People who were fine with me as long as I didn't "look blind" now seem to be having problems with me being on SSDI.

I applaud Candice Lee for "coming out." I have a child with a cerebral palsy, and I wish for her what Candice has accomplished: being accepted as person first. I wish more people would be brave enough to say what she has said so that parents who have younger children will have a vision for what their children will experience as adults. Shelley Townsend Houston

I work with parents with intellectual disabilities. Like Lee, many are trying to "pass." They are the successes of "normalization" -- they have managed to not inconvenience society too much with their special needs. They have "fitted in" to school programs, work situations and housing options. But when any of these individuals dares to exercise sexual expression -- or even worse, becomes pregnant -- society draws the line and become punitive. The community says, "sure -- attend our schools, work and live alongside us, but don't bring more of your own kind into the world!" Ironically the very thing that led to the segregation and institutionalization of people with intellectual disability in the last century remains a sticking point in terms of respecting the fundamental human rights of people with intellectual disability. In my work, I hear clinicians making reference to the way parents with intellectual disabilities try to "pass." Though identifying the strategy, they do not understand it as a means of dealing with the way society labels people seen as "Other." They interpret the "passing" as the parents' lack of insight into the fact they are disabled -- or they see the parents as dishonest, concealing their disability. Thanks to Candice Lee for her reflection. And best wishes on the birth of her first child. It is important that the voices of parents with disabilities are heard. Parents with physical disabilities, though their experiences are not necessarily the same, can help expose discriminatory practices on behalf of parents with intellectual disabilities, who by virtue of their limitations and the medium through which discourse takes place, are excluded from articulating their experiences and aspirations.

Marg Spencer, University of Sydney (Australia)

I really, REALLY identify with Candice Lee's experiences.

I have a slowly progressing vision and hearing loss. Most of my young life I "passed" without even using a white cane. My only difference was sitting close to the blackboard and the fact that I couldn't drive. I, too, cringed when I was "complimented" on how I didn't look blind and how no one would ever think of me as disabled. I went to college, had a social life, got a job. I was one of those who "made it in spite of my disability."

Now, at 33, I seem to have crossed an imaginary line. My deafblindness can no longer be ignored by others. It is obvious that I am disabled: I'm starting to use all of the accoutrements of a deafblind woman, such as Braille and sign language. I recently temporarily quit working and got on SSDI so I could do some adjusting and now am starting to work part-time again.

It is interesting how you find out who your friends are. Many of those people who would "never think of me as disabled" now simply can't think of me as "disabled." And I find it interesting that the people who were fine with me as long as I didn't "look blind" now seem to be having problems with me being on SSDI, while simultaneously having problems with the way employers are "forced" to provide reasonable accommodations, while simultaneously having problems with homeless street panhandlers with disabilities (my only other alternative?).

I'm also working on one of my dreams, having children of my own. Like Lee's experiences while pregnant, I have seemed to shock family and friends by even broaching the subject. You'd think I'd had gone right out and impaled little kittens or something. I work, I'm a mature adult, I am prepared and able to raise children. Now, however, people who can't even utter the words "deafblind" are no longer telling me how they don't even think of me as disabled. They are telling me that I don't know how disabled I am.

Lisa Ferris

EDITOR's NOTE: For a take on what a jury thought of a blind Colorado woman's desire to get pregnant, read Laura Hershey's article, "Disabled woman's lawsuit exposes prejudices".

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