Good health is not a basic right. I grew up thinking it was.
10 year old me thought the knees that she used to run through grassy fields would stay strong forever, that she would always be able to carry a purple Jansport backpack, that the hair on her stomach was normal, that laughter is something everyone knows intimately. Clearly, I was wrong.
However, I believe respect and empathy should be treated like basic rights. I think even the smallest actions and changes in attitude can have the most profound impact. So based on my experience, here are two simple things I think abled people can do to create a more supportive and inclusive environment.
1) Listen, Don't Criticize
If someone shares their experiences with you, it's because they find you safe. They think you will protect their vulnerable emotions by not feeding them unwanted feedback. For example, if someone with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia confides in you about how they have to drink more coffee than they want to because they simply can't stay awake, do not respond with "Wow, that's really bad for your health." Due to circumstance, people with chronic conditions usually know more about health science and actually research healthy habits more often than abled people, so comments like these usually make us feel more isolated and uncomfortable. Instead, ask "Is there anything I can do to help?" or "I am here to listen"
Weknow what we are doing, and we have numerous health professionals and mentors telling us what to do, we all just need someone to vent to at times.
2)Respect, Don't Judge
Sometimes, people with chronic conditions are granted academic and workplace accommodations. And oftentimes, this leads to a lot of gossip. I remember in high school I was granted academic accommodations, but I would rarely use them because I did not want people thinking I do not deserve my academic accomplishments. I would literally take exams while my arms and joints felt like a million fire ants were biting them simply because I did not want people to judge me.
Firstly, people are granted accommodations after their school, university, or workplace has received medical documentation of a disability. And if Netflix shows and just life in general have taught us one thing, it's that people don't want to get sued. No smart doctor or regular individual is going to fake medical documentation and risk losing their job or license for a perfectly healthy person who simply wants 30 more minutes on their Math test. If someone has accommodations, it's because they deserve and need them. End of discussion.
I encourage you to not question the validity of someone's disability and badmouth them because you are simply wasting your time and being disrespectful. Also, if your university offers accommodations to students with disabilities, it's because it is smart enough to realize giving students extended times on deadlines, permission to record lectures, permission to stand up in class, etc are relatively minor inconveniences in comparison to someone dropping out because they felt like they didn't belong and had no help.
And if you want to speak in terms of benefit(because unfortunately, that's all some people think about), not giving someone extended time on an exam because they have a chronic pain condition is a much smaller loss than a potential doctor, engineer, teacher, etc dropping out.
And if you think people with chronic conditions are not capable of performing well in the workplace......Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Sarah Hyland, Gigi Hadid, Nick Jonas, Halsey, Bella Hadid, doctors who revolutionalized chronic pain treatment, and not to mention a good amount of our IWM team! I think you get the point haha.
These are just two suggestions, but they have the power to make someone feel more encouraged to ask for help and share their experiences.
A world in which people with chronic conditions are respected and heard is a world we would all thrive in. The more people receive the help they need to pursue an education and chase their dreams, the happier society becomes.