Reflecting on “In My Language”

I’m reading Dr. Temple Grandin’s “The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s,” in which she mentions Amanda Baggs’ Youtube video sharing her Autistic language very powerfully in “In My Language.”

Although I do not have Autism or Asperger’s, I immensely relate to what Amanda (Amelia) Baggs says in this video, in her language, because of my speech impediment. People who first meet me have difficulty understanding me. But it gets easier to understand me after a while. Unfortunately, a small number of people cannot understand me, even after communicating with me several times. Some friends consider my speech impediment like another language and take pride in being able to communicate with me.

Picture of Inside My Language video: "Only when the many shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible."

Picture of Inside My Language video: “Only when the many different shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible.”

I do feel the pressure to conform my speech to the “normal language,” as I have written about before with my communication device dilemma, and failure to conform leads to assumptions that I am less capable. Although there is a misconception that all people with disabilities have intellectual disabilities, I feel this is especially true of people with speech impediments. I am not trying to draw distinctions dividing people with physical disabilities vs. people with intellectual disabilities, which could lead to undesired consequences in of a disability hierarchy. Assumptions of lack of capacity bother me for individuals with intellectual disabilities and those with physical disabilities, as well as for people who do not speak English fluently.

The need to conform is not only relevant to speech. I attended a meeting in college where sorority girls, who were also personal care assistants in my dorm for students with disabilities needing personal care, tried convincing us to join sororities because joining one would be non-conforming to norms attached to people with disabilities. (In this case, the assumption that people with disabilities did not join the Greek system). I didn’t fall for this; my roommate and another student with a disability were. I didn’t have any urge to do so. Not the there is anything wrong with those who do; it just wasn’t for me.

But I agree with the sentiment that people with disabilities have to conform to be nonconformists regarding the low to no expectations placed on us. As a nonconformist by nature, I am not sure if I would have pursued higher education if I didn’t have a disability, since our society expects everyone to get at least a college education, which is diminishing in its value (a discussion for another post). The lack of expectations for me to go to college or get a job motivated me more to go to law school. My dedication to advance civil rights through the justice system helped too. I did struggle greatly with the job part, but I was fortunate enough to successfully complete my legal education. I realize that even education can be difficult for people with disabilities with unaccommodating administrations, lack of accessible classrooms, housing, personal care, and so on.

Have there been instances when you felt/feel like the act of conforming was taking a nonconformist stance? Please share your experiences in the comments below.