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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Disability as a Positive Influence on Life

Disability is bad. No one wants to be blind, deaf or paralyzed. Common sense dictates this normative belief. The limitations associated with a physical deficit are bad. Sure we can compensate, adapt, and we humans are very good at adapting, but no one wants to acquire a disability. Is this not why we humans dread old age? Disability, the lack of ability, is associated with old age. Old people are slow, feeble, and too many experience dementia. Wheelchairs? A fate worse than death. I would rather be dead than paralyzed. Blind? Oh no, I could never see a sunset and movies would be pointless. Deaf? I would be unable to connect and communicate with others. What does disability on the broadest of the term create in the minds of others? Negative connotations, limits, the need to "overcome", and for some dread. In extreme cases people even commit suicide rather than learn how to live life with a disability. Think Daniel James and his "loving" parents.

The above may be boring, so ordinary it does not merit thought. Sorry, but this thought process is all wrong. After thirty years of wheelchair use this is what I think when I see another paralyzed person: are they employed, married, do they have a car, if so what kind, and where do they live? If the person in question is married, employed, owns a house, and has a family I am sure of one thing: they are skilled problem solvers. This thought came to the forefront of my mind when I read a blog I had never come across, WheelchairJunky, written by Mark E. Smith. The first entry I read concerned the inherent problems associated with airline travel when one uses a wheelchair. Rather than focus on the myriad of ways airlines have consistently provided dreadful service to passengers that use a wheelchair the post noted the following:

"The fact is, in order to survive with disability, we become master problem-solvers. In the simplest terms, when we can’t perform a task one way, we have to find another way to do it – that is, we emotionally, mentally, and physically cope – and, when we do, not only do we move forward, but we also create a legacy of accomplishment and confidence. This same strategy proves invaluable to every aspect of our life. See, disability intrinsically teaches us that when when problems arise, and we face them head on, we ultimately find solutions and success."

Adapt, cope and compensate. This can do only one thing--enhance the quality of one's life. Thus disability need not always be considered a bad thing. I have not just adapted but utilized my disability to improve my life. My paralysis offers advantages physically and socially. These advantages can be large and small, important and inconsequential. For instance, I use the spasms in my body to balance myself and hold my wheelchair in place when I transfer to and from my wheelchair. I never tire when I spend an entire day in the museum moving long distances. Because some people do not know how to interact when I am present I have learned how settle down people and make them feel comfortable thereby improving my social skills. Since I encounter baseless bigotry I am skilled at asserting my rights. I am able to form a strong relationship with the college students I teach because my wheelchair negates the distance they feel from other professors. When I meet another paralyzed person it is possible to have an intimate conversation almost immediately. These are just a few of the positives that spring to mind. There are dozens of others if not hundreds, even, thousands. Is it any wonder than I am Disabled and Proud?

14 comments:

FridaWrites said...

I thought I posted a comment but it disappeared. I read the same blog post last night and felt encouraged by it as well--it is true that we have to solve problems uniquely and can think outside the box. His post on empathy is also good, and I emailed it to the medical supply company as part of problem solving (I need the right wheelchair cushion to sit up and to be able to be employed).

I've been thinking about finding a disability pride or wheelchair bumper sticker because I am proud of and comfortable with disability identity.

william Peace said...

Frida, I too have lost a few comments I thought I posted. Frustrating. Good luck on the supply company-you will need it as they are usually a bunch of jerks. I prefer not to put a disability pride sticker on my wheelchair. I have found it attracts the people you really do not want to have conversations with.

SoBoyBlogger77 said...

writing at 5AM?? You must be proud!

Kidding ... great point, I recognize the same in myself and many others- that disability leads to depth in character. I often reflect that everything I do (or my disabled friends do) is an even greater accomplishment because we are disabled. I have come to have regular conversations about how disability can add things to life that it is not always certain a person would have come to on their own...

great point, but pride can distance people from each other. Can we call it quiet confidence instead?

FridaWrites said...

Yes, for the car, not the chair. It might further help with the aggressiveness of drivers because people assume I'm not disabled. Then again, maybe not. Plus on the other hand, no conversation enablers for devotees, ick. I should write about that some time.

Disabled = Proud? To most people this doesn't compute.

Full Tilt said...

Disabled and Proud??? Count me in, please, and thanks for this wonderful posting, Bill. I hope you are enjoying Spring.

Becs said...

There was a blogger in Texas (wait...this sounds like the start of a limerick...) who coined the term "crip chips". Every time you rationally explain things to people, every time you assert your rights, you get a "crip chip."

I try to imagine a world where people are constantly questioning my use of eyeglasses, wanting me to explain what they are and why I need them. I know it would only end badly.

william Peace said...

SoBoy, I sincerely hope I do not sound like am bragging. When I discuss disabled and proud my pride comes from being ordinary. That is I am no different from my peers that walk around. I want to simply lead by example and when confronted with prejudice assert my civil rights. The best way to do this in my experience is quietly and with dignity. Screaming, yelling, and a confrontational approach do not work well.

Frida, Sadly disabled and proud does not compute in the minds of most people. Worse yet, when disabled and proud does come up it is lumped in with the most extreme cases of identity politics.

Full Tilt, In you are. As my son teases me "you old school and uppity cripples need to stick together and stick to the man".

Mia said...

I agree with a lot of this. The one issue I have is that I don't want to discount the reasons why someone with a disability might not handle problems with grace, creativity and calm assertiveness. Some of that falls a little into the "supercrip" stereotype as well, and sometimes someone just can't deal with being talked to like a three-year-old for the tenth time that day or being touched by a "hehlpful stranger", etc.

I know that wasn't your point, that it was that there are things we (may) gain from being a person with a disability, but at the same time, the American mythos does have a place for the righteous meltdown hissy-fit, but we're not necessarily seen as being a part of that either.

william Peace said...

Mia, You make some excellent points. I have found the polite approach works best when confronted with those willing to listen. There are instances when being rude and assertive is the only option. And I have lost my temper which really takes quite a lot. As for the Super crip notion it is a concept I despise. It is counter productive and bigoted in the extreme.

akheffernan said...

thanks so much for this post. I am struggling with how to move forward with my blog for exactly the reason you describe--I am hesitant to make it a blog that simply details my gripes about inaccessibility or disablism. There is a place for that, yes, but as you point out, adapting and compensating tells more of the story. Obviously, it takes a while to reach that point of adaptation and compensation (not to mention advocating and fighting for one's rights) but I am surprised how many blogs simply chronicle the wrongs of of a "disablist society" without speaking up. Do I get annoyed when someone speaks slowly to me? Yes. However, by not saying anything and quietly stewing over the injustice of it, I am doing nothing to change the incorrect belief that I am mentally impaired. Now, I don't think you have to say something every time--that would be downright exhausting, but I do take pride in having voice to advocate for my needs, rights, and beliefs. Hmmm...I think I have a topic for a new post...thanks for that!

william Peace said...

Annie, I am all for asserting our rights as human beings. Gripes are pointless without social change. And that is what we need, change in which the ability of all people is considered important.

Sue said...

I have chronic brucellosis and am a part time wheelchair/electric mobility scooter user. I travel on a train each week and have had many interesting conversations with people. I'll tell you about two of them.

One was with a train conductor who was tactfully trying to understand how limited my mobility was, as he had special responsibility for my safety while on the train. When I told him I could walk 200 yards on a good day and that using mobility aids was helping my problems to get better, he was surprised because he hadn't ever thought that a disabled person's health could improve or that there could be days that were better than others. It was a positive encounter, and I really don't object to honest dialogue.

The other one was dreadful. A woman who was sitting in the section reserved for wheelchairs, prams and bicycles wanted to get off the train at the stop before mine. She began shouting that my scooter was a safety hazard and that she was going to report me. I pointed out that there were other exit doors she could use and she began shouting that I wasn't even disabled so shouldn't have one of 'those things'. I asked how she knew that and she said she had seen me walk from my seat to my scooter. I said 96% of illnesses were invisible and advised her to suck a lemon to sweeten herself up. She then stood on the platform shouting at me but luckily I couldn't hear her ruderies.

That encounter really upset me and I felt shaken up for days afterwards. Sometimes it would be useful to have a more visually evident disability. Encounters of this type are fortunately rare, but they have made me more assertive in dealing with them.

Do you know any more part time 'cripples?'

RA Guy said...

I continue to terms with my disability (rheumatoid arthritis), which is at times invisible and at other times visible (I am currently walking with crutches). I agree 100% that disability can be a positive influence on life. Thanks for your great post.

Erminia Cavins said...

I am lucky enough not to be afflicted with any disability, but I still know the pain and hardship it entails because I live with one. No person chooses to be disabled and that doesn’t make them any less of a human being. The thing is that a lot of people see them as a burden. Life for them is a huge struggle already, so let’s not make it any more difficult for them than it already is. An overdue thanks for sharing this, William.

Erminia Cavins