I’m just going to come right out and say it: there’s a real fear of disability in society.
When I say that, I don’t mean able-bodied people are running from us with an impairment screaming for their lives like we’re some kind of monsters...although, there are some ‘horror’ (pardon the pun) reaction stories that I’ve been told, and experienced, over the years. If you want a real giggle, check out the hashtag #AbledsAreWeird (https://twitter.com/hashtag/ablesareweird?lang=en) on Twitter. Hilariously shocking. But I digress...
No, what I mean by fear is that society has been pre-conditioned to think that your life is over if you are born with or acquire a disability. I can honestly say, hand on heart, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
‘I couldn’t ever imagine living with a disability. I don’t know how you do it.’
As a quadriplegic, I hear that statement a lot. It’s usually steeped in empathy and remorse, neatly wrapped up in a strong dose of fear. And to be honest, it’s the exact same reaction I had before my accident.
Society has developed the narrative that disability is something to be feared. If you look back at some of the original images of disability, it’s often tainted with the ‘freak show’ stuff – people who are grossly different to what is considered ‘normal’ and paraded for all to taunt, laugh and think ‘thank goodness that’s not me’.
Think back to the many Road Awareness TV campaigns that have been broadcast over the years, warning people of the dangers of speeding, drink driving and distractions can have: You may end up dead or, WORSE, in a wheelchair. Oh great, real inspiring stuff for someone already confined to a wheelchair...
Sure, falling 10 metres and breaking my neck, spending a long time rehabilitating and dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was hard.
Do you know what else is hard? Life.
Life is hard! Everybody has their own unique challenges they are going through every single day. Having a disability or impairment is just one of those challenges I and many others face, however I think it’s unfair to say our challenges are greater than others.
I try to live my life with empathy. There are things people are dealing with on a daily basis that I could never imagine having to – life as a single parent, dealing with discrimination in the workplace, being surrounded by toxic relationships and so much more. But I’m certainly not prone to judge.
So what’s the lesson I’m hoping you’ll take away from today?
That fear of disability – the negativity, hopelessness and pity – creates an unhealthy relationship with what could be possible, and it’s what leads people to giving up because they’re afraid. It’s what heightens depression, anxiety and despair amongst those who do have a disability or impairment and creates an ‘Us versus Them’ mentality.
So let’s end the fear. Let’s take ownership of our challenges – whatever they may be. By owning them, you have the power to conquer them with the love and support of your family and friends. By shifting our mindset, we can help begin a new narrative on what life is like living with a disability or impairment.
Because I can tell you, in today’s world, it’s absolutely possible to live a normal, fruitful, successful, enjoyable life with a disability or impairment. I’m 100% living proof of that.