You, Me, and My Disability: Identification
It is my right to tell you that I have a disability. It is also my right to leave that out. It is my right to disagree with how disabilities are defined, viewed, and dismissed. But it is my call to explain to you why.
Having a disability, whether visible, cognitive, physical, or seemingly non-existent, can often seem like a passage to Narnia; a conquest or plight that people don’t really know how to explain. It is often ignored, and more often, avoided. Ignorance is not always bliss.
Disability: According to to the American’s with Disabilities Act, a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability. (ADA)
Disability: (Medical term): a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person's ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions. (Merriam Webster)
Until it is addressed, most often by the person who is impaired; it is whispered about, and assumed, misunderstood, and even dismissed. This increases the wedge of understanding, and leaves room for confusion and disregard. There is no “one-size-fits-all,” approach to handling cases of disabilities, but without conversation, progress is stagnant.
A disability is in the eye of the beholder. I repeat, a disability is in the eye of the beholder.
The importance of identification:
a : psychological orientation of the self in regard to something (such as a person or group) with a resulting feeling of close emotional association
b : a largely unconscious process whereby an individual models thoughts, feelings, and actions after those attributed to an object that has been incorporated as a mental image (Merriam Webster)
Coming to terms with having a disability is not always easy. Whether it be fear, ignorance, or embarrassment; it can often lend feelings of isolation, resentment, and frustration. When you have the option of ignoring it, you often want to, mainly because sometimes, you just don’t feel like it.
You don’t feel like answering the questions, you don’t feel like making people feel better, because they “feel sorry for you,” and sometimes you just don’t want to.
It took me 20-something years to talk about Cerebral Palsy. It took be 20-something years to learn about disabilities, and it took me 20-something years to not care about what people’s reactions were. That’s a pretty long time, considering, that is most of my life.
I often struggled with fear and anxiety about how I would be perceived, and feared a little more that I wasn’t as good as I tried so hard to be. In every area of life that I could help it, I tried to be the best. Not so much for the sake of being the best, but more so to distract others that I was different. A little clumsy, a little slurred, a little spacey, and a little unsure about how to navigate unfamiliar spaces.
After 20-something years, I learned that none of that mattered. Perception. It is often laced in judgement and discontent, and sometimes, completely wrong. Just as one shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover; one shouldn’t judge a person by their difference (read: disability).
Identification is such a crucial part of disability awareness, and often a catalyst for inclusivity. It is the first step of acknowledging that you are unique; not that you are disabled.
Unique in appearance, unique in communication style, unique in understanding. When we identify, and begin taking the the reins of our narrative, we have the power to educate and relate, at our own speed, and based on need. When we own the narrative, we can help shape the conversation of what we need, our commitment to success, and most importantly, we can help those who can’t speak up.
Owning the story helps with personal self-acceptance, self-care, and greater contentment about life ahead. Owning the rights to your story, removes you as the victim, and leads you down the journey of being a protagonist. It takes patience, it takes time; but sometimes that first step is just the push you need.