In essence there are two types of disabilities (which is very different from diagnosis). They are congenital, usually something that started at birth but is defined by a “condition that occurred before the age of 4”, or acquired. An acquired happens after the age of four and could be anything from the results of a disease to a traumatic event like a car accident. Today I would like to spend a few minutes discussing the concept of congenital disabilities.
There is a difference when one is dealing with an acquired disability. Those poor bastards have the whole before and after dilemma to deal with but I’ll save that for another day. Right now I want to focus on the concept of a congenital disability. With a congenital disability we have never had to deal with anything else. We are what we are and we live accordingly. Some of us may have been poster children because we were defined by society as “cute disabled children”. However we eventually turn into adults that have to fit into a world not build for people with disabilities but we are stuck with the label (not cute but still viewed as disabled). Why should we blindly accept how society defines us?
When you grow up with a disability you don’t really see yourself as disabled. You just see yourself as you or you should but then society enters the picture. What defines you from there is how much you buy into their perspective of you. It is when you start letting other people disable you that you truly become disabled. It is at that moment when you give your identity over to others.
As a 3 year old polio survivor I have never known anything else. At least not anything that is predominant in my memory banks. As a kid I was very fortunate. I was the second child in a family of six kids and I was never treated by my family as “disabled”. When you have six kids parents didn’t have the time to treat anyone differently. I was expected to pull my weight. I did the things I wanted to because I could. I don’t let (and never have much to my parents chagrined during my teen years) other people tell me what I can or can’t do.
Society, with good intentions, disables us because they perceive us as different. However that difference is based on their frame of reference. This is often seen as “norm referencing” where I prefer “criteria referencing”. If I were to use norm referencing as my basis for decisions then everybody who didn’t use crutches would be disabled.
Does being different mean we are disabled? I don’t think so but society in general needs labels. Now when we are young we have to accept these labels because, like any kid, we were not the control factor. However when we reach that point where we can self determine it becomes our choice to accept the label. We can choose to continue down the road society feels we should be on or we can create our own path.
It can be difficult but the only way you will ever be who you were meant to be is to define your disability rather than accepting the disability label society assigned. After all, that disability was defined by those around you because of a difference they have no way of understanding. When you come to this realization you become who you are and not what society tells you what you should be. The truth is we grow up with our disability and we adapt to make things work for us. That is our normalcy which is quite different from mainstream society.
Regardless, at the end of the day the choice is yours. So I ask you, are you a disabled person or are you a person with a disability? It is subtle but there is a big difference in how we see ourselves. They say first impressions make a big difference in how we are seen. Is the first impression you have of yourself that as disabled or that as a person? These may seem like minor distinctions but they are huge in how we see ourselves. And when it comes down to it, it is how we see ourselves that really counts. How we see ourself is reflected by how those around us. In their eyes they see us as we portray ourselves!
Just one man’s opinion!