Each Wednesday, I post my response to a question from the Redefining Disability Challenge. This is my response to the thirty-fifth question in the Challenge. As usual, I am not looking ahead to future questions, so I may inadvertently address some topics which will come up later in the Challenge. Here is this week’s question:
How has your perception of disability changed in your lifetime?
Disability has always just been a part of my life. I have always viewed my personal disability as just one trait which makes up part of my identity. This does not mean I have always embraced my identity as disabled.
When I was a child, I heard medical professionals encourage me to continue to walk for as long as possible. Walking was a good thing, and needing to rely on a wheelchair for daily mobility was a bad thing which should be avoided if at all possible. I should try to be “normal” as much as possible. They may not have used those exact words, but that was the message I heard.
I wish I hadn’t listened to them. I wasted so much time and energy on walking, and then wasted more time and energy using a manual wheelchair rather than a power wheelchair. I spent needless energy trying to do it all, rather than accepting the assistance I now use every day. I was stubborn and only made myself tired and worn down, which didn’t prove anything other than I am bad at asking for and accepting help.
Switching to a power wheelchair was one of the most empowering moves I made. In 2006, I wrote about it in an article entitled Empowered Chair for the National Registry of Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers quarterly newsletter. In the article, I described how liberating it was to have a chair which “kept up” with all I wanted to do.
My relationship with assistive technology (any device which makes it possible for me to live independently) like my wheelchair or my reacher has evolved over time. I now look at these devices as essential to my ability to function.
Wheelchairs aren’t to be avoided. They are tools which encourage engagement and interaction. Without my chair, I am stuck in my house. Give me a chair and I can access the world.
My identity as disabled is changing as I mature and learn from my peers. My professional experiences and my personal interactions have helped me develop a more global view of disability. Now more than ever, I realize how different my reality is from other people with disabilities. I have mentioned my status as an outlier in prior posts. You can look at US disability statistics at this site to see for yourself.
Today I view disability as a continuum rather than a dichotomy of just disabled and nondisabled. People can find themselves anywhere on the continuum at any point in life. When we view disability as a natural part of life which will touch everyone, rather than something which just affects someone else, we will start to see the cultural shift towards true acceptance and equality.