The Thread: Disability Perspectives

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT participants engage in lively discussions on the Internet. In a conversation about personal perspectives on disabilities, adult DO-IT Mentors shared experiences and insights with young participants with disabilities and some of our younger participants came up with some insights of their own. Here are just a few paraphrased gems that appeared in our e-mail discussion. Together they document the wide range of perspectives on the topic.

  • Walking is NOT the defining factor in the status of being a person. It does not raise or lower who you are, unless that is what you allow it to do.
  • There is NO truth to the rumor that all we think of as persons with disabilities is being "normal." What is that anyway?
  • One of the major problems many people with disabilities have with the rehabilitation mode of thinking (not that all approaches in rehab are bad - just some of the theoretical ideas), is that it often uses some artificial concept of "normal." This concept is often based on able-bodied ideals and bears little or no resemblance to the realities of people with disabilities. The all-fired importance and value of walking is a key example of this. Sure, there is some value to walking - exercise, curbs, etc... The fact is, though, that some of the same people that are urging us on to walk are the same ones who put the curbs there in the first place. If people want to help me, they should support me to get what I can out of my body. That's great. Just try to be realistic about it and don't put up other barriers while you're urging me to walk.
  • I don't want to be viewed as "normal," but, rather, gifted and unique. Everyone lacks some ability. We are all gifted and unique in our own way. For example, many people have the gift of being able to have full control of their bodies. I have other gifts such as a mind for math and the ability to teach myself things very quickly. People without those abilities are not disabled but gifted in other ways. Calculators and books can compensate for the "lack" of math skills. In the same way, technology can compensate for the lack of mobility ability.
  • If we did live based on what we cannot do, life would be terribly boring, dull, pointless, and depressing. Life is far too short to dwell on what isn't there.
  • We do have the RIGHT to feel sorry for ourselves and we could definitely get enough pity to get by in life, but then our lives would be wasted. When we DON'T feel sorry for ourselves, others see that and sometimes wonder why THEY feel sorry for themselves.
  • It is within our power to change how people see us.
  • The difference between today and forty years ago is that we have the voice to say, "yes, I need help. I also deserve the right to be proud of who I am and to demand that your help is not conditioned on, or does not imply that my person is without value equal to yours." We no longer have to accept pity in order to get money/services/whatever. We can, and should, demand that one does not dictate the other.
  • Thank God for humor. Without it life really WOULD be a big freak show! I take a huge amount of comfort in the talent I have for laughing at myself. In fact, my nickname is SPAZZ, after the famous spastic reflexes of a CP kid like myself. If I didn't have my sense of humor, high school would be nearly impossible.
  • I honestly think that too much emphasis is put on labels. We are who we are, no matter what labels people put on us. I get so sick of reading magazine articles about people who feel used and put down because they are called "disabled athletes" instead of "athletes with a disability". The important thing is that the athlete is getting recognition they deserve, which rarely happens in wheelchair sports. We need to focus more on where we are moving in society and our accomplishments than on little trivial things like labels, or we will never be taken seriously.
  • I can count the number of times I've seen a person with a disability portrayed on a TV show or movie on one hand. Usually, when it does happen, the whole program is based on the person's disability rather than it just being a normal part of life. Maybe, if television would casually portray people with disabilities having normal lives with normal jobs and normal friends, the labels would eventually fade away.
  • I noticed myself that most people don't know how to act around people with disabilities. I also found that when I am myself and talk to them and give them information about my disabilities, they get more comfortable. It's just helping them understand.
  • It's the choices we make on how we see things and deal with them that make us who we are and how we handle things such as our disabilities. If we learn to respect ourselves and try to achieve all that we can, others will respect us also. But that doesn't really matter because what matters is how we feel about who we are.