The Thread: Would You Take a Cure Pill?

Sheryl Burgstahler

A DO-IT Scholar recently posed the following question in our Internet discussion forum. I will share with you some of the responses from participants so that you can get a flavor of the rich conversations within the DO-IT community.

A great philosopher once said, "I am what I am, and that's all what I am. I'm Popeye the Sailor Man. Toot Toot."

But, what if you had a chance to change things? What if Popeye was wrong? What if there was a pill that would remove your disability and allow you to join the faceless crowd of the normal masses? If a pill would remove your disability, would you take the pill?

DO-IT Mentor: I get this question a lot when I do trainings at a local community college (probably because my mother is the professor and she likes to prod people to ask the tough questions). Here's my answer: If taking the pill made me lose my friends, family, job (i.e., my life) in addition to my disAbility and made me start over in some random life, well the answer is NO WAY! If I could keep my life the way it is and just be sans the arthritis and its effect, OH YEAH, I'd take the pill.

DO-IT Mentor: I've often said I'd give up a bit of my mobility if it would make the health concerns and extra days spent in bed just go away. If the pill would take away the pain, yes, I'd be all for it. If it would just make me able to walk again, I'd probably take it—unless there were other things I'd have to give up, then it would depend.

DO-IT Ambassador: Who says that we are all "supposed" to hear? Some people are double-jointed and can twist their bodies up like a pretzel—does that mean that those who can't have something wrong with them? Who decides what abilities we are and are not supposed to have? What if all those double-jointed people started pushing some kind of surgery to make the rest of us double-jointed too?

DO-IT Ambassador: ...if it was retroactive, absolutely not... I have had too many experiences that have shaped who I am that I would not have had without my disability. But assuming it's not retroactive... if it could get me a job right away without any questions asked about why I haven't worked before, I'd consider it. (That's actually the biggest obstacle my disability presents me, from my point of view—it is keeping me unemployed.) But there are still many things to consider. In line with those past experiences, what about future experiences? What might I miss out on if I was no longer disabled? Then again, what might I miss out on if I remain disabled? There's no way to know what the future might bring and, either way, I'd never know what I gave up. And what about my life as it is now? The online disability group I run and others that I am a part of... would I still be qualified/welcome to continue?

Wow... when I started this message I actually didn't know what my answer would be. I've thought it all out as I wrote and just realized that no, I wouldn't take the pill under any circumstances. I don't like the idea of somebody deciding we all should be a certain way and then creating a pill to make us that way. Perhaps more to follow after my subconscious gnaws on this a bit more...!

DO-IT Mentor: Ahhhhh, but Popeye also ate spinach to make him stronger than he was. :) Sorry, you're talking to a guy who has over 800 unique Popeye items. . . . As for the miracle pill, I'd take it as long as it wasn't retroactive. I've had so many good things happen in my life because of my disability, I would never change my past. The other condition of taking the pill would be whether or not I felt it was something God wanted me to do. I won't make this a religious forum, but I know God has used my disability in awesome ways. I would need to really pray about how God could use me if I were able-bodied. By the same token, I think such a pill would just be another tool in making me more independent. I mean, I'm excited enough to try out the iBot because of places I could go where I can't now!

DO-IT Ambassador: As someone who has taken pills to help manage my disabilities, I feel I can add a perspective that has not yet been explored in the discussion. Whether or not I or anyone else should or would take a pill to cure our disabilities depends largely upon what those disabilities are in my view. For example, when it came to having seizures, Depakote, the pill that made them stop, was the only way I could be productive or even really be aware of my surroundings. It allowed me to be conscious in order to be who I am. Without it, I was not in control of my life, nor my body. So in this case, taking the pill was an easy choice.

When it comes to Tourette's or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), taking a pill is not such an easy choice. While it may make me "fit in" better, not fitting in has been one of the main things that has enabled me to have different and original ideas and views on things—it allows me to think "outside the box" in a manner of speaking. Having ADHD has also enabled me to complete certain types of tasks much faster than other people, while having Tourette's, with its obsessive compulsive aspect, has allowed me to maintain attention to detail—the combination makes me more effective at MANY things than a "normal" person. The pills which "cure" (more accurately treat) these two disabilities are ones I choose not to take. As I'm sure many of you will agree, having a disability is not always an impediment. I'm sure a great deal of you will also agree that some of the struggles we face and overcome as disabled individuals make us stronger and better able to overcome other obstacles in our lives.

I don't really agree with the idea that our disabilities should DEFINE who we are, as some in the Deaf community have advocated in the case of cochlear implants. It would seem to me that the deaf who can be treated in this manner stand only to gain hearing—they don't lose the ability to communicate via sign language, nor the ability to use their other senses to compensate for a lack of hearing due to the use of implants. Similarly, I don't really see how a "pill" which would cure cerebral palsy, or those otherwise impaired in mobility would change who they are. "Cures" in these cases would seem only to allow more choices about what lifestyle people with such disabilities could lead. Maybe there's something I'm overlooking here—perhaps someone who is deaf and or mobility impaired, blind, etc., can clarify exactly WHY there is opposition, and how they feel it would change the way they live for the worse?

DO-IT Mentor: ...yes, I would take the pill in a heartbeat. However, I don't think less of myself or other people with disabilities because we can't do that. And I know I'm every bit as capable the way I am. I suspect some of my capability is a result of being disabled so I definitely don't regret having been disabled. It did me a lot of good—I'm a better person for it.

DO-IT Pal: I would not take the pill...I love having my disability....who cares if I'm not like able-bodied people? I can do so many things that able-bodied people have never dreamed of doing. Do you know how great of a feeling that is? I mean, if someone asked me, "Would you take the pill?" To me, it's like, "Would you take your soul?" ...My disability is what makes me unique and stand out in the crowd. Never have I felt bad about having my disability. No one really sees me as the one with the wheelchair or the one who walks funny... nope. I have been described as the quiet one or the one with the pretty eyes. People are able to look beyond my chair and see who I really am...inside. That's so important to me. If people can't accept me for who I am, that is their problem not mine...I don't have to change for anyone.

DO-IT Mentor: I'm curious—for those who have answered the question about "the cure pill," or at least thought about it—does it make any difference if you were born with your disability or not?

I think that in many cases it might... if someone was born with the disability, it's always been a part of them and has been something that has been there always as they developed—like eye color or shoe size. (I am not saying these are even remotely alike. I'm just using those two as an example that most people have.) If it was a disability that came along later in life, it seems more like something that "happened" to the person and less of who they are. Not that either of these types make either person more or less disabled. I just think that they might think about such issues differently.

DO-IT Ambassador: Actually, the hardest part of my disability doesn't have to do with pain or health problems. In my case, it has more to do with having to work around my visual impairment. A lot of documents such as mail and job applications are not accessible. It is not always easy to find assistance in reading such documents. In addition, I frequently have problems getting to businesses that require crossing busy intersections.

DO-IT Ambassador: Personally there is no way I would take the pill. I have come to love and embrace my disability. I admit that it is difficult to deal with sometimes but the benefits out way the detriments. I love being able to think at a million miles an hour. It's a trip and I don't think I could live without it. For me there is a pill and I refuse to even look at it.

DO-IT Mentor: I have no desire to be "fixed." After remodeling a home, getting an adapted vehicle and workplace, and shelling out money for wheelchairs, I'd like to get more use out of them first. The question calls to mind the Oliver Sacks' story "To See and Not See" from An Anthropologist on Mars and the movie At First Sight. From a non-disabled person's perspective, getting sight was wonderful and losing it was horrible. But blindness was "normal" for the person "cured" so when the cure failed, he felt a sense of relief.

DO-IT Mentor: I wouldn't take the pill because the cascading effect of the consequences of that action would remove me from myself into someone I wouldn't recognize. Not only do I not want to learn to be myself all over again, I don't wish to remove the diversity—genetically, intellectually, physically, and spiritually—that nature has put in place. I don't really believe in accidents, so I must hold that diversity serves a purpose. Whether that purpose is one of intentional design or the result of a pervasive creative process which is a natural part the universe, makes no difference. Without diversity we stagnate and perish. Without conflict and trial we do not learn. And we are no longer individual spiritual, intellectual, and physical entities with unique capacities such that we alter the substance of history, and hence, the substances of each other, with only our presence and our uniqueness. And that's what I think about that.