I was born with a limb difference but I honestly can not recall ever looking at my right hand and thinking “well that doesn’t look right”.
Everything I have wanted to do, I have usually done – with the exception of maybe playing the drums. And growing up in such an environment at home, school and in the workplace, has fostered a ‘can do’ approach as opposed to using it as a ‘cop out’.
But believing I was just as abled as someone with two hands of five fingers, I had a skewed understanding of disability.
It took me until my mid-20s to begin embracing what being different physically meant and how it could set me apart.
I suggest reading this article about how people with disabilities are described in public that you understand what I mean.
It seems like we present only two views of disability – those who are our ‘superhumans’ that do spectacular things like win multiple gold medals at Paralympic games, and those who are poorly and falsely depicted as the ‘burdens’ or ‘leaners’ on our society.
In reality, most people with disability sit within the spectrum. So the aim of when I talk and write, is to represent this middle ground and to break out of this dichotomy.
Had I known I was disabled and in this range growing up, I might have put my mind in working at moving across (not up) to do something more spectacular. I didn’t get the exposure to groups like I AM ADAPTIVE or didn’t understand the Paralympic movement.
I highly doubt ten people in the street could name five disabled people they’d look up to.
We simply don’t look to such people as role models. And that makes comments by Australia’s greatest Paralympian, Matthew Cowdrey following the London 2012 games even more profound. He argued for having disabled people on TV shows like Play School as an important way of breaking down stereotypes.
As I have said before, you can go through your whole life without knowing anyone who is physically disabled.
Disability sport is a great avenue to change this. So are the arts. But it is important not to class this as either the ‘lesser’ or ‘secondary’ standard, but an avenue of showing how awesome difference is.
Wrongly, Paralympics is understood as “paraplegic” Olympics, which is terribly wrong – it’s “Parallel Olympics”, which means to run alongside as the games.
The reality is that disability is all around us, but often we are immune or ignorant of it. I consider that we are all in some way ‘disabled’ but statistically, only one in five has a form recognised and is classified that way.
And as the saying goes, ‘we are all one accident away from being [classed as] disabled’.
stumped BY DISABILITY
- Being called ‘inspirational’ – why people with disabilities cringe when they are described as ‘inspirational’.
- Night out in Leeds part 1, part 2 – a light-hearted look at how people in wheelchairs are treated when they have a night out on the town.
- ‘The Present’ (short film) – this short film was adapted from a Portuguese comic strip and won 59 awards.
- International Day of People with Disability – my take on disability for IDPwD 2015.
- The 2015 NDIS Conference – Australia is having a national conversation about the importance of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
- My disability abroad – a light-hearted look at an experience I had at the Louvre in France.
- (UK) Channel 4’s Meet the Superhumans – the best Paralympic games and coverage was in London and was attributed to this campaign run by television Channel 4. It changed how we view disability sport and people with disabilities.
- Amputee surfer teaching others – my thoughts on interviewing an amputee surfer for SBS World News in Australia.
- Don’t DIS my ABILITY – a blog post I wrote as an ambassador for International Day of People with Disability day in 2014. It was first published by the campaign which ran across New South Wales.
what others have said
- Lessons from London: how hosting the Paralympics can make cities more accessible – An article on the
- Stella Young: I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much – In this Tedx talk, Australian comedian, Young, makes light of how people with disability are treated as “inspirational porn” so that society can feel better about itself.
- Dylan Alcott – In this Tedx talk, Australian Paralympian and wheelchair tennis world champion, Alcott, says it “sucks” that people with disability have been relegated to the shadows.
- How to Talk to Your Child About Differences – to stare, or not to stare? It’s the uncomfortable and highly awkward moment you get caught staring at someone with a limb difference, or you catch someone looking! What to do next…
stumped by OTHER PEOPLE’S DISABILITY
Smarter people than I are blogging about disabilities or have come up with some great networks of like-minded (or like-looking) people. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Lucky Fin Project – my favourite social network and charity group. It started in the United States and now has Facebook groups and ambassadors globally.
- I AM ADAPTIVE – an American movement that began in 2014 aimed at those born without or have lost a limb, and returning soldiers. It focuses mainly on sport and has a strong advocacy program with an aim to eradicate the use of words like ‘handicapped’ and ‘disabled’, replaced by ‘adaptive’.
- The Mighty – more generally about disability and mental illness, with a tagline “We face disability, disease and mental illness together” sums up the purpose of the blog.
- Disability Horizons – a UK disability lifestyle online publication written by people with disabilities on topics of employment to news, politics to relationships (romantic and otherwise), to sports and travel.
- Living One Handed – author of a book called “Different is Awesome”, Ryan Haack was born without his left forearm and he blogs and speaks to children about limb difference.
- Martyn Sibley – author of the book “Everything is Possible”, Martin Sibley who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy edits the publication “Disability Horizons” (see above) and blogs about his experiences as a disabled world-traveller.
- Born Just Right – an American mother who blogs about her daughter who has one arm.