Friday, May 17, 2013

"He Didn't Let His Disability Get In The Way"

When people say someone doesn't let their disability get in the way, it's nothing more than a backhanded compliment. Disabilities do get in the way and that will never change. When you praise me or anyone else for this, you're complimenting us for ignoring part of ourselves. Occasionally there will be a PWD who decides to train for and run a marathon, or do the Tough Mudder course, or some other potentially high-risk activity. If they do, congratulate them, but DON'T add anything like "considering the circumstances" or "for someone like you", etc. If I accomplish something and add a qualifier like that of my own free will, that's fine, but don't do it for me, I can speak for myself. Don't try to make my accomplishment less valid. Also, don't begin to think that if one PWD can do it, we all can. You will often, but not always find out that those of us who do things like this are limited in other aspects of life. We may have the occasional need to attempt to surpass our own limits, but if we aim to prove anything to anyone, it's to ourselves and no one else. Don't ask me to prove my disability doesn't affect me; instead, listen to me when I tell you how it does affect me and take it for the fact that it is. Proving truth in something I know to be a lie is impossible. When somebody asks you about your own abilities and you tell them what you can and can't do, you aren't asked to prove it, but for some reason I am, we all are.

I heard somebody on TV say "he didn't let his disability get in the way", and when I heard that, I thought of two comparisons immediately, but one of them sounded mean so I went with the other. It's a fact of life with a disability, it WILL get in the way. It's not weakness when it does. That's like somebody saying they didn't let their job get in the way of their life. There will be a time when anyone with a job will have to say "I can't do that today, I have to work." Nobody thinks twice when they hear that. They won't ask if you're avoiding them. If they ask you to play hookie, they'd better be joking. On the other hand, if I say I can't do something for disability reasons, the questions don't stop. "Have you even tried?" "Are you sure you can't do that?" Perhaps the worst part is that those italicized words always bring a condescending tone. Sometimes I don't need to try, I can just watch someone else do something and plainly see that it won't bode well for me. The main difference between the job scenario and disability life is that it's ill-advised to quit your job, but it's impossible to quit having a disability. Yes, this is my disability "getting in the way", and there are only so many adaptations I can make. There's only so much we can do, and that limit is different for everyone.

Disability-related problems are never one-sided though. The other side of this one is when we do try not to let our disabilities get in the way, and someone sees that they do. The response that follows is usually something like "I can't stand watching you struggle, just ask for help". I will ask for help, but please don't forcefully provide it before I ask; feel free to offer but don't insist. It might also do you well to understand that when I do ask for help, it's often because my disability is getting in the way. That is definitely not the time to tell me not to let my disability affect me; that basically equates to throwing my disability in my face. Standing back and providing encouragement doesn't qualify as help either. "You can do it" won't help anyone of any ability level, except maybe with self-esteem. Thanks for believing in me, but I'm asking for your help because I need it.

It's impossible to live up both ends of a double-standard. If you want to offer help, do it just the same way you would for somebody without disabilities. Don't react harshly to me accepting or denying your help. Disabilities get in the way, so don't make me or anyone else feel like less of a person when they do. Do us all a favor, when disabilities get in the way, please, let them, and let us let them get in the way. Maybe we're trying to learn new skills. If help is needed, believe me, most of us will ask for it. There is a very fine line between me trying not to let my own disability get to me and you watching me "struggle". It is a fine line, but it's just as easy to know when you're close to crossing it; all you have to do is ask me and respect my answer.