Many of us had our first encounter with disability through the internationally-recognized disability symbol — if not through family or friends who were also disabled.
We all know what the symbol is: a person on a wheelchair.
No wonder we tend to think of persons with disability (PwD’s) as “that person who needs a wheelchair to move, or with something visibly lacking. Someone who always needs to be pushed up a ramp” (actually, they don’t).
Being married to a person with disability (hemophilia B and a seizure disorder), I’ve come to see disabled people in a different light — with all the colorful parts and nuances in their personalities. I’ve also come to realize that greater society does tend to make assumptions on who they are and what to do — and oftentimes, these assumptions are incorrect, if not completely twisted.
I will now attempt to dispel some of these assumptions with a list of what PwD’s do and don’t do.
Here’s a list of things they do:
1. Many Things, On Their Own!
Many disabled people are quite capable of taking care of themselves, even with their limitations. With the right support (i.e. medication, assistive devices, or availability of a companion) they can get the things they need, travel, and enjoy a variety of leisure activities!
2. Get Jobs
Having a disability doesn’t automatically disqualify anyone from getting a job. In fact, there are laws that supposedly guarantee a place for PwD’s in the workforce. However, the problem is that many corporate entities do not hire PwD’s. One can only imagine what the rationale behind this could be (hint: “you’re a liability!”)
3. Pay Bills
PwD’s are not at all exempted from the stresses of paying bills and chasing deadlines! Unless they are unable to take care of their own self, chances are they are paying bills and doing taxes like everyone else. PWD’s like to be responsible for things. Oftentimes, this is tied to the thought that other people have done enough for them already — it’s about time they took care of their own selves.
4. Have sex
Disability and intimacy are rarely lumped together in the same conversation — when in fact, we should be talking about it more. Disabled individuals are highly likely to miss out on intimacy for reasons ranging from other people’s prejudices (which may keep them from finding partners), to lack of knowledge on how to make adjustments for their situation (which could render them less confident if they do find a partner). Intimacy is healthy and beautiful — and all human beings deserve a shot at love!
5. Play sports
Though they may be limited in terms of physical activities they are actually able to enjoy, PwD’s will jump at every opportunity for leisure. Many enjoy de-stressing through sports. It’s only a matter of finding a sport that will fit their physical condition — if not improve it.
5. Participate in “alt” communities
What, just because they’re disabled, they aren’t human? Disabled people have the right to like eccentric things or partake in a (sub)culture for their enjoyment.
6. Get tattoos and piercings
A tattoo or piercing on a disabled person is no different from a tattoo or piercing on a typical person. For some, it may be bad fortheir health and only then should it be discouraged… but then again, many PwD’s do get them regardless of whether it could be harmful. Not everyone may be able to understand the rationale behind this, but just think about it as their own version of YOLO.
7. Bad things (sometimes)
While it’s not ideal, I included this in the list to state a point — no matter how inspiring their stories may be, people with disabilities are not your heroes. In fact, it’s harmful to see them as heroes. They’re just regular human beings living out their own normal lives the best way they know how. As we’ve already established, they do pretty normal things… which may include “bad” stuff (occasionally).
And here’s a list of things people with disability don’t do:
1-∞. Burden Others on Purpose
Disabled people are dependent on other people in some ways. However, nary a disabled person I know (from my husband’s hemophilia community, and my own mental illness community) wants to burden others by choice! As a matter of fact, PwD’s love to be self-reliant.
Even if it’s objectively easier for other people to do a task for them, they will still opt to learn how to do it by themselves. Many people misunderstand this, or think of the PwD as merely prideful or arrogant, but think about it — their disability may have robbed them of so many things: independence, choice, maybe even privacy. To keep a piece of their dignity? It’s a small ask.
The Bottom Line: Disabled People are People.
I believe the biggest mistake people make when dealing with PwD’s is seeing the disability first, the person second — when in fact, it should be the other way around. At their very core, all PwD’s are human. Get to know a PwD and you may be surprised how much you have in common — they may just need a little help in some situations.
Let me know if I’m missing anything important from my list — let’s talk about it! I’m also available for blog linkups, if you also write about chronic illness, mental illness, or disability. Say hey in the comments!