Roughly 10% of the world’s population consist of disabled people. People who are unable to see, hear, walk, talk and the list goes on… We are rare, most peoples’ paths will probably never cross that of a person with a disability and most people will never even spare a thought for our lives, because 10% of billions of people all over the globe, is the very definition of a minority group.
This group of people, consists of really good people and really bad people and people who like everyone else, are essentially good, but who have done bad things, made mistakes or simply existed without ever really doing anything, but none of it really matters because we are hardly ever regarded as real people. Those who truly know us, understand that there’s more to us than what we lack or at least that it is the least significant thing about us and in their eyes, we have the potential to be anything. While we appreciate that there are people in our lives who are able to look beyond our disabilities, the truth is, that often it is simply not enough.
You may think that your life cannot possibly have an impact on the life of a disabled person… You don’t even know a disabled person… But you are wrong. If there is something I have come to understand, it’s that it’s all relevant.
I understand that it is impossible to care about everything and everyone and that no one can bring about a state of universal happiness, but what I can’t except, is that it is not possible to live a life of kindness and acceptance or at the very least, tolerance.
For the longest time, I believed that the fact that I am blind, was wrong, it was bad and that I had to apologise for being blind or for needing things that will enable me to live a life of possibilities. No one told me that my blindness was bad, to my face. Instead as a child, I was bullied by children who could not understand my disability, as a teenager, I was ignored by other teens, because disability is not cool. As a student, more of the same things happened, because students are simply the older versions of the children and teenagers I used to know and as an adult, my abilities are doubted, I am still subjected to ridicule, bullying and I have to contend with ignorance and indifference.
I get asked to leave public places, because my guide dog isn’t allowed inside, no one ever believes that I could possibly have completed a degree and found a job. More than once I have met people who insisted on talking loudly or slowly when addressing me, since blindness must obviously mean that I can also not hear or understand them. I don’t always get to make my own choices and have others accept those choices, for it is not easy to convince doctors, shop assistants, teachers and so forth, that I might actually know what’s best for me and as a disabled person, I don’t always have the luxury of many things to choose from in the first place. Often it is merely a choice between the most accessible things and my decisions have very little to do with what I actually want.
To add to my belief that my disability is the problem, we live in a world of social media. You do not have to look too hard to find stories about how disabled people everywhere are mistreated and once you start reading the comments, between those who feel sorry that such truly horrible things happen to people who did not ask for their circumstances, you always find those who remind us that it is our own fault that we are treated badly, because how dare we ask that our service animals be allowed in public places, how dare we ask for wheelchair accessible ramps or blind-friendly traffic lights and how dare we ask to be taken seriously.
Being disabled is not a walk in the park, even though my abilities, competence and worth is always questioned, I must remain positive… I have to keep on trying, be an inspiration, pretend like nothing can hurt me or break me and sometimes, I am not successful. Sometimes, I lash out with my own comments or opinions and I become part of the problem. Instead of turning the other cheek and setting the example of a life of forgiveness, I lose it, because sometimes it is all just too much and the burden of having to be twice as good as everyone else, working twice as hard, pretending that I’m okay with things I despise and knowing that my actions reflect on all disabled people, is too great.
I have figured out that a disability, is not the monster in the room, but that it makes others uncomfortable and that apart from living my story as best I can, there is very little I can do to change it.
However, our lives matter, not just our disabilities. It is okay not to like us, but it’s not okay to dislike us because of our disabilities and it is most certainly not okay to make us feel like it is our fault that society does not know what to do with us.
Now, because everything is relevant, even if you have never even met a disabled person, your actions matter. Not kicking me out of your establishment with my guide dog, will set an example for others, teach your children that diversity should be celebrated, not tormented and made fun of. Imagine yourself in my shoes before you act and always choose to be kind. Like me, you might not always get it right, but keep on trying anyway, you never know how your choices may have touched a life. You might even get to change a few.