On International Day of Persons’ with Disabilities I went round my university and asked this question. On the surface it may not seem too bad, yet the more I thought about it, the more it puzzled me. What was my response to this question? Surely this answer should be fairly straightforward considering I have had a disability since birth. I’m afraid this is not the case!
Disability will mean something different to everyone. It could be part of a personal identity or discarded on the floor like it just doesn’t belong. Disability could mean weakness, or strength. It could be a family member or friend- most often it is the unknown. People said it meant equality for all, yet couldn’t see the word in a positive light. One word, disability. This one word has been thrown around and used to inspire others, achieve ‘regardless’ or merely show differences between people. There is no key to unlock the secret meaning and rightly so. It is far too complicated to fit into a small box. Just like the people who identify with the word. It is possible for the meaning to change over time, even day by day. I’m not talking about defining a single word, it is more about the meaning behind that definition, the individual and how they choose to live their life.
- A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. “children with severe physical disabilities” synonyms: condition, disorder, affliction, ailment, complaint, illness, malady, disease.
- A disadvantage or handicap, especially one imposed or recognised by the law.”the plaintiff was under a disability“
Disability means difference
I could say this doesn’t need to be a bad thing, but a disability has never been solely a positive. This difference means you may need support to do things and stand out from the crowd. Disability is a complete spectrum of abilities which means no two people are the same. That being said, the similarities between us can be something to hold onto. Despite disability giving us these negative differences, they can lead to beautiful positivity and don’t necessarily condemn us to a negative life.
“For me, the word ‘disability’ is just a medical term that lets people know that we may need a bit more support in life than others. I like to say that we are able-bodied but within a disabled body!“- Gavin Drysdale
It means a lot more than a diagnosis or a label, yet this is probably the starting point for most. Disability is too powerful to be constrained by the medical world. To fully medicalise disability would be taking away the lived experiences of people who lead their lives like everyone else. We want to be seen as more than our conditions and there should be no pressure to overcome a disability. By doing so suggests it should be something to get rid of. Yes, it may not always be pleasant, but neither is life. When you have a disability you know you’re in it for the long haul. We might want to trade our bodies in for an able- bodied version, but it’s not an impurity that needs to be eradicated.
Disability means hard work and dedication
It means having to work twice as hard to get things done and often fighting to get the support you require. The hard work and dedication means the end result and small achievements can mean the world. It can mean having to dedicate a day to yourself, just so you can get through the week. Disability is hard work when you are living in a world that was not designed for you. Disabled access is often an afterthought and we have to do the extra leg work, even if we don’t have the most functioning legs to begin with!
“It means having to ‘go the long way around” for literally everything. Plan, plan and plan some more. I sometimes yearn for a bit more spontaneity!“Richard Luke
Your disability doesn’t take a day off or go on holiday for the summer. Your disability is always there and this is exhausting! Even if your condition doesn’t affect energy levels, the constant uphill battle will hit you at some point. We often try to fight against our own bodies to function in society. Disability means constantly challenging yourself to reach personal goals. These goals may not mean a thing to other people or may seem pointless to able-bodied people around us. Those little victories are what get us through life. Celebrating the small things in life is something able-bodied people may take for granted. It is these triumphs that make us stronger.
Disability means inequality
Despite how we feel about our disability, there are people who see us as less than human. There are people who look down on us. Every time we leave the house we may be targeted because of our a disability. Despite progress, inequality is more common than you think. It is not having correct access to shops. It is being turned down from employment you were more than capable of doing. It is comments about your abilities or justifying your disability to others. It is every aspect of life altered.
“It means a community of people fighting to be seen and heard in the world. It means a complicated day to day life when trying to access resources that should be available to us. It means a fire in your fight and a passion in your strength“Leah Rachel
This inequality is something that needs to change. Disabled people deserve so much better. I do not think you truly realise the challenges we face unless you have a direct connection to someone with a disability. This is by no means your fault, but acknowledging we have a problem is the first step of eradicating the inequality. Having a disability is hard, facing the views of others about that disability can be even harder. Fighting for what we deserve is exhausting and our battles need to be chosen wisely. Sometimes we choose not to fight. This is the biggest grievance of it all, just think of all the talent and opportunity that is lost.
Disability means identity
When you have a disability it is your decision if you identify with it. There is no right or wrong way to go about this, and how you feel about your identity can change over time. I guess the identity can stem from what disability means to you. For me, I identity as a disabled adult. I choose to be very open about this fact. However, the identity does not mean it is all consuming- even if it can feel like this from time to time. It is important to note we are more than our disability, but it does deserve a space within our identity.
“Being both visible and invisible, it’s part of my identity but it isn’t the only thing that defines me. It has given me skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise. We face many challenges and have to overcome barriers but it’s also raising awareness and trying to make changes.“Holly (Life of a Blind Girl)
Having the identity of a disabled adult is like my identity of having brown hair and wearing glasses, it also happened to include a walking stick and a long cane. Unfortunately, identifying as disabled is seen as a negative. Yet this often isn’t the case. Like I have said before, disability is too small of a word to describe a person, to even describe the meaning behind a condition. However, identity is similar in the way that disability may flow through every aspect of our lives, only to leave a trace a change. These changes and adaptions are the result of a disability and what we have to put in place to function in a world that is not meant for us. I am not Cerebral Palsy, but Cerebral Palsy is one puzzle piece that makes up me.
Disability means possibility
This is the exciting part, like many stories, there are two sides. Many people agree a disability has given them a unique outlook on life. It gives you a different perspective to other people and can impact our lives in ways you wouldn’t think. Without my disability I would not be writing this post and I probably would have achieved a lot less. This is not me achieving despite my disability. This is not me been given thing or allowances made because I’m disabled. I have worked hard. Having a disability means you’re adaptable and ready for a challenge. We are creative thinkers who have to mould to a different way of life. However, this leads to possibility, triumph and success.
“Once I started to see how amazing my life is as a Disabled person & how it out shines anything I might have achieved as a non-disabled type, I became truly proud. We aren’t broken, less able or any of that rubbish. We’re amazing, strong & adaptable. Go us!“Mik Scarlett
Our possibility is not about overcome a disability or inspire the masses. It is not to show you how easy you may have it in life. Having a disability can mean that people underestimate you, yet we’re probably some of the most determined people you will meet. The possibilities are personal successes, going about our daily lives and thriving. It is being proud of your achievements and knowing you are enough. There is always a way around things and amongst the diagnosis, inequality and hardships, joy is possible.
Disability means community
The meaning of disability would not be complete without mentioning the disabled community. Having a disability can be isolating for the individual and their family. It can feel like you are on your own. The disabled community has so many powerful voices who raise awareness, drive social change and improve the lives of others. It is these people who help you get through the bad days and celebrate the good. It is incredible to be around these people. We share the meaning of disability, even if it is different for everyone. We share the common understand and an outlook on life that so often gets forgotten.
“A Community who strive for the betterment of society. Raising our voices and expectations to empower others to do the same.“Sassy Wyatt
Having the community is something that makes me so proud to have a disability. It outweighs all the inequality, hard work and differences. The meaning of disability may not be able to fit in one blog post, it may never be fully explained, but I’m okay with that.
What does disability mean to you?