The other side – living with disability

| November 10, 2017

Have you ever wondered why people have different reactions to disability? Why it it so confronting for some people? Is it simply because they fear what they don’t know? Or is it more complex?


Do our ‘damaged’ bodies remind them of their own mortality? Or maybe it reveals a supressed superiority complex for some? Perhaps others feel the need to express how inspirational they think a person with a disability is because of these reasons?

Society tells us that disability is not a normal human condition, although it is actually a common experience.

Everywhere I go in my chair I attract stares, it’s almost as if people have never seen someone in a wheelchair before. Which I know isn’t true because I always see wheelchair users out and about. To me it’s a constant reminder that even in the 21st century we are not seen or treated as normal people.

I remember when I first learnt how abnormal my disability had made me. I was twelve years old and had my first crush. A bad boy who always wore his uniform untucked and out of place, despite the countless threats of detention if he didn’t fix it. He liked to be the centre of attention and everyone listened attentively to the funny things he had to say. He was so goddam cool.

The previous year I had been diagnosed with a hereditary neuromuscular disease and soon began relying on walking aides to get around the school.

When my crush called me a ‘retard’ one day the weight of my diagnosis seemed to hit me and I felt so incredibly ashamed of my disability, like being born with defective genes was somehow my fault.

Over the next few years I dealt with my fair share of discrimination, but nothing stung quite as much as that incident. It took me a long time to figure out why it stung so badly. I mean it isn’t the worst thing I’ve been called.

However, it was the first time I’d realised society’s perception of me at that age was different to what it was before my diagnosis. I hadn’t even noticed I’d been labelled as ‘damaged’ until my crush had said something. Without permission I’d been slotted into a category of people believed to be inferior to able-bodied people.

The late Stella Young tells us in her 2014 TEDtalk ‘individuals are often more disabled by the society they live in than by their crippled bodies or diagnoses’.

Young speaks about how people with disabilities are often used as inspirational porn for able-bodied people, to make them feel motivated and to put their own problems into perspective.

There is no regard for how the other side feels about this objectification. This needs to change because disabled people ARE real people and not simply there for inspiration.

I’m not going to lie; I face adversity in this body every single day and occasionally it beats me.I lie on my bed, letting the tears stream down my face and wish against all odds that I was able-bodied.

Not very inspirational, I know.

When I’m done wallowing in self-pity I realise that being disabled isn’t the end of the world. Disability is a disadvantage, but how much of a disadvantage is up to each of us.

One day I hope our society will be accepting enough that a newly diagnosed person won’t ever feel ashamed of their disability.

I hope we will all be treated equally and no-one will spend their life listening to how inspirational they are just for smiling.

Jamie-Lee Dwyer
Jamie-Lee Dwyer is a 27-year-old freelance writer from Queensland. She holds a bachelor of journalism with first-class honours from Griffith University. In between freelance writing she is currently writing a fiction book about disability.

One Comment

  1. Mike Dwyer

    November 13, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Nice piece of writing Jamie-Lee.

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