Disability is the elephant in the room.
Talking about disability is awkward. Writing about disability is awkward. Both attempts usually bring about a silence that is…awkward! When people do engage with it, I usually get one of two responses; one from adults:
“I just don’t see you that way.”
And one from kids:
“Miss Hill, I saw you. You were walking so different. It looks funny. You look weird.”
Both reactions make me want to fight hard against being myself.
Sometimes I want to be another person. I spend gobs of mental energy imagining how happy I would be if I was someone else: I covet their gifts, their career, their opportunities, their relationships and assume that my life has less to offer the world.
Sometimes I just try to blend in: I wear trendy clothes and work hard at saying nothing.
Most days, I try to hide who I am.
It’s like I’m holding a deck of cards in my hand, depicting roles I play: auntie, student, librarian, friend that I’d be happy to place on the table, face up, for you to see, but the disability card I hold close while giving you my best poker face. I don’t want to show you this card because:
Having a physical disability that marks each step I take is hard.
Embracing all the ways this has changed me is harder still.
Have mercy, but some days I’d be happy to trade cards in my hand which say things like, “What I’ve learned in the midst of suffering,” for another card that reads, “What it’s like to have an athletic body.” I’m sorry to admit it, but I’d also entertain a deal where my “character formation” card is swapped for one that reads “normal.”
But, I can’t separate my spastic legs from the rest of my body any more than I can separate the experience from the rest of my identity.
Many of us are taught from a young age that to emphasize a disability is rude and to overlook it is polite. I think both approaches can be detrimental. Disabled or not, we must choose see each other as whole people.
We must do the courageous work of showing up each day to our lives as ourselves, letting others see our entire hand of cards, bearing our uniqueness to the world.
Enjoy this TED Talk by Caroline Casey. I watched it once and cried. I watched it the next morning and cried again. I hope you find it impactful.