When I Realized I'm Lucky as a Person With a Disability

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It could have been worse. Over the past four years, this has become something of a mantra for me.

Bad mark on an assignment? It could have been worse, I’d tell myself.

Bad day on placement? It could have been worse.

Bad day at work? It could have been worse.

Bad day with cerebral palsy? Yes, it could have been worse.

My condition is mild, and for that I am extremely grateful. But I haven’t always thought this way. Even though I spent school in a state of deliberate, unwavering ignorance of my disability, the label of cerebral palsy nonetheless consumed me. School was a context in which I felt all my flaws seemed to be magnified a million times more, and the annoying little voice reminding me of my omnipresent label grew louder and more insistent in my mind.

Some days, I still grapple with that little voice, trying to suppress it, starting my internal monologue about how I can look beyond the label to the things I can do, instead of those with which I struggle. As true as that convenient little inner script is, the thing that has helped me silence that annoying little voice is perspective, garnered over time, as I’ve learned a little more, lived a little more and hopefully grown just a little bit wiser.

I think I gained the most insight when I started teaching. I realized my disability was not as debilitating as I had built it up to be. In fact, my life was not as awful as I thought it was. Instead, I realized just how lucky I am. I can talk, walk and don’t need physical assistance. I’m fortunate enough to have one tertiary degree under my belt, and to be starting another. I’m earning an income independently, and have a close network of family and friends.

Motivated by my newfound sense of gratitude and the drive to do something meaningful, tangible and effectual for others who might find themselves in a similar position, I discovered The Mighty. I realized that using this forum to share my story, experiences, hopes and ideas could act as my “call to arms” for those around me. An opportunity to do more than advocacy. A chance to educate, to empathize and to engender a new, more humanized view of myself and others like me to the rest of the world.

How lucky am I?

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My Challenges and Obstacles as a Young Woman With Cerebral Palsy

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Waking up in pain and needing help to get out bed is all too typical for me. When you are born with a disability, you’re bound to face some sort of obstacles in life. The best thing I learned over the years is to overcome all obstacles and to always be myself. Having this disability has affected my childhood, health, and even socially by dealing with prejudice. My disability has forced me to explore life in a different way.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t say it’s all bad and that I had a bad childhood. Being born with a disability is not the end of the world. It’s not like when I was born I had a choice anyway — I couldn’t tell the doctor “no cerebral palsy please.” However, I did have to learn to do things differently. For example, as a child in elementary school, every student in class were learning how to write their ABC’s, while I was learning how to type them on the computer. Being older now has helped me understand that although my childhood may have been different, it did provide me with many advantages.

After childhood came my teenage years, when I began to notice the health concerns involved with my disability. My first surgery was at the age of 3, and I had my tendons released in my legs. When I turned 8 I had a hip surgery and was in a body cast for six weeks. I can remember this surgery, because it happened two weeks before Halloween and I had the best costume in town. When trick-or-treaters came to the door I just laid in my body cast in a special wheelchair with my face painted as a zombie thinking, “Wow this is so cool.” Meanwhile, in the back of my head I thought to myself “I hope these surgeries help me one day be able to walk.” My mother has taken me to many doctors and specialists over the years, and while some gave us hope, others told us it is not medically possible. I believe I will always have health challenges in my life, however I also believe in miracles and blessings.

I try to stay positive and not think of all the judgment I have experienced throughout my life because I am in a wheelchair. Teens can be so mean when you appear to be different. I always feel like I have to prove myself, even though I can do most of the same things they do. For example, I am part of an organization called “The Plantation Dynamites” where people with any type of disability get to play sports. Basketball and baseball are my favorites. My mom takes videos of me playing, and I like to put the videos up on my Youtube channel, so I can show others that even though I am in a wheelchair, we are all the same. However, that doesn’t stop people from judging me when they see me out in public. Some people stare and even allow their kids to stare. It makes me feel sad, but at the same time, I like to talk to those people. Most of the time they are shocked that I can talk, let alone have a conversation. It just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover.

Anyone with a disability will likely have to face obstacles and challenges, no matter what. The key is to learn from those challenges and keep pushing forward. Through my experiences in my childhood, health, and being prejudged, I learned to overcome it all. I am older now and understand that my disability will have an impact on my life, however it will not stop me from being myself. Life is what you make of it!

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What I Learned When I Stopped Trying to Hide My Cerebral Palsy

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I told myself I needed to suck it up and get over it. I was just reading my old IEPs (Individual Education Plan) in the name of university research. And yet, as I read the front page of my primary school plan, I was still struck by an acute sense of difference, tempered by thoughts of how strange it was to see myself summarized in a little bold box of “strengths.”

According to the perennially well-meaning teachers and support staff with whom I (very reluctantly) worked, these were the things I was good at: I was an avid reader and enjoyed creative writing, I liked speech and drama, I had a good memory, I was an enthusiastic learner (apparently my enthusiasm equated to high achievement) and finally (I’m direct-quoting here), I was aware of my limitations, but I would always have a go.

In my 10-year-old mind (around the time when these IEPs were a thing I didn’t really want to know about, talk about or acknowledge in any way), that was possibly the worst backhanded compliment ever. I took umbrage at the implication of incapability cloaked as a “strength,” and it was from that point forward that I decided to adopt a stance of steadfast denial whenever my teachers looked to involve me in setting goals for my IEP. But some days (especially in high school), my unflagging desire to reject all offered assistance in order to maintain my façade of conformity grew harder to sustain. My legs would ache from the many stair climbs I traversed throughout my day, and I’d get upset – not visibly, obviously, because that would give the game away – when I couldn’t draw a perfect circle with my compass, or trace and color my map with the same precision and attention to detail as everyone else. But for me, maintaining that veneer of “normalcy” trumped any pain or frustration I experienced.

I have just completed my undergraduate university studies, and it was only recently, when I was preparing a paper for a national education conference (take that, teachers who pigeon-holed me during school!) that I autonomously chose to “expose” my cerebral palsy to a wider audience than my family and school teachers. And the reactions were nothing like I was expecting. That fact that I have a disability was (blessedly) not a big deal to my university lecturers. They didn’t look at me like my CP is something contagious. They didn’t look at me with that calibrated combination of pity at my “situation.” And they didn’t look shocked that I have a disability, but I look nothing like people with disabilities are “supposed” to look. And it has only been since then – at the ripe old age of 21 – that I started to feel like I could be defined by more than what was in that little bold box.

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