My Disability Does Not Define My Character
I am a 20-year-old disability and equality activist/campaigner from Sandbach, Cheshire, UK. Due to the problems I face physically as a person with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which I was diagnosed with in 2005, and as a person in a marginalized community, I decided to campaign in the face of very toxic right-wing rhetoric, which often came at my expense.
I wanted to fight through my work and leave a legacy, so I began a blog, in which I highlight the realities those with disability face and also challenge bigotry, as many communities such as ours are affected by dangerous rhetoric which perpetuates the idea we are expendable.
I also host talks where I travel to communities and open an honest discourse about what needs to be done to find equality for those who are vulnerable in society.
Strength of character exists regardless of the physical and / or mental limitations that come with disability. I believe that no matter how many people within the media and society try to besmirch the existence of the disabled community, nothing that happens to our minds and bodies will ever define us. So many individuals within society have prejudices about disabled people. To them my wheelchair is a diploma which certifies that I am “of no use,” and even if I achieve greatness, I will struggle to change this preconception. When these certain individuals see disability, they automatically think, “They are broken.” Whether knowingly or not, many have already paved the path for us to lead because they see our existence as an anomaly or a mistake.
In a weird way, knowing that some people have these views about me gives me drive. Every day I get up, slide into my wheelchair, and face all the bigotry that exists in this infinitesimal world of mine. However, I still keep going, I still fight for my life while I have air in my lungs and blood in my veins. These individuals who attack people like myself are the exact same kinds of people who dictate policy and rhetoric in politics. The environment of treating others as sub-human because of perceived aesthetic difference, no matter who is behind it, is generated by ill feeling and bullsh*t prejudice.
I believe these types of individuals, if they had their way, would have removed anybody they saw as “abnormal” and “different.” They have tried and still continue to undermine the existence of others based on ability, sexuality and skin color. But I get strength from the knowledge that they did not succeed in destroying the human will of people like myself (historically) and are not killing my fight and determination (presently). Physical or mental limitation doesn’t destroy spiritual strength, which I believe exists in every life force. There is so much more to be mined from the rock of our souls, and although it may not be as visible with me, I know I have so much to offer society.
There is more within disabled people than most people can see. We are often creative beyond the realms of reality, we are often emotionally responsible beings, and most importantly, we are human. My disability doesn’t change my humanity. I don’t come from Planet Disabled, in the Disabled Galaxy; I was born and grew up on this planet. The scars I wear because of my Duchenne muscular dystrophy and paralysis only serve as evidence of my humanity.
Unfortunately, suffering and pain is part of the human condition, and through that I am the man I am today. My suffering, rather than separating me, unites me to every life force on this planet. No one will go without problems within their lives; to varying degrees we are unified by the suffering we all endure.
When we look at the definition of disability (lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability; incapacity), we can see we are all disabled in some way. Whether in an economic, physical, mental, or spiritual sense, we all experience a form of disability. Not one person on this planet will go through their life without being touched by the hand of misfortune. Humans aren’t efficient machines; we aren’t built to withstand pressure constantly and eventually we break down. The ultimate disability, which none of us can escape or hide from, is the fact that our bodies can’t work forever. Eventually we die, and as bitter as that is to take, it is a reality we all face.
If you think of disability with common sense and intelligence, you realize that nobody is perfect, mentally or physically. The division between “normal” and “disabled” is not a natural one, it is synthetic, and I believe it was created in order to have a scapegoat. Disabled people were and still often are used as a political punching bag. To soothe their own egos, people have to mistreat and label us to the point of degradation.
I remember recently discussing history with a friend of mine. He showed me a picture from around 1938, released by the Nazi Party of Germany prior to the Aktion T4 program that planned to eradicate disabled people like myself. In English, the poster read, “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too.” Now compare this to right-wing propaganda here in the U.K. and abroad. We are described as “scroungers” and often labeled as burdens of the state. False statistics are thrown around about much we “cost” the state, and most people are too ignorant to see how dangerous that wording can be.
If you know history, you will see that making disabled people out to be a cost is dangerous. It suggests we are expendable and that to get rid of us would help society. There is nothing more valuable than life, and suggesting human life has a price is disgusting and wrong in every sense. Many have consistently voted against disabled lives and continue to use this inflammatory language. It may be more subtle then this abhorrent example, but I feel they are indoctrinating people to view my existence as a burden. I work to make people aware that we are going back into that 1930’s mentality. In my opinion, the nationalistic sentiment evoked by recent regressive political changes poses a threat to many communities, including ours.
I am just as useful as any other human being on this planet. I believe with all of my heart and all the strength I possess, that we are here because we are needed. We all are here because we are seen as useful members of a team, who have the responsibility to uphold equality and look after the planet we inhabit.
The discussion of whether people like me are “useful” should be out of the frame straight away. If people want to question my mere existence and what I have to offer, then I reply “Why are you here, too?”
The reason is we are all needed. Because of my physical limitations, I can’t do as much as the healthiest person on the planet, but it shouldn’t negate what I know I have to offer. If a hammer goes without a nail, how is the painting hung? You may consider me an unimportant part of the process, but without everyone being included, the chances of creating a great planet becomes even harder. My disability doesn’t define what I have to offer, nor does it for any other person.
In the eyes of my mother I was not born a “cripple,” I was her son whom she looked upon with love and pride. In my eyes, when I was born I was not “worthless,” I was Jason who had the whole world at my feet. In the eyes of those who judge me, I should be a useful ally who can offer a lot regardless of being born with a condition.
Physical or mental limitation does not define character! Masterpiece paintings get some damage over time, but it doesn’t change the fact they are masterpieces. We are all useful.
Follow this journey on The Anarchic Cripple.
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