As young woman living with cerebral palsy, I have grown to despise the word “special,” simply because of what it suggests, specifically in the context of disability. I have been approached by people who get two inches away from my face and start talking to me in a significantly louder, high-pitched voice as if I am deaf. The funniest part of those conversations is when I proceed to respond back in full sentences.
I have often wondered what the world would be or look like without labels. This a topic that recently came up in conversation with a good friend of mine, who is a fellow CPer. It inspired me to share my thoughts.
I will never forget the time my mother and I were grocery shopping, and a woman approached her and said:
“Yes,” my mother replied.
“What is your child’s problem?”
I remember the intense anger I felt boiling inside of me as the question escaped from her mouth. In that moment, I spun my wheelchair around so I was facing her, and said with great certainty, “I don’t have a problem!”
While the lady quickly turned and began speed walking towards the checkout, it became obvious that my mother was not in the least bit pleased. In fact, if I remember correctly, she used my middle name.
The older version of me would handle a situation like this one a little differently.
One of the lessons I have learned as a result of having cerebral palsy is that it’s completely OK to be different. The truth is, we all have disabilities. Some are big. Some are small. Some are invisible. And, some are visible. Regardless, these disabilities are part of what makes you who you are. Although at times I have hated the implications of being in a wheelchair, I believe everything in life happens for a reason, and I have no doubt I am exactly the way I am supposed to be.
Perhaps, the younger generation can benefit the most from awareness. For the past year and a half, I have been blessed to work as a childhood development assistant at an out-of-school care program. I absolutely love my job. I have received countless questions about my disability and its manifestations from the children I work with, and I always try to answer them as best as I can. While most of them are questions pertaining to my mobility and how I complete certain activities, I have to admit some of the questions that come out of their mouths are, in a word, hysterical. One child even asked me if my power chair has an airbag.
The children I work with don’t see me as being different. To them, I am just Becca. To me, children are the funniest, most resilient and non-judgmental creatures on the planet. If we all viewed those around us with this mentality, the world would be a very different place.
Awareness ultimately promotes acceptance. I feel it is important to educate society about disabilities. Not only is it important to share with people the effects of disability, but it is also important to share that despite our challenges, we are just like you. People. People who do not want, nor expect to be treated differently. People who have dreams and aspirations for the future. People who are aware of their challenges, yet refuse to be defined by them.
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Thinkstock photo by Grinvalds.