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What Harry Potter Means to Me as Someone With a Disability

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I don’t remember the initial realization that I was different. Nor can I recall perusing “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” for the first time. J.K. Rowling’s debut was released the year I was born and the series unknowingly provided a backdrop for my childhood with cerebral palsy.

As a premature baby, I was like the Boy Who Lived in that I beat the odds to survive and thrive. I attribute this to my parents, who sacrificed a great deal so I could be happy and healthy.

My mam read aloud to me in the beginning. I also listened to audiobooks for a while, but nothing compared to the joy of reading. Finally I found something easy, one of the few activities I could do all by myself.

Many people have vivid memories of heading to their local bookshop or cinema for the various midnight releases and film premieres.  But in our family, summer became synonymous with moving lock, stock and barrel so I could attend a conductive education camp four hours from home. Though she was probably bored and lonelier than she let on, my older sister would dutifully stand in line. She was a big fan as well and as such, I never begrudged her the first reading (except maybe the “Deathly Hallows!”)

Harry and friends proved the ultimate companions, particularly at family gatherings. There would inevitably be outdoor games, like hide-and-seek or tag. For all my efforts at participation I was usually rewarded with a pair of bloody knees and a trembling lower lip. I knew it would be unfair to ask my cousins to play a different game, just as I knew it would ruin the fun if an adult was called in to help me. So I read.

Most fans joke about how dangerous Hogwarts is, but I never found that to be the case. I ran away from Fluffy like I had never run before, and 142 moving staircases proved a piece of cake compared with their stationary real-world counterparts.

The professors of Hogwarts proved that anything was possible. Mad-Eye-Moody was a respected work colleague and mentor. Remus Lupin cultivated amazing friendships, eventually finding love and family too.

As I got older, the DVDs provided a welcome distraction during torture sessions in my standing frame. Despite my best efforts, the crouching and pain persisted. My walking suffered and the Muggle world became increasingly difficult to navigate.

As a teenager, I underwent three surgeries in the space of a year. The first of these was an eye operation which saw me reading right up until the last minute, in my hospital bed.

Afterwards, many assumed I was out of the woods, but the rehabilitation was only just getting underway. I had missed a month in the middle of the academic year. Upon my return I found myself constantly overwhelmed and exhausted. I hated school; my favorite subject became particularly problematic. I wanted more than anything to go on holiday to Hogwarts and chill out with Hagrid.

Looking back, it seems my life could have taken a completely different turn. Luckily, I found a teacher who restored my belief in my own ability and gave me plenty of excellent book recommendations.

Harry Potter fans like to celebrate: Halloween, September 1, the anniversary of the battle of Hogwarts — give a character a birthday and we’ll bake them a cake. The same could be said about those of us with disabilities. Experience has taught us the importance of ordinary triumphs.

But the big moments are worth marking too. As I prepare to graduate from university with an honors degree in English literature and philosophy, I’m all too aware that none of this would have happened without the help of a bespectacled boy living in a cupboard under the stairs.

Originally published: July 31, 2018
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