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My Disability Does Not Define Me

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Throughout my 20 years of life I have come to realize one very important thing: my disability does not define me. Disabled children often feel like they are under a microscope with their every move being analyzed. I thought the fear of being judged by others kept me from being more outgoing, but now I realize I was letting my disability define me.

I have mild cerebral palsy, which affects my balance and overall ability to walk “normally,” and when others hear this they treat me as if I am a china doll who cannot have the slightest scrape or bruise. In elementary school, children did not care if you were different or not, they were just happy to have a friend. When I had surgeries, it was not a big deal because my elementary friends seemed to understand that was my life and I could not change it, although neither they nor I fully understood what it meant to be disabled.

As I grew older, through middle school and high school, I found my peers would look at me strangely and treat me differently. I was called the r-word, “special,” an “idiot who did not know how to walk right,” a “charity case,” and many other names and descriptive terms that still hurt me to this day. After school I would cry alone in my room so my mom could not find me, because although she was my mother, she would not understand what I had to endure day after day. Although I worked hard and made a significant amount of progress, to where a passerby could not tell I was different unless they spent a significant amount of time analyzing my strides, it was not enough.

I kept telling myself when I got to college it would get better — and it did, but it also got worse. In college, people are there to obtain a degree and further understand their passion, which gave me a sense of security. People would not be looking for differences in physical abilities. But I did not realize I would have to discuss the different severities of my disability in my classes without them knowing I had personal experience with cerebral palsy.

Disabled persons are often put in a double bind by other members of society. We’re seen as either “too disabled” or “not disabled enough” and I was the latter. I previously tried to draw a very distinct line between myself and the people whose disabilities were more “severe” because I did not want others jumping to conclusions about my abilities or my health. But I have come to realize that “disabled” is just a word. While it would be nice for other people to expand their understanding of what it truly means for someone to be disabled, I do not believe it will happen anytime soon. Yes, being disabled has a negative social stigma attached to it, but it is just a word. Words alone are not meant to define a person, so why should I let my disability define me?

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Image via Thinkstock.


Originally published: December 27, 2016
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