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Disability Means Human, Too

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There are moments in my life that play over and over in my mind. Times when I’ve been helpless at the hands of others, times when circumstances were beyond my control, and times when all my efforts were for naught. They all have one thing in common. They all occurred because I am disabled.

I was not born with a disability. I didn’t grow up with the skills needed to navigate a world built for the healthy and able-bodied; I had to learn them. When I venture beyond my small corner of the world, I have to surrender my trust to others, and hope that my trust has been well-placed.

Sometimes, I am reminded that kindness still matters to some; but more frequently, I am forcefully reminded that it does not. I have had my trust torn asunder, my struggles derided, and been subjected to shameless abuses of power. I have had to hold my silence when speaking would have otherwise compromised my safety. I have also seen how the silence of others can be just as harmful as words and actions if their silence means bearing witness to injustice. But the hardest lesson I have had to learn is that respect is not always returned, that ignorance cannot always be overcome with education, and that empathy cannot take root in a heart that is determined not to feel it.

The human heart is a delicate balance. It has to be soft enough to feel things but hard enough to survive them. The foundation for survival is not a one-person effort, but is laid brick by brick, deed by deed, in every moment and every memory when someone brave enough speaks up in our defense when we are defenseless, holds our hand in the dark, carries us when we stumble, and gives us reason to hope when all seems hopeless. Hope is there in everyone, to be crushed or nurtured, held close or abandoned.

As humans, we often repudiate what is different because it is easier to be the same, to conform to the majority, to accept that being average means being normal, even if the price is cruelty. Individuals with a disability don’t have a choice. We are different. So we are often kept at a distance because no one is safe from illness, from life-changing accidents, from the inevitability of aging – and we are an uncomfortable reminder of that.

There is no crystal ball, no fortune teller who can predict the paths our lives will take. At the end of the day though, everyone has to live with the choices they’ve made, with the way they’ve treated people and with the way they’ve allowed others to be treated.

Disability may mean different. But it also means human.

Getty image by Grandfailure.

Originally published: June 13, 2018
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