I Am Disabled, but Nothing Is 'Wrong' With Me
Over the weekend, I was fortunate to spend time with family to celebrate Easter. I recognize the immense privilege we had due to all adults having at least one COVID vaccine. I realize this gathering would not have been possible if we lived in an area with less access to the vaccine or if each adult were younger or had a different profession.
The gathering was overwhelming — 13 adults and two children. This was more people than I’ve been around since the start of the pandemic. Overall, it was great to see people, but there was one conversation that stuck out to me that ultimately made me feel uncomfortable.
At one point, I was talking with someone who works at a hospital. The conversation was going well until this person said, “I’m not sure what’s wrong with the chaplain, but he limps.” As someone with cerebral palsy who walks with a limp, I was taken aback by this comment.
I know this nurse meant no harm and that “wrong” likely meant different, but words matter. The sooner we change the language surrounding disability, the easier it will be to view disabled people and value them the same as the abled population.
I am still kicking myself because I was too afraid to respond to that comment. To be honest, I didn’t have the energy to have the conversation that would have ensued after. I just let it happen. But this is what I would say.
Disability doesn’t mean anything is “wrong.” I have walked with a limp my entire life, and there is nothing inherently “wrong” with that. We disabled people are different and different does not mean “wrong.” We, disabled individuals, are unlike other people just as much as people are different in their abilities to play music or what they enjoy doing in their free time.
All my disabilities say about me is simply that I’m human. I am not a manufactured item that came off the assembly line with a defect. Instead, I am a completely different type of human. I am a human born with brain damage, but I’m still a human.
So, I refuse to say anything is “wrong” with the chaplain or any other person (including myself) with a disability. Instead, I will reflect on the truth that we are all humans, not cookie cutters.
I think there is a simple way to rephrase what this person must have meant when they mentioned something was “wrong.” A reframe could sound like this: simply eliminate the word “wrong” and say “I’m not sure why, but he limps.” And, that’s only if the need to call out the limp to identify the specific individual is necessary. Try identifying people with disabilities as you would anyone else — by hair color, glasses/no glasses or other common features. We are disabled people and there’s much more to us than our physical, mental or emotional conditions.
I feel it is wrong to separate disabled individuals into a distinct category of “defective.” There is nothing “wrong” with us. We are human. I am human.
Getty image by Leonard McLane.