The Toxic atmosphere of having a disability
Part 1 of 2 One of the most frustrating parts of having a Learning Disability isn’t the disability itself, but the atmosphere that society creates. Having one is no longer an issue for me, for I have found ways to cope. A great deal of the problem is how others view it and the toxic atmosphere that society creates.
I was first introduced to this environment when I was diagnosed in Kindergarten. I struggled to count, write my name and tie my shoes. Right from the start people began to judge me. I had people who thought that if I really wanted to learn, that I could. Little did they know that I truly wanted to be a good student and be accepted. I had other people who thought because of the severity of the disability that I wouldn’t be successful. Neither extreme has been helpful to me.
The early years of school created a storm academically and socially. I had to repeat Kindergarten in a different school. I began to receive specialty instruction, and accommodations. My teachers taught me how to read, write, and attempted to teach me math. My parents never gave up on me and told me that I learned differently. They held out an umbrella and shielded me from the storm. Eventually the rain did slow down. I was able to attend regular ed science and social studies, with accommodations. I had the test read aloud to me and extended test time to help my brain process the information. Eventually I was in all regular ed classes, with supports except for math and resource. Most importantly I learned to dance in the rain a splash in the puddles.
The social climate was cold and harsh in school. I couldn’t hide my disability in the small school district. Diversity wasn’t celebrated or accepted; it was feared. It was regarded as a close-knit community that was accepting if you were one of them. My disability caused me to be different. Everyone I knew that I went to Learning Support for classes and accommodations. The regular ed peers thought I was getting the answers or doing easy work. I was also lumped in with my learning support peers who struggled more with reading and behavior issues. They also viewed me as not smart because I couldn’t do math. The conditions got colder as school went on. Peer groups became more defined. I didn’t feel as I fit in with any of them and I was bullied by both the popular groups and other peers’ groups as well. What helped to warm me was to hang out with peers in a neighboring town, that were part of an arts group. I found acceptance and other who shared my interests. I finally didn’t have the reputation of the outcast and the screw up that followed me all throughout my school years. I was also able to reach out and form relationships with others in the community, that didn’t go to my school. Some of those relationships are still happening 20 years later.
During my post-secondary years, I have also found that the atmosphere of how society views disabilities isn’t always ideal. I have had people who have tried to limit what I can do with having a disability. I had a Physiatrists write that I would never go beyond a community college. I also had instructors who told me that my job and educational choices would be limited. Once again I had peers who thought that accommodations were the easy way out and declined to use them because of the stigma. Not using disability services caused my grades to drop. When I went back to university I didn’t care what other people thought and used the services. My grades improved and I made Deans list one semester. I was able to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree.
I have also encountered people who dismissed my disability. Part of the reason for the disbelief is that they can’t see it. I will have people tell me that I don’t look disabled. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I’ve also had people who wanted to cure my disability through adult education programs, and positive thinking. None of those have worked for me. I have also had people who have shoved toxic positivity at me, when I shared about the difficulties having one has created. I have been told to stop complaining and that other people are more disabled that I am. Everyone with a disability will experience it differently, even if they have the same diagnosis.
I’ve also experienced a troubled climate at work with having one. Many former employers didn’t understand that my disability was affecting my job performance. Some of them thought that I was screwing up on purpose. I wanted to do a good job and be a productive employee, but some things I simply couldn’t do, even with accommodations. I can remember working for an agency that helped people with disabilities, but made too many clerical mistakes and was fired. The agency tried to deny my unemployment claiming willful misconduct, saying that I made the mistakes on purpose and t