Monday, August 20, 2007


People always tell me how independent I am, and how well I've adjusted to my disability. You know the reactions, I've touched on them before. "Wow, you're amazing", "I could never do what you do?", "How do you do such and such...?", "You're such an inspiration", "You certainly don't let your disability get in the way...".

Phrases like this piss... me.... off!! These are said by people who have no clue about what it actually means to have a disability. People who cannot begin to comprehend that getting in and out of my chair is just as simple for me as I assume standing up must be for them. There's nothing amazing about it. I assume it all stems back to the "you're amazing because you don't just roll over and die" sentiment, telling me backhandedly that if they were disabled, they'd rather die than learn to adapt. What they don't get is that I have never walked. Yes, on the surface they get it. But I don't think they really "get" it. I don't miss walking because I have never done it. I have no idea what it's like to walk, and I don't spend that much time wondering. Really. But this leads me to a question I ruminate over from time to time:

Do you think it's easier to adapt to a disability when you've dealt with it from birth or when you've acquired it?

I can see points on both sides. First of all, from birth, as I've mentioned, you don't miss anything. You don't pine for the legs you once had. Disability is all you know. And how people treat you is how they've always treated you. When you acquire a disability, I imagine there would be an adjustment from being one of those able-bodied people who look at people with disabilities with wonder and/or fear and/or discomfort. But, as the able bodied person you were before your disability, you learned certain life skills that many people with disabilities don't have as much access to learning.

I think when you have a disability from birth, you have to deal with alienation and segregation from the get go. Often people born with disabilities, or acquire them at a very early age, don't have those same chances to develop socially, physically, mentally, as their peers and this is a big thing. Someone who acquires a disability later on in life, although they will most likely grieve their loss, have a better chance at having acquired those life skills.

Now, of course I talk in generalizations. I am well aware there are socially inept non-disabled people, and quite socially adept disabled people, whether born with their disability or not. But I am wondering how much one's upbringing in childhood for disabled vs. non-disabled affects adulthood for those who are born with a disability and those who acquire one later on.


Have I even made sense? The more I write today, the more I feel my thoughts are too jumbled to express clearly.


imfunnytoo said...

I really think it's a wash...born disabled versus made-disabled... I hesitate to air my opinion because it looks like stereotyping rather than the experience of made-disabled formerly able people that I have seen and known.
The made-disabled in my personal sphere spend a looooooonnnnng time grieving their loss that could be better spent adjusting and using those social skills you mention....

The born-disabled don't just get de-valued during a newly limited adolesence or adulthood, they've been de-valued right from the beginning...but if these things are true, I think they balance out.

stacey said...

aren't those the most annoying questions?? i hate how people think if you're disabled, they can dispense any advice/statement.

growing up where i live (very southern, very ableist, not saying the two always go together) i've become kind of immune to those things... that was until a friend came to visit and we both went out in public. one guy was offering free tshirts to pwds and another guy kept telling us how proud he was we were out having fun. eesh.

this is why the first thing i do when giving some sort of "training" is talk about the models of disability. it's such an "ohhhh" moment for them.

oh and as far as the disability question--- i think disabled is disabled, a cultural identity. when we start breaking it down to who has it worse or better-- aquired or congenital, deaf or hearing, adhd or not, etc. it's when disability becomes medical and not what it is. just my opinion though. good post :)

Ranter said...

Good point, Stacey. I had no intention of playing a "who has it harder" game, but my post does come off that way. I have always been curious as to the pros and cons of born disabled vs acquired disability, and the differences in adjusting to each. Each side certainly has pros and cons, and neither is better than the other. said...

I have the privalage of being able to say that I was born with one disability and then aquired another. Both took getting used to. My congental disability is very constant. The docs tried their best to fix it that was that. The disability I aquired later keeps changing and I am having to adjust to a new body over and over. I do think that I was over protected as a child because of my congenital disability. That taught me the lesson that I don't want to do that for myself and became fiersly indipendent and somewhat of a risk taker in reaction to all the overprotection of my early life.

Dynah said...

I just found your blog and wanted to say hi! I have a progressive disability that started when I was around 18 (I'm now 24) so though I grew up able-bodied I get less so as the days go on. So I didn't really have the experience of "acquiring" a disability and having to "adjust" as you put it....more like, I'm slowly adapting as my mobility & other abilities become more limited. One thing that frustrates me is people who see my wheelchair/walker (depends on if you catch me on a good or bad day!) and think that I must be so limited- when in reality those are the very devices that give me freedom and enable me to be independent!

Look forward to reading more :)

Andrea said...

Apologizes for this off-topic comment, but:

I wonder if you have given any thought to blogging at some point about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007? You might know that a series of court decisions over the years have undermined the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Restoration Act is meant to repair that damage.

If you ever do a rant ... I mean, blog post on the ADA Restoration Act -- please let me know becaue I have been trying to link to all the ones I can find in my continually up-dated list at I'd love to be able to include yours as well. I have been trying to encourage as many bloggers as possible to blog on this topic!

Ranter said...

Being in Canada, I'm not really up on the ADA, sorry.

Tokah said...

I was born with all the medical problems that are disabling me now, but they didn't all impair me at once.

I've been hard of hearing since I was born, with Audio Processing Disorder thrown on top of it. I've lived with it all my life.

I started to lose mobility at 13, and didn't need walking aids every day until 21, didn't need a wheelchair until 23.

The development of those two things in my life has been very different.

I literally cannot imagine how other people hear. I don't understand the complaints about loud things, I can't imagine the clarity they supposedly hear. Until I was diagnosed, I thought myself to be dumb. It never ocurred to me I had a sensory disability. It never ocurred to me that other people DIDN'T have to lipread supplementary, or couldn't understand a mix of sounds. I've never felt particularly different, though I have felt sad at not appreciating some of the things my friends and family do.

My mobility impairment started after the core of me as a person was established, but I feel I've adjusted pretty well. I do occasionally miss things I used to love - bike riding, etc. But after three years, my wheelchair is very much part of my self ID. When I dream, if my 'chair isn't there its a nightmare. When I think of old times, where I was fun and relaxed, its easier to imagine leaning back into a wheelie then being on my feet. There was grief associated with it, though. You can get over it, but it is there.