Thursday, 14 July 2011

I'm Not Sick

Looking around the disabilities blogosphere yesterday, I found a number of entries about the idea that disabilities are an illness and that people with disabilities need (or want) to be "cured".

Disability: Illness to be "Cured"?

I’m sure that some people have disabilities with which that they’d rather not deal . I know that when I’m trying to open a jar or move something heavy, being able to use two hands would be useful. And that little bit of inconvenience pales in comparison to that of someone who needs constant support from others to survive, and is therefore dependent on others’ schedules and routines.

And I know that a lot of research goes into trying to make sure that people don’t have the type of stroke that I have. But, now that I’ve had that stroke, do people look at me and consider me in need of a “cure”?

I once accompanied a gentleman with Down’s Syndrome to an appointment. While we were in the waiting room, someone who knew his family came over to say hello. When the gentleman got up to use the use the washroom, the woman leaned over to me and whispered, “He’s a lovely man. Such a shame about the Down’s Syndrome.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve known him for a couple of years now, and he’s always struck me as enjoying his life.”

“Well…you know what I mean,” she said.

No, I don’t, I thought.


I took a break from this yesterday because I was having trouble getting across what I wanted to say. After a day of thinking about it, I think I'm a little closer.

"Disability" isn't an illness; it's a measure of a level of functioning. My left arm is "disabled" compared to my right one, because my brain has trouble recognizing that my left arm is there.  Someday there may be a cure for *that*, if research into strokes continues to be made a priority.

But "disability" only exists as long as we continue to insist that there's only one standard of "ability" against which we must judge everything.  And insisting on one standard of "ability" is like insisting on one definition of "normal": it doesn't exist. Human beings simply come in too dazzling an array insist that "normal", "ability" (and "abled", by extension) have only one definition.

Not Sick

I don't ever want to be put in a position where I have to explain to any person that I support that his/her disability is to be "cured" or that I am there to do it. I simply want my work about to be about assisting people with disabilities to access the resources that they need to be the best that they can be in a life that makes them happy.

I don't know how widespread the conception that "disability=illness" is. If it *is* widespread, then I'm not even sure how much I like the word "disability" anymore. I think maybe we need a better word.

Because I don't need a "cure". I  had a stroke and now my body moves differently than it used to...but I am not sick.

Check out these links...these ladies wrote brilliant posts on this subject: (this one is not on "cure" specifically, but Ettina's thoughs about how our perceptions affect our attitudes really made me think).

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