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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Could Disability Happen to You?

I once heard a comedian/disability advocate introduce himself at the beginning of one of his shows as "not disabled yet." Nicely played, I thought.  Because while disability isn't inevitable for everyone,  there's a good chance that for many people, age (if not circumstance) is eventually going bring some sort of disability.

We just don't like to think about it until it happens. And when it does, the world starts to look much differently than it did.

"It Could Never Happen to Me"

I learned from the Human Development Course that I took a few years ago that part of the reason that teenagers engage in risky behaviour is that they think that they're invincible. I submit that part of us never stops thinking this way. We never consider that we could someday have to use a wheelchair to get around, or use disabled parking, or have to rely on social assistance because a disability prevents us from working.

Until it happens. And then it becomes startlingly clear just how difficult it can be to get around even spaces that are "accessible";how few the disabled parking spaces are (especially when people without passes use them when they're just going to "run in" to the store); how fiercely people feel about tax dollars going to monthly income support for people that genuinely can't work because of disability that doesn't even allow them to meet the poverty line.

Why Disability Could Happen to You

One of the men at at Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre had a spinal cord injury that had left him a paraplegic. He was fairly young, mid-thirties at the most. The cause of his injury hadn't been dramatic. He'd been on an all-terrain vehicle, going about ten miles an hour.  The ATV had hit a rock in the trail, and flipped. He'd hit his spine.

It's that easy and unexpected.

Even a bad fall could do it. When my father broke his arm after a fall in the woods, he got an uncomfortable taste of what it was like to live one-handed (which, as much as I'm used to it now, can be decidedly inconvenient).

My Point

My point is...it's easy to ignore disability issues because they don't affect us in the moment. I was guilty of it myself. But if we're committed to building a society where everyone feels valued and every life has dignity, we've got to try to put ourselves in other peoples' shoes and see things from their perspective - not just say "but for the grace of God..." and move on.

What other groups should we be doing this with, do you think?

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