Social Models and Stereotypes:
In this video, Stella Young says she subscribes to “the social model of disability, where we are more disabled by… the society that we live in… than by our bodies and our diagnosis,” and I guess I do too. Society restricts me more than my diagnosis does.
Of course it would be wonderful if all the world was truly accessible, and we as a society stopped needing to put labels on people and squeeze individuals into ill-fitting one-size-fits-all categories. A society where people could stop obsessing over what category they need to qualify for to achieve their goals and the labels they get slapped with (extremely disabled, moderately disabled, disabled, able-bodied, underachiever, overachiever, normal, inspirational, superstar) and just be themselves. A society where people could thrive with proper support and understanding. Unfortunately, we are not quite there yet. So, we have to work with what we’ve got, and try our best to create positive change.
One of the easiest and most interesting ways to do this? Walk out your front door, or hop on a bus! These are my two main forms of transportation, and I meet a lot of interesting people. In a society where disability is not the norm, where it is often misunderstood and even feared by a great many people, I have the opportunity to engage with those I meet, share my experiences, answer their questions and hopefully leave them with a better understanding of who I am as a person — it’s not that hard really.
There is so little good information out there regarding people with disabilities. In addition there is not really an established (positive) day to day kind of presence to combat some of the common stereotypes and public misconceptions. I find that more often than not, I am the only one using the elevator. I haven’t come across very many disabled professionals. And I’ll admit that when I do occasionally meet a fellow person with a disability (PWD) I find it hard to contain my enthusiasm 🙂 A kindred spirit! May I ask what your diagnosis is? And how many stares have you received so far today? You managed to make it out of bed this morning I see, congratulations! The bar of achievement is set pretty low for us PWDs, so improving a person’s understanding of my disability is not difficult.
“What’s wrong with you? Did you break your legs?”
“I was born with cerebral palsy. It affects different people in different ways, but for me it means the muscles in my legs are tighter than normal. I use crutches to help me get around faster.”
**And no, I’m not in pain. The condition is not contagious and it doesn’t get any better or worse. My intellect is fully intact. No, I am not waiting for a lung transplant, that is cystic fibrosis, not cerebral palsy.
“Oh. Where are you going?”
“I’m studying in the Arts and Sciences program at Capilano University. I am headed to Criminology class.”
“That sounds interesting! This is my stop. Have a good day!”
“Thanks, you too.” 🙂
If I’m lucky, maybe some of what I said will stick, a part of my message will have gotten through: CP affects people in different ways, I don’t let it stop me from living my life, and I love to learn new things and meet new people. Life is pretty great!