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Disabilities are not curses

Disabled people should not feel like they’re climbing stairs to stay at the university./ Taras Matkovsky
Disabled people should not feel like they’re climbing stairs to stay at the university./ Taras Matkovsky

Having physical disabilities should not deny you respect

Author: John Loeppky

As a physical disabled person, here is a list of things I am incapable of doing or experiencing. I am not bitter about these things. My apologies, but I am just here to make a point:

I will not, at any point now or in the future, be defeating any of the world record holders in the sport of long distance running. Don’t worry Olympic champions in the marathon, your lead is safe (at least until bionic legs are invented); rock climbing — while being hilarious for others to watch me attempt — will never be my extreme sport of choice; I will never be able to escape those that think they can heal me. My imperfect physical experience will never be enough for some people, my career aspirations will always be limited, and I will never be free of the stares of strangers. Sadly, the ship of my career as a hockey goalie has sailed. I will never know what it’s like to have my muscles fully relax. The likelihood of the memories of being discriminated against in high school going away are very slim, I will never be able to let my words speak for themselves, I will always need a doctor’s note. And, most importantly, I will never feel the need to stay silent.

I should have said, I will not be forced into silence, now or ever.

Oppression can take many forms. I can be silenced in the boardroom (“oh, we have to be an equitable employer, that’s why he’s here”), silenced in the athletic world (“oh, we have to include him, otherwise we might seem discriminatory”) and, as was brought to light in this very newspaper (The Carillon Vol. 57, Issue 12, p. 3), silenced in the classroom (“oh, you don’t really need those accommodations, do you?”). People are constantly looking to placate and ignore people like me. The fact that I often get further when I mention the term lawsuit than when I talk about human rights, should tell you all you need to know about how much further our society has to go when it comes to the rights of the world’s disabled citizens. I recently read an article that described disabled children in Greece being locked in cages. And, no, that was not a typo or a reference to a medieval history textbook.

We don’t have to stay silent. Some of us – those less fortunate than me, and many others – are physically or otherwise incapable of expressing their feelings and they need a voice, too. Some don’t feel comfortable speaking, drowning under what it feels like to be forced under the weight of societal expectations. Expectations that say they are going to be an invalid, not valuable to society, a drain. These people are wary of those who think we get everything for free just because our legs don’t work or our brain has a different operating system. You can’t tell me that logic isn’t flawed, and those affected do not have an avenue to express their problems, to challenge those assumptions, and to rid the world of such ignorance. This goes for the allies of the disabled as well.

Now, I’m not saying everybody needs to be an advocate, not everyone needs to be a pavement pounder, but the community as a whole does need to know that there are people who are willing to work on their behalf, that they don’t have to settle for less than what they are worth (and, to be cheesy, they are worth the world). That some cannot speak for themselves is just a burden that the rest of us will carry.

No longer can we all stay silent; no longer can we believe that the societal pressures we have bowed to for so long are what we deserve. I have met people who have been told that their disability is the result of their parent or parents’ transgressions, others that they are products of sin. I have met many a disabled person who feels as if they are nothing, that they are equal to the garbage that litters our streets. Can’t we all, the able and the disabled, prove them wrong? We don’t all need to stand up (pardon that particular figure of speech) but we can all be aware, and that’s a start.

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