Life with a Disability Isn’t Easy

I decided to buy a new eBook again and went with I’m Not Here to Inspire You by Rob J. Quinn, a collection of essays (most originally posted on his blog) on life with severe cerebral palsy. In the first essay, Quinn tackles the assumption among people with disabilities that life with disabilities is easy for other people.

I have seen this assumption, and held this assumption myself. Interestingly, I’ve seen it within the disability community too. When I disclosed my autism diagnosis on a blindness E-mail list, I was told that this need not keep me from living a productive life. Look at Temple Grandin! And since blindness by the philosophy of this group did not need to keep me from living a fulfilling life, there were no limits to me obtaining a Ph.D. Other than the fact that 95% of the non-disabled population don’t have a Ph.D., I might say.

We’d like to believe that all people need to do to achieve a productive life is ignore their limits. When you have a physical disability, these limits in the media are multiplied, and therefore the overcoming of them is a thousand times more inspiring. Reading these stories, sometimes actually endorsed by disability organizations, makes the ordinary disabled person look totally meek. I, for one, have never felt encouraged by Helen Keller or Temple Grandin, at least not by the inspiraporn that surrounds them. People with disabilities who live productive lives can offer valuable advice, but it’s not like their mere existence inspires me.

I remember reading a 1950s fictional book about a teen going blind and going to a special school. In it, one of his classmates, a totally blind boy, wants to run a shop when he’s older. People find him an inspiration, but he says something like: “If I want to run a shop when I’m older, I need to pour as much energy into it as my far-away uncle who sits on the government does.” This book dates from the 1950s as I said, when you could only become a telephone operator if you were blind and living in the Netherlands. However, what it signifies as that living a productive life with a disability is hard.

Like Quinn, I don’t mean this to discourage people with disabilities. However, I want to say that it’s not like a disability has no impact. It’s not like you can just ignore it and say “So what?” to eveyr hurdle and move on. Of course, keeping a positive attitude is better than to dwell on negativity, but it’s not like it will magically get you your dream job. Besides, keeping a positive attitude is not the same as never being frustrated.

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