The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

November 3, 2007

disABILITY: Disabled, able-bodied very much alike

Growing is a skill that takes time and effort; groaning, however, is only a reflex. It's simple enough to understand, right? Unfortunately, however, it may not actually be quite so easy to practice.

There are certain people, for example, who somehow fall prey to circumstances and events in life. It's as if they just kind of melt into this lumpy product of those circumstances. There are people with disabilities and people without who fall prey to this type of lifestyle trap and warped mental outlook. Are you one of them?

Fortunately, though, there are other people out there who face challenging circumstances, and yet they use it as a ladder, on which they simply climb to newer heights.

What exactly has made me start ranting like a crazy woman like this, though? Well, it was the article I ended up reviewing recently. It supposedly was written as a means to educate people about a particular disability. In my opinion, the article was appalling, totally and completely appalling.

After I finished reading through it, I sat there trying to figure out whether the author was really trying to familiarize others with the disability, or whether the author was looking to spread yet another layer of guilt on her readers and scare all but the hardiest souls away from her.

You know, I have a feeling the whole movement regarding political correctness has already done a good enough job at reinforcing a sense of paranoia and guilt surrounding what to say or not to say, what to do and what not to do, around people with disabilities.

It is my belief that making more rules on top of what we already have is the absolute last thing that needs to be done.

Please don't get me wrong, though. I think it's really good for people with a disability or those with specific needs to verbalize those things. It is not, however, realistic to start making a pamphlet of do's and don'ts for the general population to remember whenever they see a person who's got a disability.

The thing our disability-phobic, paranoid, politically corrected society needs now is reassurance. Reassurance that people with disabilities have very few differences from able-bodied people, at least from a person-to-person standpoint.

This is inevitably going to be tagged as a statement over-simplifying the matter, but it really isn't if you think about it and think about it with an open mind. Humans have human needs, they crave interactions and relationships, they enjoy activity and a variety of experiences. All humans do, whether they can speak, or hear, or see, or walk, or whether they can't do any of these things at all.

There's inevitably different ways of interacting with a person with a disability, yes, but is that a scary thing? Is it really? Just find out from them what they need. You might just be surprised at how little they actually do need from you.

There are leech-like people out there, yes, but there are more people who aren't.

And, of course, there are certainly people with a disability who are angry people. Just remember that there are also people without disabilities who are angry people. How do you handle an angry person, from a rational standpoint? You give them the space they ask for, that's all. No need to feel as though you did anything wrong. If you did something wrong, we could only hope the person would tell you. Just don't take to heart ridiculous accusations from people. I would hope that doesn't happen, but I'm sure it does.

Getting rid of stereotypes, getting rid of paranoia, means a shift back to thinking rationally and logically, not being bogged down by all kinds of new rules that come in and out of fashion as quickly as if it were part of the clothing industry.

You know, even I, as a person with my own disability, can't remember all the politically correct things to say and do for every given disability there is out there, so don't feel badly if you can't either.

Now, if you are the person with the disability and you want to be understood, bear with people. They are going to forget your needs, face up to that fact. Even if you've told them once before, they are likely going to forget.

I, personally, assume that people are not going to know my needs or preferences until they become a good friend to me. There are acquaintances I do have, who do know what accommodations I require and what my preferences in certain circumstances are, but that's mainly because I deal with those people frequently enough that they do remember. Even so, I do not make it a habit to assume people can read my mind or know what I need when I need it.

Just as it's about common sense for everyone else, it's about common sense on the part of the person with the disability or special need.

Patience is the No. 1 component of common sense for us who have disabilities. You are responsible for your needs and for expressing your needs. Do not wait for other people to figure them out, because they may never figure them out.

Asking someone else about how you're going to do a task with the restraints of your condition is not common sense. That is your job to find out and then to express to whomever you are dealing with. Nobody knows you as well as you know yourself.

Simply knowing your hang-ups and knowing your strengths will be invaluable to you. Sometimes the process of learning your own strengths and weaknesses is hard and uncomfortable. Sometimes the more you make mistakes, though, the better you learn.

Common sense says to try something new and see what happens. Take a risk. Common sense would mean finding ways to minimize your weakenesses and maximize, or capitalize, on your strengths.

Realize that these things can apply to anyone, not just the population of disabled people out there. Everyone, absolutely everyone, has strengths and weakenesses. So get familiar with them, work with them and work through them.

Many people discount the power of the human will and human intent. If you are 100 percent certain you want to do something, it might take extra thought and extra effort, but you always find a way to do it. If, however, there is even the slightest hint of uncertainty or disinterest, you may likely fail. It's sad but true. Cleaning up your playing field of intent and really setting your mind to make something happen, is the first step to moving yourself forward and getting on your way to where you want to be going in life.

Don't forget, growing is a skill that takes time and effort. Groaning is simply a reflex. So grow, don't groan!

Kate Pavlacka, a graduate of the State University College at Oneonta, has been totally blind for 11 years.