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March 27, 2010

disABILITY: 'Disability' is all a matter of how you look at, define it


The Daily Star

Don’t believe your thesaurus; it lies to you.

It actually has some of the most ridiculous misprints. Please take note and handwrite the following corrected information into the margin next to “flaw.” Pen in the word human being. Also add “all creation” in the margin as a synonym as well while you are at it.

Now keep the good book out, we might make a few more marginal notations before we’re done here. In the meantime, I’ve got something here to twist your mind into loops, just for fun. What do you think about this? If nobody is disabled, then everyone is disabled; if everyone is disabled, then nobody is disabled.

Does that make sense to you? I actually think it makes all the sense in the world. That’s how my mind works, though. So come along, let’s just take a ride on the Kate Pavlacka Mental Express and explore this one a little further before abandoning it as useless talk.

If you ask me, I would say that the sentiment just goes to show that disabilities are not as they seem.

Imagine this _ people themselves are not disabled, at least not until the combination of their environment and societal perceptions say they are. And no, I am not in denial. Let me explain.

Let me say, first, that I don’t define disability and handicap differently. To me, a handicap or a situational limitation is the same thing as a disability. Let’s pick this apart a little for understanding’s sake.

It’s one thing when a person’s environment or current circumstance is a handicap that creates a barrier for that individual to somehow overcome. It happens. People adapt.

It’s another thing, though, for society to separate out and treat people condescendingly or as unable or helplessly broken, most especially if these people find suitable adaptations to their environment. It happens. People are narrowly labeled and misunderstood.

If the whole world were blind except for a few, I would not be at a disadvantage. I wouldn’t be considered “disabled” at all. I’d be normal. If none of us had legs, or at least didn’t have ones that did much, our world would be built up around the needs of people with alternative means of mobility.

Having said that, now, flip to the N’s in your thesaurus. Find the word “normal” and cross out all the words next to it. Write in the margin “refer to flaw.”

As you may be noticing at this point, all creation is normal in all of its imperfectness. Some are better suited to the way in which society has built itself up around us all.

There will be some people who end up having more handicapping moments as compared to others. But do they really need to be boxed up and separated out like our society tends to do with them?

Is it fair to permanently define people by a situational limitation they have, especially if they adapt to that limitation and find ways of living life and accomplishing as much as any other normal person in society?

If that’s not enough to think about yet, think about this _ is someone in a wheelchair technically disabled because they’re sitting in a chair with wheels? No, they’re adapted to their situation and they are normal. When they roll themselves up a ramp and into a building are they disabled? Again the answer is “no.” Are they disabled when a store owner has neglected to have a ramp built? Yes and no. The circumstance is disabling, but it does not indicate the person is disabled. They are perfectly able to go find an accessible shop, buy their things online, or even make the store manager go get what they need.

Someone with any given limitation inevitably adapts and finds creative ways to effectively manage circumstances that threaten to limit them.

So, if that person is carrying on with life like any other normally flawed human being, why then do we look at them and still see this disabled individual, even if we consider them to be an amazingly functioning dysfunction?

As this column is named “disABILITY,” the point has always been and will always continue to be that nobody is totally disabled, just as nobody is totally perfect.

Whether we’ve had the “disability” label tattooed on our foreheads by society or not, we are all the same. We have strengths and weaknesses. And on top of that, from time to time, we all find that our strengths can end up being our biggest downfall, or our weaknesses turn out to be our greatest asset.

Kate Pavlacka, a graduate of the State University College at Oneonta, has been totally blind for about a dozen years. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/disability.