We all have different abilities, so why are some of us, “disabled” and others not?

We all have different abilities, so why do some have the “disabled” label and others not? Maybe we should start by defining a disability. Going to the internet we get the following definition of a disability: “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.”

According to this definition many of us are disabled. We all have limitations. Can you throw a ball as well as a pitcher? Can you run a four minute mile or a marathon?

Yes, I am comparing us to the best here. It might be better to say a disability is a physical or mental condition that prevents a person from performing in life as well as most others.

If we look at conditions individually we are hard pressed to find any single condition that uniformly disables people.

Take blindness for example. There are many who see nothing at all and function well in society. There are musicians, speakers, and even a Governor who cannot see.

Then maybe we should ask why those with a condition that disables most people doesn’t disable them? . This is the question I am exploring by interviewing such people in Disability Freedom.

Some of the things I have found are:

  • An attitude of being “able.”: This is apparent in how some who were born blind just went ahead and did what they wanted. I remember the story of a three-year old blind girl getting stuck in a tree. She got up in the tree by herself, but like many three-year olds she could not figure out how to get back down.
  • Parental support: Children who overcome significant limitations can usually point to one or more parent who was there to insure that opportunities were found for the child to do things. They would see to it that the child was taught the necessary adaptive skills to do school work.
  • Options to do things: Lewis Braille had to invent the writing code that bears his name. He didn’t invent it so he could take notes. He invented it so Napoleon could send messages at night. However, Lewis was blind and lived with other blind children. His braille writing system soon caught on and the rest is history.
  • Community support: Lewis Braille had been sent to a school for blind boys. This school had been set up and run by adults. He (like many other blind boys) learned to play the organ. That was a common occupation for blind persons in his day.
  • Social supports: having people around when we need help is universally important. Parents ensure that their children have the opportunity to play with other children. Schools and clubs provide these contacts.

All this is find for children, but how do adults who develop a condition that might disable them in some way continue to function?

The biggest disabling factor is attitude. The Rep. John Boehner who says he has both a bad back and anxiety clearly does not want to stop being in the public eye. He has the idea that he is not “disabled.” He is able to compensate. What sort of abilities does it take to get elected and stay elected? Clearly, he is able to read people and influence them. Many others tried to get nominated and elected but he is the one in office. He could be a politician working from a wheelchair the same way FDR did.

How many of us have exceptional abilities that allow us to function in spite of a disabling condition?

The resource of a parent is lost once we become adults. Some of us replace our parents with mentors. That role has to be sought out and agreed upon by both people. Mentors are a new concept in our society. I would have done things differently if I had a mentor earlier in my medical career. My failing eyesight might not have been so much of a problem. I would have been doing a lot of administrative things that I avoided early in my career. The lack of those experiences prevented me from getting interviews for medical administrative roles.

Options to do things differently: We live in a time when each day brings new options. A Few months ago I added an app to my smart phone that allows me to take a printed page or a sign and have my phone read it to me. Soon my phone will also be able to read US money to me. I know about these because I have been able to gain membership in a supportive blind community.

The third way a child overcomes a disability: Community support systems are available to those of us who are adults. There are vocational rehabilitation services in all states. They are limited in that they are funded primarily to put people into jobs. For many people that is the least of their problems when a disability hits. There whole social support system crumbles.

For those no longer seeking to work there are limited funds available for their rehabilitation. Rehab. Services can help people learn to get around or use adaptive software on a computer.

There is no formal way to recreate a social support system. Your family will always exist. However, how many of your family members know anything about living with a disability, especially the one you have?

Where did we get our support system originally? I met my wife at a summer job while I was in school. Most of us met our life partners either at school or work. Now there are on-line dating services. Do they help to find those who will support someone with a disability? This weekend I met three people who found someone to marry that way. Two of them are blind.

There are organizations of persons with almost any kind of disability. They are both in the community and on-line. Facebook has many such groups and a review of the posts shows that Facebookers are supportive of each other.

So a Disability is a condition you blame for not being able to function. Not being able to function results from so much more than one condition.

As you can see learning to live with a disability is complicated. That is why I focus my life coaching upon those with disabilities.

As All Ways, Seek Joy,

  1. Comments and sharing my blogs are welcome. Who do you know who is struggling with their decreased abilities?

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