Monday, February 22, 2016

Do People with Disabilities Look Different?

It's time the second most commonly asked Google search question regarding people with disabilities: Do People with Disabilities Look Different?

[Image is: the shadow of me in my wheelchair.  May, 2015,  Photo credit: me]

I've read about parents who get diagnoses for their unborn babies and immediately imagine a three headed monster.  A friend of myself and my sister once envisioned my sis had transformed into a monster with "slime and tentacles" after a surgery.  The truth is, what we don't know, we often fear.

The answer to this question is rather simple: yes and no.  Some of us do look different, assuming different is code for not the same as able bodied.  And some of us don't.  Some of us use adaptive equipment like wheelchairs, walkers or crutches.  Some of us don't use adaptive equipment but walk with a noticeable limp.  Some of us have facial features consistent with Down Syndrome. Sometimes, you can see the differences.

Other times, though, you can't.  People who have learning disabilities or chronic, invisible illnesses, won't necessarily look any different from an able bodied person.  People who have had a brain injury but are years into recovery might not look like they have.

Sometimes, disability is obvious.  Other times, it isn't.  What's important is, whether disability shows or not, to treat everyone in a manner that you would like to be treated.  Not how how think you'd like to be treated if you were disabled, because there are automatic biases there.  How do you want others to treat you, right now?  Would you feel comfortable if people avoided you and assumed you couldn't do anything for yourself?  Would you feel good about yourself if people constantly praised you for going out in public or asked you invasive questions? Do you think it's fair for someone to say you could go to the moon if you tried hard enough?  Neil Armstrong went to the moon, so why haven't you?  You are able-bodied and so is he, so you should be able to do that, right?  (Totally unfair.  You're not Neil Armstrong, you're you.)

Remember that, to someone who's lived with a lifelong disability like Cerebral Palsy, looking different is as normal to us as looking the same is to you.  Don't be rude, but don't ignore us, either.  If you would greet someone, casually, on the way by, greet us, casually, on the way by.  It's okay to notice us.

Our visible differences are part of what makes us unique as people.  They're part of what makes us who we are.


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