When my feet hit the floor this morning I reached for my glasses on the nightstand and I couldn’t find them. After a brief, panicked moment crawling on the floor I found them, but it got me thinking about disabilities, how I view them, how others view them and the wide range of presumptions people make every day when faced with the term “disability.”
Had I not found my glasses, or if my vision couldn’t be corrected, I would definitely be disabled, unable to drive, dependent on others for support in a variety of ways.
Many people think of a disabled person as someone who uses a wheelchair or a white cane or has a familiar disability like Down Syndrome. Others conjure an image of a veteran returning home with missing limbs. All of the above fall into the realm of what most people think of as disability, but that completely neglects the “invisible” disabilities that challenge people every day. An autoimmune disease, cancer, serious allergies, or any number of physical, neurological, or developmental issues that aren’t immediately obvious, can require just as much support or be just as challenging.
Most of us will be touched by disability in some way at some point in our lives, our own, our family member’s, a friend’s or neighbor’s.
Nearly one in four of us will be faced with some form of disability—a temporary injury, a long-term illness, an accident, a degenerative disease. Perhaps a learning, cognitive, or memory issues or a mental health challenge. Or you could be part of a family that is impacted by disability.
I have an adult son with autism and Type 1 diabetes that requires he have a LOT of support to be part of his community. His needs and experiences have framed my vision of disability.
For 25 + years, people with disabilities have had the force of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to improve accessibility and inclusion. While many things have changed for the better, there is still a long way to go.
Disability is part of our humanness, a part of our community. We all need to accept, understand, and support each other. It is not “us vs. them,” it truly is all of us.
When you think of disability, think of the things we all share in common and the ways we can connect. It shouldn’t evoke sadness or pity. Focus less on what people can’t do and instead think about their strengths and abilities and the humanity of each one of us. We ALL want to enjoy a good, meaningful, quality of life with people to love, something to do, something to look forward to and a place to belong, regardless of our ability or disability.
Joanna Jaeger is the mother of two young adults, one with autism, both with Type 1 diabetes. All along her journey, Joanna has found ways to connect with other families both seeking and providing support. She has been a long-time volunteer with Parents Helping Parents in Santa Clara, CA (www.php.org) providing help to families of children with a wide range of special needs as a mentor parent, advocate, fundraiser and Board member. She is passionate about food, travel, and baseball.