I often get that I am determined, courageous, and brave. People associate my determination with the fact that I have a disability. The ‘strength’ that people see in me is based on the idea that I have accomplished what I have ‘even though I have a disability’ or ‘in spite of having a disability.’ I don’t think people would find me as determined, as courageous, or as brave if I didn’t have a disability. The fact that I have a disability doesn’t stop me from going to university, working, or traveling. I don’t think anyone would find what I have done remarkable or even noteworthy if I didn’t have a disability. People move to go to university all the time. People get graduate degrees every year. People travel to different countries every single day. People only see it in a ‘special’ light because they think that it means more – or that I am somehow more courageous – because I am disabled. I really don’t like this attitude, but I can’t alter the way people think and I can’t control people’s reactions to me and my life. I just wish that people wouldn’t connect my accomplishments or the milestones I have achieved to my impairment because my impairment has never factored in to my ability to learn, to work, to travel, or to do any of the things that people find ‘amazing’ or ‘inspirational.’
If I had no physical impairment at all – and had never had one – I don’t think anyone would be inspired or amazed at the fact that I have two degrees and I am earning another, that I have traveled to several different countries independently, and the fact that I have had successful jobs and internships. They would just consider it part of life or part of maturing and growing up. They would probably consider me a privileged – and possibly ambitious – person, but not a remarkable person. I don’t like the idea of being an ‘inspirational’ person or being ‘disability inspiration’ because I do everything I possibly can to overcome my disability, and I don’t want my disability to be the only thing people think about in association with me, or the thing they connect my life and my being human with.
It’s my paternal grandmother’s ninetieth birthday today. She is very much like me: literary, honest, artistic, and sensitive. I would rather be known for that – and thought of in that way – than be thought of as ‘the disabled girl who does awesome things’ that are only considered awesome when connected with the fact that I have a disability.
I recently watched a documentary about a couple who were having their second child. The mum and dad both had different forms of cerebral palsy – that affected them in different ways – and the film documented the struggles they faced with the pregnancy. They met adversity in every possible way, from conceiving their little boy to delivering him, and faced a lot of people who said they couldn’t or shouldn’t have children. This falls into more of the category of ‘people wanting to know what it’s like to ‘do normal things’ when you have a disability’ and, though their story was very moving, I don’t think it would have come to be if it wasn’t based on the fact that ‘even though they are disabled they can still successfully have healthy children’ which kind of bothers me. I don’t think these parents would have been documented if they didn’t have cerebral palsy because there isn’t as much of a ‘reason’ to document a ‘normal person’s pregnancy’ because there isn’t a ‘story’ behind it. It’s frustrating that I only have a ‘story’ or some form of ‘remarkable life’ because I have accomplished things while managing a disability. It’s wonderful to know that a disabled couple can successfully have healthy children, but I feel it should be considered more of a fact of life than an inspiration.