What is a disability? This is a multifaceted question.
My opinion: A disability alters the “natural” or “normal” state of something or someone. The qualifier for this is who is defining “natural or normal states,” and how the definitions are received and applied by the public.
My disability: partial paralysis of my left side, to which most people would apply the above definition. My disability was acquired early in my life, so I know nothing else. I don’t believe it is appropriate for someone else to label or decide “for me” who and what I am.
I have used all parts of my body to full capacity. I do whatever I want, when I want. A disability may or may not alter normal/natural states, but each individual should determine normal/natural states for him/herself.
The federal definition for meeting requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] is the inability to perform one of the five major functions of life: The abilities to see, hear, walk, care for one’s personal needs, and work.
The ADA was established in 1973 and reauthorized in 1991 to assist in leveling the field so all persons have equal opportunity. It provides for full inclusion in all aspects of life and work for all persons regardless of any disability.
This country continues its inability to achieve such equality. Many people ignore disabilities until they are personally affected in some way. Many people have negative impressions of persons with disabilities for mythical reasons.
I find being disabled has less to do with one’s inability to function and more to do with one’s state of mind. I can be disabled if I accept disability as my lot in life. I can be disabled if I believe I cannot function normally. I can be disabled if I allow others to dictate my humanity or treat me inhumanely.
We are not our conditions. We make our conditions significant or insignificant. I don’t shy away from disability — I embrace it.
If one does not meet the federal requirement for the state of being disabled, does that disqualify a person from being disabled? I believe not. I have met people who believe they are disabled because of the color of their skin. No one has the right to tell these people they are not disabled. Unfair and unequal treatment can and does have the effect of denying a person their humanity and sanity.
We must have conversations in our families and our communities about disability and its causes and effects on the person, the family and the community in every way possible. Disability affects all of us. It is time we stop ignoring it.
It is time we bring the skeletons out of the closet. It is time we count everyone as important and treat everyone humanely.
Kenneth Brown is a disability advocate and consultant. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-518-2155.