Living, surviving and thriving with a disability

What may be life-altering need not be life-ending

I recently had an opportunity to have a conversation with one of my peers, a friend and an excellent person. I was in the process of taking care of her lawn. She emerged from the garage and stood for a few moments watching me using the lawnmower.

She was inspired by my ability to control the lawnmower with one arm/hand. She said: “I am always amazed at how you do some things. I can’t use a lawnmower with two hands, and here you are doing it with one.”

I reminded her that I have been doing things this way my entire life. I asked her how she was doing, and she started to tear up. She told me that it was getting difficult for her to bend and pick things up.

If I recall correctly, I believe she experienced a stroke several years ago. As time has passed, she has experienced many changes in her ability to perform some tasks. I believe she had to stop being a tax preparer, for one of the side effects of the stroke was the inability to focus on the minute items involved in preparing tax returns. I believe at the time there was no tax preparation software like Turbo Tax and the other tax preparation software now available.

Experiencing the inability to bend and pick things up is a life-altering event, but not life-ending. I spoke with her regarding not giving up. I informed her about pick-up sticks and other devices available to assist her in her daily life.

She was in a bit of denial about the changes occurring that have her doubting her womanhood and life. I spoke with her about grief and loss. If she continues down the path of looking back at what she used to be able to do, she will have a near-impossible task of thriving.

I told her there was nothing “wrong” with her. I asked her to focus on what she can do now, to grieve what she can’t do any more, and to bury it as if it were a death in her family and she needs to prepare to move forward.

There is no timetable for a grieving period. It is a difficult process to experience, but one I believe absolutely necessary for persons experiencing a disability after being temporarily able-bodied for a period of time. I believe all of us are temporarily able-bodied.” At any moment, a life-altering experience can place you in the culture of persons with disabilities.

We as Black people must educate ourselves about the systems, services, products, institutions, and other help available to us to improve our lives. We must stop acting as if disability is a bad word. We do not need to hide or keep quiet and have equal opportunity kept away from us.

People with disabilities are people, too. We can do whatever we choose. We request the false barriers and misplaced sympathy be removed, the field leveled, and an equal opportunity be offered with empathy and understanding.


Kenneth Brown is a disability advocate and consultant. He welcomes reader responses to