Friday, April 26, 2013

Ten Disability "Don'ts"

Most of the people I encounter in my day-to-day life are respectful and polite, but whether or not we have a disability, I'm sure we can all agree that there are exceptions to that rule. Some of the comments and reactions I receive are from well-meaning individuals, and are only mildly annoying...we all make mistakes, after all. Others make my blood boil! I made a short list of my disability pet peeves, and I'd love to hear if any of you can relate!
  1. When I hold the door for you, don't say, "I should be holding the door for you!" It's awkward and it makes me wonder if you think that I'm incapable. 
  2. Don't look at me like I'm drunk because of my clumsy gait. I'm not. I might not be able to walk in a perfectly straight line, but I can say the entire alphabet backwards! 
  3.   Don't tell me that you "know what it's like" to have CP because you sprained your ankle once. And for the sake of all that's good in the world, DON'T tell me that you've had it worse than me because you broke your leg... it will take all of my self-control not to dump my life story on you.
  4. Don't tell me that I'm "lucky" because I don't have to go on a run or attend sports practices.
  5. Don't speak to me like I'm five years old. I can understand you perfectly, and your patronizing tone is beyond annoying.
  6. Don't ask, "What's wrong with you?" Nothing is wrong with me. My body just works a little differently than yours.
  7. Don't ask me a personal question about my disability if we've just met, even if you preface it with, "May I ask you a personal question?" Every time I hear that, I die a little bit inside.
  8. Don't moan and complain about how unfair it is that I get to call for a ride to class when it's icy outside. Forgive me if I'm not exactly sympathetic.
  9. When we're walking up the staircase, don't stop in the middle to talk to your friends and expect that I can simply walk around you. I can't, because I need to use the railing, so I'm trapped on the stairs until you finish your conversation.
  10. When I mention casually that I'm worried about crowds or curbs or something like that, don't brush it off by saying, "Crowds don't bother ME at all! You worry too much." Think about what you're saying and how it might make me feel inadequate, and try to see life from my perspective for a moment.

Do you have any disability-related pet peeves? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Guest Post at Finding Ninee! Our Land: The Broken People

Hey everyone! Today I am guest posting over at Finding Ninee for Kristi's "The Our Land" series. Please check it out here, and while you're at it, read the rest of her posts too! I am out of my mind with excitement to be guest posting for such an amazing blogger! Her writing is hilarious, profoundly moving, and supplemented with drawings that will leave you breathless with laughter.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

When life seems beautiful again...

I am six years old, with a stuffed elephant toy balanced in my lap and a book in hand. Golden sunlight is leaking through the dust-streaked windows of my wooden clubhouse, and a gentle breeze is playing in the air, yet I am content being inside, where I can forget about cerebral palsy, forget about differences, forget about the world for a while.

Three years later, I am huddled with James on the school bus, my voice competing slightly with the groan of the engine. “You skipped thirteen again!” I remind him, and a smile crosses both of our faces. As a kindergartner, James needs to be able to count to twenty by the end of the year. Every day, unbeknownst to his teachers and parents, we practice until, instead of needing a reminder about the number thirteen, to the amazement of us both, James can count to one hundred. His laughter flits across the air as he exclaims, “Wow! I didn’t think I could do that!”

James doesn't notice the way I walk, doesn't notice that I stumble on the stairs of the bus. We don't even remember how we became friends; one day, we just decide to sit next to each other. It doesn't matter that he is six and I am nine, or that he is a boy and I am a girl. It doesn't matter that he plays with trucks and I play with stuffed animal toys. The differences don't matter at all. For fifteen minutes every afternoon, it is just the two of us together, and I wait with bated breath for thirteen to come after twelve.

Nine years after that, I am lying on the grass with my friends, ten feet away from the clubhouse I used to climb into when I wanted to forget about my worries. The afternoon sun warms our faces, and we just lie there without a care in the world, laughing about old memories that really aren't that old. 

Sometimes the differences seem all-encompassing. Sometimes I feel rooted to the spot because I'm afraid of what people will think of me once they see me walk. Sometimes life just seems to knock me down. But then I think about the summer days I spent in my clubhouse, about those afternoons on the school bus with James, about reminiscing with my friends on the grass. I just remember the six-year-old boy with a tendency to forget thirteen who befriended the nine-year-old girl with a limp, and the world seems beautiful again.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A World of Brokenness: Boston Strong

We live in a world of brokenness.

The events that have taken place in Boston over the past few days have hit, quite literally, close to home.

I hate this violence. I hate wondering if my friends and family are okay. I hate that sick feeling in my stomach when I receive a panicked text message from a friend fearing for her life, afraid to walk to class because of a gun threat at her school. I hate the "what if"s, thinking about what could have happened to my friends at the Boston Marathon if they ran just a little faster, just a little slower. They are fine, but so many others are not.

Everyone says, "Stay safe, Boston," but how can it stay safe when it stopped being safe the moment those bombs exploded and the lives of so many people came crashing down?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What I Want the World to Know

Some people say that first impressions are everything. Well, I wish they weren't. I've spent my life in classrooms where I often felt pressure to prove myself to teachers who could not look past my disability, teachers who were preoccupied by the "cerebral palsy" label on my file; these teachers saw this label and assumed that I was cognitively inferior to my peers.

            In one of the readings for my classes, I came across a quotation by Yvonne Divans Hutchinson that sent chills down my spine: "We get so busy looking at children in terms of labels that we fail to look for the potential."

            I could relate. I was one of those labeled children, one of those children whose potential was underestimated time and time again.

            When I was six years old, my teacher suggested to my mother that perhaps I wasn't ready to attend the first grade. She made this judgment because I had fallen and scraped my elbows after one of my classmates pushed me, and because I had difficulty using scissors on the first day of school. A few days later, she retracted her statement, commenting, "Wow! She's such a great reader and writer!"

            Then there was the time in sixth grade when I arrived home nearly in tears. I had spent hours perfecting my first book report and it was returned with a "70" scrawled messily over the rubric. I flipped through the pages of my report, searching for a single red mark, a comment, anything that could explain why I had received this grade. Nothing.

            I showed my mom my essay and she met my eyes. "Don't you remember?" she said. "This has happened to you before. It takes some of your teachers a little while to realize that you're intelligent. They see the way you walk, and they make assumptions about you. Your teacher probably didn't even read what you wrote. Just wait - watch what you get on the next book report."

            My mom's prediction came true: sure enough, on my next paper a few weeks later, I received an "A," and as my teacher passed it back to me, she commented that my intelligence surprised her.

            Instead of feeling gratified, I was upset. This was one lesson that I didn't want to learn, not yet, not as an eleven-year-old; this lesson hurt. This lesson taught me that people were going to judge me for circumstances beyond my control. This lesson taught me that some adults, people who should know better, were going to penalize me because of a diagnosis that was both my greatest teacher and my greatest challenge.

            I needed my teachers to believe in me. My own experiences of being underestimated because of my disability lead me to wonder: how many others have been the victims of first impressions? How many others have been judged because of an unusual name, an older sibling, or their physical appearance? Are these judgments made at a conscious level? Can they be stopped?

            I understand that we all judge people to some degree, and it's unrealistic to expect us to completely disregard first impressions, but I can't help but wonder how this world would be different if we gave everyone a chance. The special needs community understands all too well that a disability doesn't prevent an individual from making a difference in the world; I wish the rest of the world realized this too.

            Sometimes the people who can't physically speak are the ones who communicate the most important messages, the messages that can't be put into words. Sometimes those with vision impairments are the ones who see the most because they are unencumbered by physical appearances. If there's one fundamental lesson I am learning from my cerebral palsy, it is that the word 'disability' is misleading . . . My 'disability' has brought challenges to my life, yes, but in many ways, I consider it to be an 'ability' too because it has brought so much understanding to my life. I'm tired of being underestimated. I'm tired of being the victim of first impressions. People with disabilities might need help accomplishing some tasks, but then again, don't we all need help every now and then? Disability or not, we're more alike than different. We all live on this crazy, beautiful planet called Earth.  

We're all in this together. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Three Minutes

Math never was my strongest subject, but every now and then, I can't help but let the numbers fill my mind.  

Three minutes. It only takes three minutes of oxygen deprivation for the human brain to sustain permanent damage. I let this number turn in my head, and I know it's no use wondering, but I can't help it. How long did I go without oxygen? Where would I be if I had been cut off for another minute? Where would I be if oxygen had been restored a minute sooner?

Three minutes. It only takes three minutes for your life to change forever. All the tears, the hardship, the stiffness, the pain, maybe because of a mere three minutes. It all seems so ridiculous.

I think of all the moments in life when I squandered my time. Three minutes became ten, ten became thirty, thirty became sixty, all without a second thought. And yet, in as little as three minutes, so much was taken from me, and so much was given to me.

What was God doing in those three minutes? Was He watching me, timing it perfectly according to His plan? Was this something I agreed to, a predetermined part of my life? Or was God willing the doctors to work as fast as they could, was He saying, "No, no, this wasn't part of my plan for her. This wasn't meant to be."

I stare at the pages of my prayer book, and tears fill my eyes. I'm no more than eight years old, struggling to understand why God did this to me. I get through the first pages easily. "God, thank you for giving me food to eat so I am not hungry," one of the pages says, and I am truly grateful. Then I get to the page that trips me up every time. There is an illustration of a girl smiling and wearing rollerskates. I will never rollerskate. The accompanying prayer is something like, "God, thank you for giving me two strong legs so I can run and jump."

I can't run. I can't jump.

And then a knowing, a comfort, takes over my thoughts and fills my being. "You can reach people in ways that others can't. You can help them understand, accept, and embrace differences." And then I know that it was all meant to be; those three minutes were no mistake. By taking grace from my legs, God gave me grace in spirit.