Disability is not disaster

I have written elsewhere that I refer to my condition as a learning disability rather than a difference. I’ve been thinking some more about why there is antipathy towards this; I think some of it is because we tend to hear “disaster” when we hear “disability”.

The word “disability” tends to conjure up three groups that are sharply dichotomous: The famous disabled (Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking), the “dead and famous” and the disastrous: People who are homeless and begging on the street or people who are suicidal or friendless. In reality, the vast majority of disabled people (including LD people) are in none of these groups.

Most of us are ordinary people; doing OK but not great; holding down decent (but not amazing) jobs, sometimes enduring periods of unemployment. Most of us are living on our own, have friends (and even spouses! And kids!) and so on. The trouble is that such people are not exciting. We aren’t newsworthy or (in the strict sense of the term) remarkable. So we are hidden.

Of course, so are most non-handicapped people. But with them, there’s no compulsion to group them into categories because, after all, they are the majority.

If the image that springs to mind when you hear the word “disabled” is a really bad image, then naturally you don’t want that label applied to you or your loved ones. But if the image is one of relative normalcy, then you can accept the disability for what it is: A handicap. Something to be overcome and dealt with. Not necessarily something disastrous at all.

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