My name is Leanne. I am 31 years old, rapidly approaching 32. I am petite, I am generally satisfied with my body size, I have been told I am attractive and, whilst my reflection can, on occasion, repulse me, I generally think that I am an attractive person.
In fairness, I have had to work very hard to become content with myself as a person, now that I am it is much easier to accept and appreciate myself – both good points and bad. Also, for the last 17 years, I have been a disabled person.
To the “normal” person reading that last sentence, nothing would have been particularly striking or pertinent about it. The importance of it would be lost completely, which perhaps is just indicative of how disabled people are so widely regarded.
Writing that sentence is harder for me than you could imagine. Not because of any physical reason, purely because it is not a sentence that anyone would ever choose to have to say.
I myself wasn’t told I was disabled until I was 25. I couldn’t come to terms with it. Despite all the evidence medically produced – I have spinal degenerative disc disease – as well as the physical agony that I was enduring, I just couldn’t accept it.
Why? Because I was 25. Because I knew the stigma that is still so very rife in society when it comes to disabled people. Because I had worked in a national disability organisation and knew how badly disabled people were treated. Because I didn’t want to be labelled or tagged. I didn’t want to lose my identity and simply become known as “that disabled girl”. It is inevitable. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
What’s rather ironic is that someone with cancer is a disabled person, yet looking at them you perhaps would have no idea at all there was anything wrong with them. To look at me, you wouldn’t know at a glance that I was disabled, but when I walk I have a slight limp or I’m often on crutches or in a wheelchair. It’s not what I wanted in life, but that is life.
I have learned to cope with being a disabled person. I have learned to fully understand what I can and cannot do. I have learned never to judge anyone on appearance because you just never know. I have learned never to judge anyone.
I have also learned that a large portion of society are still so ignorant regarding disability it actually turns my stomach.
For me, I am in pain constantly. Every minute of every hour of every day. Rather understandably, this can be very frustrating and, in all honesty, leaves me feeling very angry a lot of the time. I would never speak on behalf of another disabled person, but I have been told that it’s not completely abnormal to have feelings like this, feelings of rage.
Getting through every day is a struggle; it’s sometimes really awful and other times it’s not too bad. But it’s never good. It’s never without pain or discomfort. Unfortunately, this isn’t on display to members of the public who take it upon themselves to question you about being disabled.
I’ve had fights with bus drivers, council workers, shop managers and countless other people because of the way they treated me.
I think one of the worst cases was one day when – after being in my bed for a week, unable to walk and in complete agony – my partner drove me to the supermarket, just to get a bit of fresh air and to get out the house. We parked in the disabled bay, displayed the legal blue badge and I gingerly managed to get out of the car. A man I had never seen before – who, incidentally, did not even have a car in the car park – walked directly up to me, came in my face and, with undisguised contempt asked me “How the fuck are you disabled?”. Had I any strength, I would have hit him. It was horrific. Luckily, my partner quickly found me a wheelchair from the supermarket to sit in and he took over the conversation with the strange man, who – quite rightly – sloped off with his tail between his legs.
Yes, I AM disabled. But I am also so much more than that. I am a woman, I have skills, talents and abilities that I am extremely proud of. I have accepted that I alone cannot change society. I have also realised, it shouldn’t be my responsibility to do it.
If you are not disabled, be thankful by all means, but do not pity the people who are. We don’t need your pity.
If you see someone disabled and you’re curious as to what their impairment is, don’t stare at them like their a circus freak – try talking to them. Try to learn a bit more. Try to understand a bit more. Most importantly, don’t ever question a disabled person with regards to their impairment.
Not all impairments are visible, it doesn’t mean they are not there. A bit like the whole “God – religion” theory. So if you do believe in God, remember that you do so without questioning the fact that you have never seen him. It doesn’t change your faith.
Being disabled – in complete honesty – just really sucks. But it’s part of life. If I can come to terms with it, then surely I’m not asking too much when I request that other people do the same?