Cindy kept insisting that I had a #disability. But I knew she was wrong, or at the very least exaggerating—a man in a wheelchair had a disability, a child with Down Syndrome was disabled. Some of my students had a learning disability. I had none of those. I was not disabled. I merely had a brain injury. I would get better.
Later, when I absorbed the fact that some of my deficits were there to stay, I still balked at the notion that I was disabled. It didn’t feel right. I looked fine, I managed fine. Life was a bit harder, but that didn’t mean I had a disability. Just the word “disability” gave me the heebie jeebies.
It took me several years before I was able to verbalize the fact that I was disabled. But even now, though I speak of it publicly, I don’t really mean it. Deep down inside, I know that I don’t have a disability.
Yes, I have ADD type issues. I do suffer from severe depression and debilitating headaches. And when my ongoing exhaustion crosses a certain line, all my difficulties peak, poor balance and vertigo plague me, as does my lousy memory and my ability to access vocabulary. I stutter, my thinking slows down. Stress also exacerbates my symptoms.
But I am in much better shape than those others, who carry that label “disabled.” I don’t truly have a disability. In fact, I am able, I can do it all, except that it takes me longer, I have to take breaks and pace myself. I am not disabled.
I just had a lovely lunch with a friend who suffers from crippling migraines. We talked about the stigma associated with the word “disability.” She told me that her father won’t call her disabled. He prefers the term “disadvantaged.”
A light bulb went off. That was it! That was exactly it! I need more time to complete a project, I need to be able to pace myself, I need to avoid stressful situations, and events that cause me sensory overload. I need that little leg up to allow me to function as “normal” people would, people who have the advantage over me.
According to Dictionary.com “disavantaged” means “lacking the normal or usual necessities and comforts of life, as proper housing, educational opportunities, job security, adequate medical care.” Other dictionaries have similar definition.
Where does that put me, and people like me, who are considered disabled, but grew up with the “necessities and comforts of life.” Why aren’t we included in the definition?
Those who come from a low socio-economic background are also offered accommodations. Except that in their case the phrasing is different—they come under the auspices of “equal opportunity initiatives.” which helps place them on equal footing with those who are at an advantage compared to them. Equal opportunity gives them a chance to catch up and realize their potential.
The English Oxford Living Dictionary defines “equal opportunity” as: “The right to be treated without discrimination, especially on the grounds of one's sex, race, or age.” The wording is similar in other dictionaries. Dictionary.com was the only one that included a reference to the word “disability” in their definition: “the aggregation of policies and practices in employment and other areas that do not discriminate against persons on the basis of race, color, age, sex, national origin, religion, or mental or physical disability.”
Ultimately, those of us who are “disabled” are in the same boat as those who come from a low socio-economic background. We are all at a disadvantage. We would all benefit if we were given accommodations, the chance to realize our potential.
I weigh the term on my tongue—this is exactly my situation. I have a disadvantage. I am disadvantaged.