THE BLOG
02/07/2014 03:59 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2014

Disability and the Starfish

Did you know that roughly 20% of the U.S. population is disabled and on Disability? That's nearly 11 million people. If a population that size formed a state, it would be 8th largest in the U.S..

And, did you know that we in the disability community struggle day-to-day not only with the difficulties of our diagnosis, but that there is an even bigger war being fought, the war of equality for those with disabilities.

This is both a very private personal struggle as well as a social challenge. And to us in the disability community, this double headed burden can be daunting to overcome.

So many people out there are fighting for the basic help and accommodations needed for dealing with their disability. Looking for accommodated housing, social interactions, and transportation, seems to be becoming a second way of life for those with disabilities who want more out of their life than to be dependent on the world around them and who's challenge's are so much larger than their resources allow. This is the majority of us, and we are fighting just to survive.

It's heartbreaking that so much of the disability community is struggling so hard for so little, and in return that most people just want to be or feel like a human again. Wanting nothing more than the ability to roam their own homes, to drive, and to be on their own, to get jobs, to go to college, to socialize, and to make something of themselves just like the rest, but to only be glared at, scoffed at, and made a spectical of, as if we were freak shows or like we are useless with nothing to contribute or offer society but dependency leaching off the system.

If you are able-bodied, you won't get this, but when's the last time you had to think of how to cook dinner because the ingredients are shelved too high and out of your reach from your wheelchair at the grocery store?

Or let's consider how you are going to leave your home because you don't have a way of transporting a wheelchair? How do you get around in your own home when your bedroom is on the second floor and now your home is no longer accessible to you and a wheelchair? Or how about how you are going to go to the bathroom at your friend's beautiful home during Christmas dinner because the door way is too narrow for your wheelchair?

For most of you, leaving your home, bathroom insecurities, or just getting around in your very own home or anyone else's for that matter, isn't even something you've had to put any conscious thought into.

You go shopping, you bound up the stairs, you go into the nearest restroom facilities when you need to pee. You just do it.

The problem is, is that most of the stories of the struggle's a disabled person goes through on a daily basis are seen as myth, or the extreme rare cases, or that it just was never thought of or considered.

Instead, it seems avoided, discounted, or that most are just oblivious that these issues really are paramount to the most basic and necessary functions for independence and dignity for those with disabilities to have the same effortlessness in doing the same acts that require not even a thought for those without disabilities to complete .

It is inspiring to see the positive stories of people in the disability community like of Michael J. Fox and Marley Matlin. I'd prefer to see more of them. It is important to showcase the "winner's" in disability, those who have been so extraordinarily lucky to be successful in spite of their challenge's. And we should strive to be as motivated and self determined.

But these are the true rarities within the disabled community. So rare in fact that being able to break those barriers, some of which being so crucial, that it can even impact and/or impede our basic bodily functions, like how you will be able to go to the bathroom in an inaccessible stall. That, to overcome them and to be a successful disabled person, may for the most part, feel like only a dream.

And it doesn't have to be. Our extra issues that already can make things in our lives difficult to impossible to overcome because of a disability or an injury we have, is even more crushing when a manufactured barrier prevents us any further. Due to lack of support from nearly every facet in life, the denials of coverage's, support, or assistance to self sustaining life essentials like accommodations for homes or gaining transportation like vehicles that can transport a wheelchair, there just isn't the help out there like it should be.

It's not like these accommodations don't exist. There are vans we can drive while sitting in our wheelchairs, and there are accommodations for stairs and bath tubs, and doorways, to make your home more accessible. But they are very expensive, sometimes too expensive for the average person on Disability benefits alone.

And it's not from lack of desire, or necessity, or effort, that most of us in the disability community don't have adequate accommodations for our disabilities. Usually it's not even our fault. And sometimes it's the barriers placed on us that we have no choice or control over, leaving us trapped in the situations we are in.

And people don't get what the problem is. For most people, folks like Steven Hawking and Michael J. Fox are their only exposure to what a disability is or looks like. Mind you both of these individuals became disabled later in life and already had the success and means to tend to the financial burden a disability can accumulate.

But what about us average people who aren't celebrities, who don't have the financial ease, who are on Disability and/or other services just to survive?

What do we do when there is no health insurance to assist us, there isn't a loan or program we can utilize because our income is too low being on assistance or Disability or otherwise don't qualify. Your family and friend are broke, and there's really nothing else but the kindness of stranger's to turn to?

Where's the dignity? Where's the humanity? Where's the promotion of worth or support of talent or skill? Where is the acceptance that we are people just as anyone else? When are we actually going to have equality for the disabled community? When are we actually going to create change? What are you going to do about it? How are you going to help ourselves and others?

First off, we can drop the pity party bit. And this is from both sides. Having pity for someone else can be just as detrimental of an act as pitying yourself. It is true that if you want something for yourself, or from life that you have to go out there and get it yourself. But what do you do when what you need is just outside of your abilities? It might be a very simple, easy fix, even if it isn't "cheap".

The question I would purpose is, what ARE we capable of if we were able to have access to what we need to accommodate our disabilities?

Anything.

First though, and not to sound crass, but the old adage of "To teach a man to fish" doesn't apply here regardless of ability or diagnosis. I instead would refer you to 'The Starfish Story'.

The Starfish Story

A young man is walking along the ocean and
sees a beach on which thousands and thousands
of starfish have washed ashore. Further along
he sees an old man, walking slowly and
stooping often, picking up one starfish after
another and tossing each one gently into the
ocean.

"Why are you throwing starfish into the
ocean?," he asks.

"Because the sun is up and the tide is going out
and if I don't throw them further in they will
die."

"But, old man, don't you realize there are miles
and miles of beach and starfish all along it!
You can't possibly save them all, you can't even
save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you
work all day, your efforts won't make any
difference at all."

The old man listened calmly and then bent
down to pick up another starfish and threw it
into the sea. "It made a difference to that one."

Sometimes we are helpless to our circumstance's. And sometime's we need an extra hand. We, in the disability community understand what it's like to feel like the starfish washed ashore after a tide. We all need help, and yes it is daunting when you look at the problem from a whole perspective. But like the old man, we can make a difference to those that we are able to affect, just like the starfish the old man saved by throwing them back into the sea.

Sometime's we need someone or something to help us continue on with our own lives. This shouldn't be seen as too big of a problem to be solved, so we just don't as a society. Like any project, it only is too big if we don't begin somewhere to change it.

We can start ourselves. A smile, a complement, holding a door open, even just saying hello, offer to reach for the can high on the shelf, help build a ramp. Compassion can be the beginning. If we can get more people helping the disability community instead of ignoring a problem because it is too big, we can really go a long way to the service of those with disabilities. So how are you going to help your fellow man?