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Trisha Lynn Sprayberry Headshot

The Cloak of Visible Disability

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Now this is a concept I just cannot wrap my mind around. If you have a visible disability, especially if you happen to use any sort of adaptive equipment like a wheelchair, walker and/or braces, chances are you also have experienced this cloak.

For me, with FSH Muscular Dystrophy, and a hip injury two years ago, I use my wheelchair to get around instead of feet these days.

I'm still the exact same person as I was prior to the wheelchair. But, it seems that it's the perception of other people around me that has changed me into something else. It's not that I have magically morphed into a strange new being, one unrelated to the "person" that previously occupied the same flesh.

I still am very much myself and mostly self-sufficient in my daily life. The only impedance to my every day life being my limited access to mobility outside of my home due to the issue's with transporting and accessibility because of my wheelchair, and the manipulation of heavier objects. Heavy for me being over 20 pounds. But in my life, there isn't much I need that demands me to heavy lift.

Meaning, I for the most part, live just as much of a normal life as any one else. And that my barriers to that "normal" life are just the physical limitations of the environment I may be in and it's capabilities to allow me to function in it with my wheelchair. Like, whether my wheelchair will fit through a door way, or if there are stairs in a building, is there an elevator I can use, sort of issues. I don't need help to get out of bed or to get dressed in the morning. I don't require someone's assistance to transfer in and out of my wheelchair, or for an aid to fix my meals and clean my house for me.

I am a mother. I have a family. I write. I loves to draw and make jewelry. I like to get dressed up and go out, just as much as I like to curl up in my jammies on the couch with my family and watch a movie.

I AM normal.

Just like any other 34-year-old woman and mother.

I just happen to do it all from my wheelchair.

What others see is simple at best.

You only see the picture on the cover of the book. What's worse is that you will judge a person and her whole existence by her disability and her wheelchair. As if she was her wheelchair and could only see and serve the world as by the functionality of that wheelchair, instead of as a person. A human. One just the same as you.

An image of a 30-something year old woman sitting in a wheelchair, just at a glance, conjures thoughts of sadness and weakness. Helpless, and you pity her. But just for a fraction of a moment. It's hard to fathom why she might be in that wheelchair, but you're also so glad you're not her.

She's not seen as just another woman over there. She's the one in the wheelchair. She's not seen as possibly having any kind of education or a career. An author, or an artist.

Nor is she seen as a mother, or a mate.

She's seen as disabled.

The inner monologue may go something like this:

"She's in a wheelchair, not able to walk, not able to climb the stairs. She couldn't possibly attract a partner, let alone have children. And, she can't fit through the door ways. The wheelchair might damage something."

What I don't get is how this happens. When you put on a pair of glasses, or a pair of shoes for that matter, those objects are seen as a benefit to the human body. A form of protection and a way to enhance the ability, performance and function to the part of the body in which they are coupled with.

Eye glasses can help you see better. Protective goggles and other lenses are used when working with chemicals and flying debris for example. Shoes (I know there are those exceptions like high heels but for this point) are meant to help protect your feet and improve your posture and walking ability.

So why doesn't this logic carry over for mobility aids such as wheelchairs, braces and other useful mobility equipment?

It seems that others don't understand what it means to be disabled. People don't seem to grasp at all that "disability" is an umbrella term. One we throw on anyone with any abstract to the myth of picturesque health. And that to be considered "disabled", you are not judged on your own personal and unique abilities within your personal disability, but by the umbrella of the term alone. And usually by it's most severe case.

To be disabled, one only needs to have less a than sufficient function in an ability. I'm sure that under that description, we all would find a disability or two in our own functioning.

Not everyone can write a best selling novel. Not everyone can play professional basketball. And, not everyone can walk. As a disability advocate and a person, I ask you to take some time to see the person not the disability. Don't judge others in pity because of a wheelchair or other mobility aids, and hide them behind the cloth of the stereotypical assumptions of disability.

In doing so, your not just ignoring that they are another human being, a person on the inside just like any other, but your also denying the abilities they do have.

How are we inspiring the disability community to strive for independence, professional success and to make something with the lives they do have and their abilities, if we we as a society are too busy casting such a negative stereotypical view over the disability community of what society assumes we can't do? We deny the disability community the access to the accommodations and medical equipment they physically require to actually make their dreams of a "normal" life a possible reality.

This is something to ponder. It's actually not a "normal" life we dream of. Because that we have. Our disability is "normal" for us. Our disabilities even if we share a similar diagnosis is a unique experience. Just as anyone living as a being on this earth. What we in the disability community really earn for is a functional life. Just like any one else would want.