Last week, I wrote about diving; about the value in persevering, inspired by the Olympic performances of Shaunae Miller (2016), and Derek Redmond (1992).
Since then, the Rio Olympics have come to a close, and I’ve gone back to college.
So, instead of writing this from an attic in my Bahamian home, I’m writing this from my dorm room; it’s the first time I’ve written on this website away from home. While the location has changed, it’s still past midnight as I write this (it likely won’t be when you’re reading this), and loud music is pumping through my headphones.
Several days ago, I came across this New York Times article, entitled “Becoming Disabled.” I let it catch dust in an Opera tab, knowing that I wanted to write about it – as someone with a visual disability – but actually didn’t get around to reading it until this evening.
While I will use the fact that the past few days have been busy as an excuse, I will also say that figuring out where to start and end in terms of my commentary on the subject matter has also given me some pause. Disability can be a tricky subject to address – and even trickier, at times, for affected persons to talk about with people who are often times unfamiliar with the finer details of how to traverse it.
Reading the article, I found it interesting that disability is often something that is developed during life, whether it be because of aging or because of unforeseen circumstances.
Disability is all I’ve ever known.
I thought about folks learning to adjust to the disabilities they develop; visible changes like learning how to use a cane, for example.
For me, it has always been more about the psychological day-to-day toll of having a disability; a disability that was never quite as obvious to the observer as full blindness or paralysis.
And so, I remember growing up trying to hide it as best I could as a coping mechanism – one that I can’t honestly say I don’t still try to use.
As a kid, all I ever wanted was to be like everybody else. So, I tried to hide that difference that was so glaring, so ugly, so inhibiting, so difficult to understand.
“Are you blind?”
“Can you see?”
No matter how well meaning the questions were, they reminded me that my attempts at hiding were just that – attempts. Sometimes successful, often times not.
The truth is that sometimes, living with a disability can seem like a solitary fight.
While disability is more common than I think people really realize, it still doesn’t get the same level of attention that it should.
Disability is something that shapes and reshapes how people interact, communicate, develop relationships and live their lives. It affects nearly 1 in 5 Americans, particularly women and minorities.
Persons with disabilities are much more likely to smoke, suffer from high blood pressure, and become obese. Surely, it is true that not being able to see or hear or learn as well or as easily as the average person is difficult, but I will contend that it is the internal battle that disabled persons fight that is most taxing, and most difficult to explain.
How does a person cope with the fact that full independence is just out of arm’s reach because of her disability?
How does a person battle the urge to hide his disability in a society that has too often alienated persons just like him?
Awareness is the first step to easing the burden, conversation is the next.
What is disability like through your eyes?