Evaluating Limitations

I discuss a new-to-new concept called the Social Model of Disability and how I interpret that to affect people with disabilities in the constructed world and world within the self.

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a good holiday season and had a little time to recharge the life batteries. The end of one year, the beginning of another, is a good time to reflect on the past and contemplate the future. My goal for today’s post is to contribute towards the conversation that disability is not bad in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for people to hurt themselves. Disability can be bad where a medical condition deprives one of the qualities of their lives. But the nature of disability itself is that it just is. It is neither good nor bad. The purpose of today’s post is not to diminish the negative experiences people have dealt with because of their disability, but to try to balance the negativity that persisted for centuries around having a disability with a positive and practical point of view.

Tess Stanton, our amazing Training Coordinator at the RMADAC, asked me to proofread a presentation she had put together. In that presentation, she had a slide that described the Social Model of Disability, with a quote from Stella Young (Comedian, Advocate, Writer) explaining that “we are more disabled by the society that we live in than by our bodies and our diagnoses.” I had not heard this idea phrased this way before and it’s brilliant! To me, this means that the limitations we experience are from outside of ourselves, not inherent within us. We grow up hearing generally negative opinions around disability and we just don’t question it when we are still forming. These attitudes shield the mind’s eye from people with disabilities. The Social Model of Disability manifests in facilities designed without disability in mind. Most of our everyday lives are conducted in constructed environments, and the places that are inaccessible were designed by people with limited mindsets.

Another interpretation of the Social Model of Disability is how much limitation people with disabilities might accept for themselves. It’s normal to think a certain way about yourself if you’ve always been taught to think that way. I’m not trying to diminish anyone else’s experience with disability by saying this but to say that was me when I was younger. Specifically, I grew up with my mom disallowing normal childhood experiences, like learning karate or to skateboard, because she thought my Erb’s Palsy was going to make me hurt myself. I didn’t get to do a lot as a child if I’m being honest. That frustration led to me pouring myself into the things I was allowed to do, like performing music. That way of thinking made me feel frustrated and since then I’ve tried to prove how capable I can be in anything I do. As I grew older, I started realizing how much self-doubt I had accepted. I never wanted to have kids because I was afraid that I would not be up for the job because of how weak my left arm is. I know how silly that sounds, but I’ve always been uncomfortable holding a squirming baby for more than a moment. The idea of being responsible for the wellbeing of a developing person while having a physical disability used to be terrifying to me. I still don’t have children, but recently I decided that I will not let doubt alone dictate my life’s experiences, should the stars align properly. Like anything else, adaptations and modifications will have to made when it’s time.

Just as we can rebuild sidewalks and buildings to remove barriers, we can do a lot to rebuild our sense of self to remove internal barriers to a life we may want deep down inside. It will take a lot of time and effort for both to be done, but one is mostly in someone else’s control while the other is ready to be considered. You don’t even have to have a disability to relate to this part. What interests do you have that you might not have explored because of the messaging for all the reasons not to do it? What messages do you have telling you that you are not worthy? A common one I hear is “I’m not creative,” which I don’t believe for a second. To be human is to create. It may not all look like art or sound like music, but we all have our ways of expressing creativity. Some just have more practice, or confidence, than others.

If you’d like to try a short exercise in being creative, try not using your non-dominant hand for an entire day. My guess is you may encounter obstacles you’d never considered. I’ll also bet that you can figure out how to function, even if your method looks different than usual. Life’s demands will force you to express your creativity if you put yourself in a situation where it becomes a necessity. I think it would be empowering to impose a limit on yourself as an exercise to see how you can create a workaround. That might give prospective on how difficult it is to have the limitation in the first place. With this, it might be easier to expel some self-imposed or accepted limitations. One of my personal philosophies in life is I believe if you can’t change the world, you can affect change by starting with yourself.