What do you think of when you hear the term ‘disabled’? For many people, what comes to mind, is the permanent wheelchair user that we see in frequently used signs throughout the community. The term ‘disabled’ often has negative connotations. As a chronic, invisible illness sufferer, I have often felt that because I look well, I do not deserve to be part of the disabled community. When I have taken time off work sick, due to my illness, I have been asked as a HR matter, whether I was absent due to a disability. I always said no – predominantly due to the fact that I am scared that people will think that I am lying, because I don’t fit society’s stereotype of disability. To say that I am always ‘ill’ suggests that I am going to get better, and I am constantly aware of this presumption from others. There is no cure for IBD, and it is very often disabling. When asked about his disability, Paralympian, Ali Jawad, said:
Many people, including myself, and my Mum – who was born with a birth defect called Spina Bifida, do not consider themselves to be disabled. I believe that this is a personal choice, but also partly due to the negative connotations attached to the term and pre-conceived ideas in society of what disability looks like. Image sourceThe way people view disability needs to change. It needs to be recognised that diversity still exists within the disabled community. Just because somebody is disabled, it does not mean that they can’t be black, white, fat, slim, funny, athletic, wealthy, poor, happy, unhappy or more than one of those things. It does not mean that they are either like Will Traynor from Me Before You – desperate to die than to live disabled, or at the other end of the scale – an inspirational role model for the world. The term disabled should not reduce you to a category, a label or stereotype, or make you any less you. People with visible disabilities often have no choice but to suffer the condescending judgement and comments of others, who see nothing but their disability. People with invisible disabilities, identifying with the term ‘disabled’ are often judged as idle, and liars, because they look just fine.
I understand why people, like my Mum, choose not to identify with the term ‘disabled’. This means that she avoids the pity, and people viewing her as less her. But that also means that people rarely recognise her pain, and very often I have been guilty of this, too. Growing up with a ‘disabled’ parent taught me a lot about disability, and unknowingly prepared me for a diagnosis of a chronic illness. My Mum has taught me through living with a disability, that being different does not make you any less able, and that pain makes you a stronger, more resilient person. I believe that identifying with the term ‘disabled’ is a personal choice. But it is important to recognise that there is no right way to be disabled. The disabled community is diverse, as are the lives of those within it.