According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of disability isa physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions. And according to the Oxford English dictionary, a disability is: a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, defines disability as: a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.
These are all very similar definitions, and they are all saying essentially the same thing. That someone who is perceived as not “able-bodied” is limited or inhibited by “normal” life activities. But is this true? Is someone who is “disabled” really limited? Or is it perhaps the overall construction of society that is limiting us?
In my opinion, societal constructs are the most limiting, inhibiting, factor to living a “normal” life. This is true for anybody, in any situation. But for my purposes, I am going to focus on the “disabled,” more specifically, the visually impaired.
We live in a visual world, where everything is set up for the sighted. Hand-outs, flyers, paperwork … you name it , it is all in print. If you go to the public library, you probably won’t find a braille section. You might find an audio book section, but definitely won’t find braille. You’re unlikely to even find braille on the audio books. If your town doesn’t have a good public transit system, then you’re limited on where you can go. You will have to end up relying on friends and family, or maybe a more expensive option such as taxis.
Even body language and eye contact are a huge part of society. You must make eye contact so people know you are listening. You might nod or shake your head to say yes or no. Even smiling is a visual cue that someone is friendly or happy. And some of these are things that humans have evolved over time for safety and to ensure our species survival. But a lot of what comprises body language varies from culture to culture. No matter the reason, body language is very visual in nature.
So, if we took sight out of the equation, what would society look like? One of my favorite scenes out of all the books I have read, is from A Wrinkle in Timeby Madeleine L’Engle. It is the scene where they land on a planet of creatures with no sight. The creatures never had sight, and evolved their society using their other senses. Unfortunately, this scene did not make it into the movie, but I think it is one of the most thought provoking things I have ever read. What would our society look like without sight?
What would the world look like if disabilities weren’t a factor? The only reason accessibility is a thing, is because the world is not made for the “disabled.” If society was inclusive of all groups, then accessibility would not be needed. If the world, and society were accessible to all, then accessibility would not exist.
I have a friend who is Autistic, and she is a little different from other people. But what makes that difference? Society; society deems that she is different, because she does not fit the social and societal norm. So she is labeled as “disabled.” I am different; I am different from others because I am blind. Therefore, I am labeled as “disabled.” But what really makes us different from others? Our personalities; I am different from my friend, because we are different people with different personalities. We are all different from each other. And I think that if the overall populous could see personalities, rather than just abilities, then the world would become a more inclusive place. Accessibility wouldn’t be needed, because inclusivity would take its place.
But because our world is a sighted, able-bodied place, it becomes essential to have those labels: disabled, blind, deaf, autistic, etc. And if we don’t have those labels, then we don’t get what we need in order to have a successful life. I’ve met parents, teachers, friends and acquaintances, who don’t want to label a disability. Maybe a parent doesn’t want to label their child as autistic; or maybe a teacher wants to be inclusive to their whole class, and so doesn’t want to label one of their students as blind; maybe they are in denial, or think it is best not to point out a disability. But whatever the case, in the world we live in, we need to label those disabilities. If we don’t, we won’t get the services we need to succeed.
If you choose not to label your student as visually impaired, how will they ever know that they need glasses; or need braille; or assistive technology? How will that student ever learn what tools they need to lead a “normal” and successful life? If you are too afraid to label your child as autistic, how will they get the help they need to be successful? Maybe they need specialized services to help them learn eye contact; or maybe they need to go to a specialized school where they can get the help they need that they might not get from a public school. The point is, if you don’t label that child’s disability, they will never learn; they will never grow as a person; they will never become as independent as possible.
Though society dictates what a disability is, we as the “disabled” need that label to succeed. So, own your disability; fight for it! You are just as deserving; just as “normal”; just as important as everyone else on this planet! You are a person just like anyone else. Your disability does not define you. You define your disability! So take the reins; fight for what you need; fight for what you deserve; fight for your independence! Fight, because you are a person! And that alone makes you worth fighting for!
This is me! Hope you enjoyed the read. I love questions, so if you
have any, or just a comment, feel free to email them to
Check out the Blind Abilities Communityon Facebook, the Blind Abilities Page, the Job Insights Support Groupand the Assistive Technology Community for the Blind and Visually Impaired.