When people say that they don’t associate the word “disability” with me or with Moxie, I think they mean it as a compliment. It certainly has that tone. “I don’t think of you as having a disability!”
I’m not insulted by these statements. I sense the love for us behind the words, I don’t take it personally.
But it’s not really okay.
Because, you see, we do have a disability. Moxie has Down syndrome and I am deaf and I have PTSD and TBI. Moxie has already had intense discrimination leveled at her despite her being only 4 years old. Indeed, her very name was chosen on the basis that she had already earned it by the time she was born.
And I have been fired from jobs for not being able to hear. I have had a very difficult time with school, relationships, self-esteem and life in general on the basis of my disabilities.
I am intelligent. So is Moxie. I have a decent education. Moxie will too. I can walk, so can my daughter. And we both have a particular way of hearing, perceiving, thinking and feeling that readies us for a lifetime of discrimination and prejudice. We are both prime candidates for being sexually and emotionally abused. In my case, I was; in Moxie’s case, I’ll give my life to ensure she remains safe.
We both have a disability.
At this point in my own sojourn on earth, I am proud of the fact that I myself have a disability, and it is part of my identity. I look back on my past and view struggles that I have had by dint of my (lack of) hearing or the way that I think or feel and I know I’ve done well. Not despite my disability; I’ve done well because of my disability.
Which is to say: I have always wanted to experience life fully – the good, the bad, the full spectrum.
There is no way I would ever have experienced life to the extent that I have were it not for my disability. I would never have known how it is to be discriminated against, the way that prejudice feels when it’s aimed at you. I wouldn’t have developed the tools that I employ daily. I wouldn’t have become as intuitive, observant and perceptive as I have, had I not been disabled.
Our having a disability is not an assessment of our ability
It’s merely a statement of fact in the way that we think, hear and feel. No more, no less.
So instead of saying “I don’t think of you as having a disability!”, you might want to say something more along the lines of, “and you have a disability.” It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something that I’ve overcome. It’s not something that is meant to inspire. It’s like the color of my skin, the curl in my hair; it’s simply a part of who I am.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.