A person “happens to have” small and inconsequential things.
Like, they “happen to have” a propensity for chocolate milk, they “happen to have” a love of power ballads. Maybe they “happen to have” freckles.
You don’t “happen to have” something that will affect every aspect of your life, like Down syndrome does.
You just HAVE IT.
You have a disability, you have the presence of absence of a motor function, hearing or sight. You don’t “happen to have” muscular dystrophy, spina bifida or cerebral palsy.
My daughter does not “happen to have” Down syndrome
She has Down syndrome.
The extra copy of the 21st chromosome is reflected in every aspect of who she is: it’s in the curve of her ear, her nose, her stature, her eyes; it’s in her learning style, her desire to run and never stop.
It’s in her metabolism, her speech; it’s in her hair, her scalp, her bowels, her expressions.
Down syndrome is a fundamental part of who she is, and this is the thing: there is nothing wrong with that!
I think when people say that someone with a disability just “happens to have” that disability, they are saying to pay attention to the whole of the person and to not pay too much attention to their disability.
But disability is an intrinsic part of those of us who have one.
Disability makes us who we are, it guides the framework upon which we experience our lives.
I’m deaf; it affects all of my relationships, it affects my employment, my opportunities; it affects how people see me and how they treat me. It fundamentally affects my entire life, so there is no “happen to have” deafness with me, it’s not inconsequential!
So what we need to shift our language to is that having a disability is a natural part of the human experience.
We are not broken.
We don’t need fixing.
We are fine the way we are.
Down syndrome affects everything about my daughter; it’s part of who she is.
She happens to have a love of chocolate milk, power ballads, and she happens to have freckles (which are ridiculously adorable).
And she HAS Down syndrome.
And that’s just fine by me.