We’ve been talking a lot around on the whole ‘overcoming’ thing. Overcoming disability! Overcoming having no legs! Overcoming having one arm and only one arm! Overcoming deafness!
Overcoming this, overcoming that. But always overcoming things related to disability – that is, overcoming something that is different from how the mainstream will think, walk, talk, feel, see, hear and so forth.
And it kind of drives me crazy!
Let’s see, a typical little ditty on the overcoming theme goes like this,
- John overcame his leglessness and CLIMBED MOUNT EVEREST!
- or… Mary tries hard to overcome her Down syndrome and is such a joy to be around; she inspires everyone!
- or.. Overcoming his birth defect of having only HALF AN ARM, Charlie became a prize fighter!
- and… Ben overcame his blindness and became a PROGRAMMER!
I challenge you here:
Take the disability components out and replace them with race. With being black. Right now. Like this:
- John overcame being black and CLIMBED MOUNT EVEREST!
- Mary tries hard to overcome being black and is such a joy to be around; she inspires everyone!
- Overcoming his birth defect of having DARK SKIN, Charlie became a prize fighter!
- Ben overcome his being black and became a PROGRAMMER!
Do you see how completely ridiculous this is? At all?
Okay, well let’s try replacing it with being a woman. Like this:
- John overcome being a woman and CLIMBED MOUNT EVEREST!
- Mary tries hard to overcome being a woman and is such a joy to be around; she inspires everyone!
- Overcoming her birth defect of being A WOMAN, Charlie became a prize fighter!
- Ben overcame her being a woman and became a PROGRAMMER!
It *IS* ridiculous, isn’t it?
And I think some of you are going to come right back at me with stuff like, “but being black isn’t at all the same as having a disability” – but you know what? It’s not the same but it IS comparable. Because in this here United States of America in the now of 2013, they remain among most discriminated against groups. It IS harder to reach success in the US if you are black and that is a truth. The absolute same can be said for being a woman. It IS harder to reach success in the US if you are a woman and that is a truth.
It IS harder to reach success in the US if you have a disability and that is also a truth.
So then some of you are going to say, ‘oh but climbing Mount Everest! That’s something to be celebrated!’ – and I say, HELL YES! Baby, that’s something to disco dance to, AB-SO-LUTE-LY!
But you don’t overcome disability to do it.
You are using what you have to do it.
You are taking what you have and you are reaching for your vision. You are grabbing life by the balls with whatever grasp-able tools you have – be it your hand, your feet, your stylus, your eye laser – you are grabbing life! You are doing what you want, you are making your mark on the field of dreams.
And that deserves to be celebrated – as all effort in that direction does.
But you are not overcoming disability – you are using your tools.
What you are overcoming – if anything – is something or someone telling you that you can’t do it. You are overcoming societal resistance, overcoming prejudice and discrimination.
When I became a Japanese translator for a brief moment in time, it wasn’t about me overcoming my deafness to be a translator. I’m sure it was more difficult for me to be a translator than it would be for someone else who isn’t deaf and has to rely so much on lipreading – but – and you have to remember this, okay – I don’t know what it’s like to have perfect hearing. I don’t know what it’s like to hear everything and not rely on lipreading. I am simply always using what I have. I can lipread like there is no tomorrow – I am fierce! – and I use it and I can do it. The people who hired me as a translator? They DID NOT KNOW I AM DEAF. I doubt they would have hired me if they had known! It’s kind of laughable: “deaf woman orally translates Japanese to English and English to Japanese”
– and would I be “overcoming” my deafness?
NO! I was using my tools.
Let’s make this be about accomplishment, about vision, determination. About persistence, drive, about having a little moxie. About not listening to the naysayers or people who want to stick you in some little box and close the lid on you (- and that doesn’t help them either so I never understood why people want to do that). Let’s make this about the world around us, about effective tools, about vision and dreams.
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.