This blog now seems to have an audience that is made up of travelers, people with disabilities and parents of kids with special needs/disabilities. This makes sense to me, because, after all, living life in a unique way is something that all three of these groups have in common, right?
We travel to experience the world, for the thrill of the new. We travel to stretch ourselves, learn, have fun, see new things, eat. We travel to change landscapes, push ideologies, see, taste, experience, be.
When we have a disability, we venture forth into the world in a unique way, from different vantage points off the mainstream. Our senses, limbs, organs or thinking are wired up in a way that allows us to live life from a place that not everyone can experience. Living with a disability has much in common with traveling: they are both avenues of experiencing the new, a different way of doing something.
Parents of a Child with a Disability
A parent of child with a disability – or “special needs” as it’s becoming popular to say – is forced to venture forth into this unknown, this different way of doing things by virtue of the fact that their child is on this road. Like it or not, their child is on this path and if they want to help their child or allow their child to be all they can be, they need to learn to travel too.
We’re all on this road together. Some of us chose it. Some of us didn’t. Sometimes it’s framed in more sexy ways than others – “beaches in Baja” sounds way cooler than “brain injury” might, but you know what? In the end, you are sitting there and a butterfly passes you and you swear it winked. Which is to say: Your perspective on this world is going to shift dramatically with either travel or disability and that’s just a fact.
But even for the people that wanted change – the travelers among us – even for them, things can get hard. Culture shock hits, you get to this point in which you want to fling the new food at the wall or scream that you don’t give a shit about cross cultural understanding, or peace, love and ecosystems.
You just want the electricity to WORK, you just want the water to RUN and you want frickin’ wifi ACCESS, is that so much to ask?! Or people to quit pointing at you, quit mocking you, quit treating you like a goddamn walking dollar bill.
So what’s it like then, for the person with a disability? The travelers who travel the world in their body, who experience life in a way that is unique but which they often didn’t choose? It can get hard too – culture, only it’s your OWN culture here – slams you up and kicks you in the face, tells you that you can’t participate, you don’t belong, you can’t work, you are good for nothing but some happy photo of a meme that will get passed around Facebook, you have a “good attitude”.
You just want to WORK, you just want the opportunity to RUN, you want some frickin’ ACCESS, is that so much to ask?! Or people to quit pointing at you, quit mocking you, quit treating you like you are going to cost them a goddam dollar bill.
It ends up being very, very similar, you see.
Far more similar than most people think.
I want people to understand this similarity because I think it will help in understanding how many of us with a disability do not see our disabilities as something bad. Having a disability is a way of experiencing the world, it is my way of traveling, and it’s something that I usually enjoy.
What I do not enjoy, however, is when the world is inaccessible; when the disability equivalent to a broken ATM happens. When I can’t join in a telephone conference call and there are no chat options. When I can’t hear in a classroom and so I have to memorize the textbook and hope it covered everything the lecturer said.
But it’s not my deafness that bothers me. It’s narrow path that the world is currently walking along, one which is simply not necessary, because it’s not hard to make a path wider.
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.