I have always had a disability.
Born with Cerebal Palsy and Marfan Syndrom, a heart condition, I have had disabilities since birth and have never known life any other way.
In a play I have been collaborating on this summer with others with disabilities, one of the questions we asked was, "What, as the disability community, is our untold story?" The answer I gave to this is that we, as a community, are a tapestry of humanity.
Most people with disabilities come in contact with others with disabilities in a variety of ways. Some might find them in rehabilitation hospitals - some might find them in school and special education programs. I happened to find the majority my peers with disabilities through Tellin’ Tales Theatre; A Chicago based mixed ability theatre group I am a part of whose mission it is to shatter the barriers between the abled bodied and disabled worlds. Point being, having a disability makes you a part of the disability community, but everyone’s disability community is different.
Being a part of a community of others with disabilities has always been a huge benefit to me since there seems to be an instant empathy and understanding between us, since we either all have disabilities, or we are allies of those with disabilities. Our untold story, I believe, is huge and complex because it encompasses the history of the disability rights movement that so many people outside of it don’t know.
And of course, we are not just people with disabilities. We have different genders, sexual orientations, nationalities and races. We, like those without disabilities, have our own likes and dislikes, political views, foods we love - foods we hate, and hobbies we engage in. This is why a person can never just be dismissed as just a person in a wheelchair. Our lives and feelings are just as complicated as anyone else’s, maybe even more so.
The disability community both supports and challenges each other. We depend on each other because we know we will not disregard one another. The biggest thing about having a disability is that we learn to see beyond the surface. The boy with cerebral palsy who may not be able to walk or talk and is in a wheelchair is not just that. He's a poet and a deep thinker! And there are lawyers and teachers and countless others in professions whose disabilities may or may not be visible.
I am not just a woman who has a crooked walk and talks funny - although someone who is not an ally or a part of the disability community may not get this impression upon meeting me. I’m a blogger, an actress, and a public speaker.
We, as a community, are people who so many times have been denied opportunities that we’ve had to create our own. And this, I feel, is the benefit of incorporating those with disabilities into every facet of society that is so often missed. We are innovative, forced to find new ways of doing things when the one way that works for everyone else doesn’t fit us. Employers often say they want employees who think outside the box, and no one, if my opinion, is better at that than those who are a part of the disability community.
In looking at the disability community, I believe that in order to truly see it, you have to look at every color in the tapestry. We cannot just be put into a cluster, because every person’s lived experience of disability is different. Every experience we as people with disabilities have, every struggle, which are sometimes humorous and sometimes heart wrenching, tells what we’re capable of, how we adapt and how we survive. It shows all the vibrant colors within the tapestry.