According to doctors and the majority of the population, I am disabled because I am missing limbs. However, disability is much harder to define than that. There are legal definitions.
The best known is the ADA’s, which defines any physical or mental impairment that limits at least one major life activity as a disability. But other regulations differ—under the Social Security Disability Insurance program, you need to be limited to the point of being unable to work. Different states have different barriers and metrics when it comes to measuring disability for parking permits or accommodations. And what counts as a “reasonable accommodation” by an employer is surprisingly hazy, which makes it a challenge to effectively argue an ADA discrimination case. Now, I was always told that I have a disability.
So technically it is true – if I didn’t have prosthetic legs to walk, I would be limited in movement. In other words, I have a visual disability – where everyone can see it.
But am I REALLY that disabled?
I live a normal life. I went to school. I am married with a baby on the way. I’ve ran a marathon. I socialize with friends. I have a full time job, etc. And for the most part I don’t feel disabled. Yes, I have to adapt to things. But I am not disabled, because I don’t feel disabled. Instead, I feel like I am more abled, because I have more challenges to accomplish on a daily basis. However, when people come up to me and ask me what happened, I do feel disabled. Strangers don’t ask others personal questions. Or they might give me thumbs up on a run, while not saying anything to the other runners, then yes, I do feel disabled. They are cheering for me because I am running on my prosthetic legs and no other reason! That’s why I love to wear pants in public, because I don’t have people staring at me or calling me an inspiration. They don’t know and can’t see my “disability.” I am just like everyone else.
But sometimes I DO FEEL disabled.
It is like when I can’t wear heals because my prosthetic feet can’t move a certain way. I feel disabled when I am at the beach, and I have to walk on my knees and people stare at me and possibly feel sorry for me. I feel disabled when I am in public and everyone notices my prosthetic legs and curiously stares at me. I feel extremely disabled then.
But what about those people that look “normal” but have some sort of illness or condition? Are they disabled, or are they just normal people with illnesses or conditions. I know a person who has a condition that isn’t visual, but it is debilitating. This person isn’t able to have the full function of an able-bodied person, but looks completely normal and you wouldn’t know they are “disabled.”
There’s no right answer of what disability is.
The moral of this blog is to treat everyone equally with kindness, love and compassion. Don’t assume that there’s no disability just because you can’t see it, and likewise don’t assume there’s a disability because you do see it.