This is an essay I wrote for school that I wanted to share. Check it out and let me know what you think!
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 49.7 million American citizens are disabled. Of these, 15.2 million people have a “severe functional limitation”, also known as a physical disability. Your initial response to this may be something along the lines of, “Oh, poor dears! I don’t know how they survive with all the trouble they must go through!” I can tell you, this is completely the wrong way to look at this issue. How do I know? I was born with a disability called spina bifida, which made it so I can’t walk. Since I was two years old, I’ve used a wheelchair to get around. I’ve gotten my share, and perhaps more, of a wide spectrum of reactions from people. Most of these reactions fall under the smaller spectrum of pity. I’ll give you the worst and best ends of this scale.
One end of this spectrum, the most irritating for me personally, is what I call the “Doom and Gloom” reaction. This is when someone sees that I’m in a wheelchair and rushes up to me. They’re usually a little teary-eyed by the time they reach me, and this person begins to give me a heartfelt, though slightly pathetic, monologue. They tell me how very sorry they are that my life is so hard and that they know that there’s no way that they could live with this. They say that they wish they had half the strength I have.
There are a couple reasons why this reaction irks me. First, these people, though they are addressing me, are only really talking about themselves. It’s all “I’m so sorry that you have to go through this!” and “I don’t know how I could survive in your situation!” These people are talking to me, but it’s all really about them. Second, these people don’t understand that, honestly, I’m not strong. Yes, I am living with a disability that is a huge pain sometimes, but I am not the strong one. God is the only strength I have. If I didn’t have Him, I know I would be in my room sobbing about 80 percent of the time. In short, to quote one of my favorite songs, “Tomorrow’s Song” by Cutter Gage, “I am weak, but God is strong!” It’s because of Him that I can manage everyday life.
It’s on the opposite end of this spectrum that we find the right reaction. This is what I call the “Empower” reaction. This is when someone sees that I’m in a wheelchair and walks up to me. They’re usually smiling when they reach me. This person doesn’t launch into a long speech, they say only one sentence, “I can imagine that life is hard for you, but you can get through this,” and then they walk away.
This reaction is the right one for so many reasons. These people are addressing and encouraging me, without mentioning themselves. They are acknowledging that life is hard, but they are also giving me hope that I can do it. There is one thing that everyone can learn from these people.
People who live with a disability don’t need or want to be pitied. We don’t want to be told that our life is terrible, because we are trying to overcome the obstacles. Being pitied doesn’t help us overcome. Being empowered, being told that we can do anything if we try, that’s what helps us overcome and really live. Above all, that’s all we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to live life to the fullest.