Three Pages in the Trash

Posted: August 28, 2008 in Disability Deliberations


By Mark E. Smith

If you told me of all of the complications of your disability – physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, economically – and I simply replied, “So what?” would you be offended?

In fact, I give this very response to my friends – and, more importantly, myself – every day when it comes to the challenges of living with disability: You and I have disability hardships, so what?

No, I’m not insensitive or crass or jaded. Rather, I simply know that when it comes to viewing our disabilities, often simply saying to ourselves so what? is a key to success, a game-changing move that allows us to accomplishing our goals.

This summer, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a 21-year-old young lady with very severe cerebral palsy. She’s unable to speak or use her limbs in any way, but with slight moves of her head, she’s able to operate a communication board, as well as operate a power wheelchair. As you might imagine, however, both tasks are very intensive for her, where communicating a single word can take literally one minute, and operating her wheelchair is a constant stop-and-go procedure. Still, beyond her communication device and power wheelchair, she has no other physical abilities whatsoever, and requires full-time care. In fact, she’s what some in the clinical community might call “locked in,” meaning that she has no natural way of expressing her needs to the outside world.

Yet, what might surprise some is that my friend attends college and has a part-time job – just like many 21-year-olds.

Now, don’t feel embarrassed if you’re wondering how someone with such a severe disability – “locked in,” in many ways – attends college and holds down a part-time job? After all, maybe you’ve attended college or certainly worked, so you know the physical, social, and interactive demands required; or, maybe you are profoundly disabled and can’t imagine going to college or working. Therefore, you might logically be wondering, how does someone like my friend with such a severe disability accomplish such seemingly enormous goals despite her condition?

By saying so what? – that’s how. We can make a list three pages long why college and employment should be impossible for my friend – she can’t speak, has no control over her body, can’t feed or toilet herself, and so on. But, to each one, she’ll tell you the same response: So what?

And, I agree with her – so what? No, I’m not surprised that she attends college and works despite severe disability – lots of us with disabilities have done that, as we should. However, what impresses me is that at such a young age, she’s put into practice a key to success: Accepting full accountability as she lives with her disability, unwilling to use it as an excuse in any way, avoiding playing the victim role, saying to herself, so what if I have a disability?

Sure, my friend could have easily dived headfirst into victimhood at some point, making a three-page list of reasons why she couldn’t attend school or work: I can’t speak. I can’t move my limbs. I can’t feed myself. I can’t toilet myself. My cerebral palsy prevents me from doing what I want and dream. And, as a society, we’d never argue with that reasoning.

However, there’s no accountability in such thinking, is there? The minute that we look at disability as happening to us – where we make a list of excuses why we can’t rise to its challenges – we live in defeat. It’s not my fault that I can’t attend college or work – I have cerebral palsy. It’s victim thinking at its best – and it serves no one.

Yet, my friend completely avoids victim thinking by viewing her disability as of her, not happening to her, and that’s a vital distinction, where the mindset of I have cerebral palsy – so what? allows her to simply move forward. It’s common sense that the minute that when we shift our thinking from the victimhood of why me? to the accountability of so what? – I’m moving forward despite disability our lives open to progress and accomplishment.

Often when it comes to the presumed limiting factors of our disabilities, they’re based almost entirely on our own negative thinking – our embracing victimhood – instead of valid barriers. Sure, we could all play the victim, make our own three-page list of how our disabilities limit our potentials – and, we could check off every box as yet another reason why we can’t pursue our goals or live up to what we should achieve, why we’re casualties of disability. Heck, we could even get everyone from family to doctors to society to sign off on that tragic list, validating why we can’t do something we should be doing, acknowledging why we deserve to feel robbed, defeated, and depressed.

At some point, though, if we’re going to fully live up to our potentials – and, most importantly, move our lives forward – we must assume full accountability for how we live with disability, and throw our three pages of disability excuses in the trash, just as my friend has done, where victim thinking is replaced by accountability, where we pronounce to ourselves, I have a disability – so what? and just get on with life.

Comments
  1. […] first is a link to self-professed ‘Wheelchair Junkie‘ Mark E. Smith’s blog, who responds to any sympathy-inducing questions around the […]

  2. Jamie says:

    I love this post! It’s easy to play the victim but that definitely doesn’t get us very far. It’s all about attitude

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