Today is International Day of Persons with a Disability (IDPD). The theme for this year is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’ and it aims to promote understanding of disability issues and mobilise the support of dignity, rights and well-being of disabled people in all spheres of society.
Disability is a word that I am not comfortable with. I’ll explain why I feel the way I do. People with “disabilities” or long term health conditions whether visible or invisible are no less able to reach their potential than anyone else. Of course these conditions can be and often are disabling and there is a great need for adaptation in certain circumstances or even changing our understanding of what a realistic potential might be but at the same time, when one is faced with adversity or an obstacle, one adapts and becomes very good at something else.
I have been reflecting on the theme of IDPD for this year. Is our society resilient? Are the rights of those living with a visible or invisible set of differences or health conditions being respected? Is our well-being being considered?
General media and political rhetoric would tend to indicate not and while there has been some progress in certain aspects of disability issues such as the wheelchair vs buggy ruling that took place in the UK in early 2017 and the growth of organisations helping to bring the disability agenda to the forefront, progress in other areas remains stubbornly slow or, in some cases, seems to be moving backwards. Disability hate crimes seem to be on the rise in the UK (although this could be due to better reporting rather than an actual increase) and accessibility to locations or services is still a major problem for so many.
Why do I care about this day so much? Why do I choose this day over any cancer awareness day or anything else? There are three reasons: my arm, cancer and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS).
I was born with my arm and so have always lived with a visible difference. I have been told on numerous occasions that I will never be able to achieve things because people equated my visible disability with inability. Although this perception from others continues to be challenging sometimes it is nothing compared to the challenges I have faced regarding my invisible conditions. There is still a very big perception is society that if we can’t see it, it must not exist.
Being told we are unable to do something due to a visible difference or not having our needs addressed at all due to other conditions being invisible is a clear lack of understanding of disability issues which is leading to a lack of support for our dignity, our rights and having an incredibly detrimental impact on our well-being. This is not good enough.
This year, my focus on the disability agenda has been around trying to break the barriers that people with visible differences and invisible health conditions might have developed due to the rhetoric being used in society and how we perceive ourselves. Essentially, I have been working on self-limiting beliefs by sharing my own journey and using sports as a channels for differently-abled people to see that they have more potential than they realise. However, even when someone learns to overcome their own limiting beliefs, if society does not change, that person is still left with all the accessibility barriers.
Our society is only going to be resilient and sustainable if both the accessibility barriers and self-limiting ones are removed because that is when differently-abled people will be able to truly integrate into society in a way where their dignity and rights are supported and their well-being maintained.
My wish for the future is that if we are going to carry on using the word “disability” that we as a society must disassociate it from inability. Words have power and the only way we will start seeing a change in society is when we change how we are using our words.