One of the main annoyances of being disabled is being treated as 'different' or, even worse, as 'special'.

Let's look at this…

What's Unusual about being Disabled?

By Andy Berry

This is a complicated article with several strands. I've tried to keep it simple. You'll probably need to read it more than once unless you are disabled. Then it will just say what we all feel. A perfect example of where being disabled is enabling!

One of the first things to say is: 'what is being disabled?' I could give the dictionary definition, the World Health Organisation definition or even various social services benefit qualification statements. They'd all exclude some people who are obviously disabled and include some who are not.

So, there's my first strand. It's difficult to define disability so how can we be different? Different from what?

But, there's clever qualification in most definitions - they include the idea that disability is permanent. That's the clue to my second strand - I'd say that every single human being has periods of disability.

These can be short - the hung-over morning after the night before; slightly longer - the effects of a cold; longer still - if you break a leg; or very long - if you have what is generally known as a disability.

I hope you can see the circular argument in that - that you are disabled if you have a disability. I'm delighted to say that's what you get once you try to unravel this. Delighted? Yes - it too makes disability a meaningless idea.

Oh, just in case you think these periods of temporary disability don't happen often, I did some research. In the UK, over 15% of people have what are known as musculo-skeletal conditions in any one year.

A stark implication of this is that nearly everyone has personal experience of disability. It's not something that happens to other people - it's probably already happened to you. It implies that everyone will, at some point, benefit from the meagre provisions that society makes for people with disabilities.

If I can digress, I was a member of a committee working with the rail industry. There was a member who 'jumped on the bandwagon' whenever I asked about lifts and so on. She always said "and it will help Mums pushing pushchairs". She was, in effect, saying that stairs disable Mums pushing pushchairs. So, anyone can be disabled by circumstances.

That's another thread, isn't it? It's just circumstances that make you disabled. You can be disabled in one situation and not in another. Take the Internet - you're reading this with no idea whether I am a wheelchair user or whether I've just come in after a ten-mile jog.

Now, if I start making spelling mistakes, you might assume that they were typing mistakes and that I am disabled. But it's equally likely that I'm too lazy to use a dictionary, that I didn't like school or, indeed, any one of a whole long list of reasons. You see, treating someone as disabled can be an excuse to see the condition and ignore the person.

There's yet another thread. This one starts by saying that people with disabilities are but near one end of a spectrum of human ability. That goes from I don't know what through to the fittest Olympic runner or a Rhodes scholar. But again, it's just circumstances that makes the ability to run fast or reason convincingly into what people regard as 'special'.

I tried hard to think of another word there. 'Special' is a funny word, isn't it? It means 'different' by a different name! Oh, did you notice my deliberate mistake - I said 'near one end'. That's rubbish - most people with a disability have abilities that are near the norm. We aren't special at all - just a little different in one or two areas.

I could go on like this, debunking one aspect of disability after another. What's the point? We know what we feel like inside ourselves - we're exactly the same as everyone else.

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Any Comments?

I'm really keen to hear what you think of this.  Please email any comments to: andy@tof.co.uk