Abilities vs Disabilities

Do you remember the first thought you ever had when you saw a person that was different from you? I love walking and watching the faces of children, as well as their parents when they see someone who is different. Often I laugh at the individuals that are frowning or making a rather scary face, instead of simply saying hello to the person being gawked at. For some reason we like saying that people who are different from what we think is normal are disabled or have a disability. This is another piece of false information that we have been fed most of our lives

When I was a young boy my mother forced me and my siblings to spend time with anyone in the neighborhood that appeared to be having a challenging time doing tasks. This was long before I had ever heard of the term disability. Growing up, I was taught that everyone in our community was the same regardless of their differences or similarities. Interestingly enough, I can remember that the older members had trouble hearing or reading small print. We were taught to immediately jump in to help in any way. I always had 20 questions to ask about any and everything such as, do you want me to read that to you? Or, do you want me to turn the volume up on the television? I can even remember asking Grandma Mae, why do you walk so slow? She wasn’t my grandmother, she was everyone’s grandmother and always looked after us kids when we returned home from school. Our role, for me and my friends was to help to empty or take out the trash, rake the yard of leaves or even wash dishes for those feeling pain in their hands. There were several visually impaired people in our community too, but I swear to this day that their vision was better than most people, especially by the wonderful stories they told us children about the beauty of the world or the spectacular colors of the flowers. They were also able to intuitively ascertain those not to be trusted and would always protect us young ones. Today, I am grateful for their love and care. As a result, we never questioned their abilities for greatness.

When I spoke to people who were considered disabled, they always made me laugh. They would tell me how frustrating it is when so-called non-disabled people see them and jump to conclusions, assuming they know what their disability is and limitations they may be feeling. These people or as I call them, ‘looky loos’, consider themselves disability know-it-alls, not realising that many of them don’t have a clue.

I love watching young children when they see someone who is different. They are curious most of the time, demonstrating pure innocent curiosity, versus the pity adults often display. It a great teachable moment if parents could be open and honest with their children about what is in front of them. Children want to ask questions, but adults often teach that it’s rude to ask a question or to stare while they are showing a twisted face themselves. It’s a reminder that children learn everything from their parents, other adults, or older siblings. However, we expect children to grow up and become a different person, showing love and compassion for others. The next time you are out and see someone in a wheelchair, check out the faces of others staring and feeling sorry for the person out and about enjoying their lives. You may even notice anger in the faces of many that feel that those in wheelchairs are a nuisance and just in the way.

One of the lessons that I have learned in life is not to assume that a person labeled as disabled needs my help. Many of us tend to care too much and will jump in to help a blind person to cross the street. This is considered an insult. If you truly want to help someone, simply treat them the way you would like to be treated. Simply walk up to them and ask, “Do you need any assistance?” They are always honest and will say yes or no. Also, don’t touch people without their permission. Again, would you like a stranger to touch you on the streets?

Over 10 years ago, my mate and partner was diagnosed with throat cancer that changed his life; it changed our lives. After being diagnosed, a laryngectomy was performed. Do you know what it is? Laryngectomy is the removal of the larynx and separation of the airway from the mouth, nose and esophagus. In a total laryngectomy, the entire larynx is removed including the vocal chords. The recovery was sensational. The reaction from others annoy me when I see people of all ages with twisted faces looking confused, which can easily be mistaken as disapproval. It doesn’t bother my mate at all and he is open to explaining to people if they only ask. It’s much easier to inquire or ask a question so that we can become better educated about medical procedures or simply focus on oneself and keep moving.

Several weeks ago I went into surgery to correct a trigger finger. Tenolysis is surgery to remove adhesions from a tendon. Adhesions happens when scar tissue forms and binds tendons to tissue. It is most common on the hands and wrists. After surgery my hand was swollen and heavily bandaged. I was directed to wear a sling most of the time, even while sleeping for at least two weeks. To my surprise, walking around to go shopping at the local market or pharmacy, people on the streets were starring at me as if I was an alien dropping down for a visit from the planet Mars. The expressions on the faces of many made me laugh a lot. Thank goodness for COVID’s gift of beautiful masks to hide my insane laughter and snickering. It was a reminder, once again, of how people with amazing abilities survive in our world.

As we all mature with age, we will notice many changes in the body. Many of my friends are dealing with different forms of arthritis, lower back pain, carpel tunnel, discomfort walking for too long, sleepless nights, vision or hearing loss. Many people have said to me, “Listen, my hearing is not as good as it use to be, can you please speak louder for me?” I have always tended to have a softer tone when speaking. It’s one of the skills I learned early in my life to get others to listen carefully to what is being said.

Robert M. Hensel was born with the birth defect known as Spina bifida. He is also a Guinness World Records holder for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair, covering a total distance of 6.178 miles. As part of setting his record, he raised money for wheelchair ramps throughout Oswego, New York, his hometown.

Mikael Wagner is a communications project manager with focus on health promotion, public relations , marketing and focus group facilitation.