Disabled Does Not Mean Defective (by Andrea Gillam)

Running, walking, talking, dancing, climbing stairs and exercising are just some of the daily physical activities that a lot of us take for granted. We even complain about them occasionally, like when we have to park down town and its two or three blocks from our destination or when we have to do a speech for a class. I know in my Husbands case he complains about having to dance at weddings. However, some of us spend weeks, months and even years learning how to do these so called simple activities. These are people living with different abilities or people with disabilities. What does disabled mean though? Or better yet, what does disabled mean to you?

For many years the word disabled has represented handicapped, crippled, defective (“Disabled.” Def. Rawsons Dictionary, 2002) and other offensive words that belittle the ability of those who need some extra assistance to live the daily lives most of us don’t think twice about. In my high school for example all the differently abled kids where put in a separate hall called HC Hall, which stood for handicapped hall. When I asked the office assistant why that was she said in previous years there were complaints that the able bodied kids were making the ‘handicapped’ kids uncomfortable and vice versa. A web page named The Disability Pavilion (a site about disabilities and how to design an accessible world and what you can do to help) states that ‘Disability is when we are unable to adapt to the world as it is currently designed’ (“What does it mean to have a disability?” Web.) I want to challenge this definition of ‘disabled.’ It’s not the differently abled persons that are the problem; it’s the way our world is designed.

I want to challenge that definition of disabled with a quote from the CBBC Newsround when they covered a story about disabilities with many interviews from differently abled people. It states “Doctors describe disability as having an ‘impairment’ which makes it hard for disabled people to do day to day things. However a lot of people aren’t happy with this description. They say it’s not someone’s impairment that stops them from doing things it’s because the world isn’t set up to include disabled people” (“What does being disabled mean?” Web. 26, Sept., 2007). Take a minute and thing of how many places, things, and areas are not disabled friendly. Our nation strives on every man is equal but we design our world to cater to able-bodied persons. The biggest situation that stands out to me is houses and apartments. How many houses and apartment complexes have wheelchair ramps? Almost none and the ramps you do see are

built by the home owner out of pocket because insurance does not pay for the necessary equipment to make a ramp or pay to have a professional install one.

After volunteering at Shriners Hospital for Children and seeing many differently abled children I decided to interview my volunteer supervisor Danielle. I asked her these questions. After working with Shriners Hospital for Children for the last six years what her definition of disabled was, if she agreed with the Rawsons Dictionary definition and if/how it has changed sense working there. Danielle told me that she does not agree with disabled being associated with crippled, defective or unable. She said her definition would be, “a person that needs special assistance to have a better quality of life whether it’s aid in walking, speaking or hygiene” (Gillam, Andrea. Personal Interview. 20 July. 2013.). She also said that working there for six years has completely changed her definition and perspective on differently abled individuals. She has been able to see children that were two and three and unable to walk or talk when she first met them grow into seven and eight year olds that won’t stop talking or run around the office and their parents have to chase them down. She said, “Seeing these children progress over the years and grow into stunning and inspirational young individuals has been amazing. To an outsider they may seem different but to me they are just like any other child you would see growing up.”

While interviewing Danielle about her opinions and experiences with her position she said something about the physical appearance of differently abled persons that really caught my attention. It made me think, if our world could think the way she does, it would truly be ridden of all the hatred, judgment and unknowingness. She told me, “you know sometime my boyfriend or friend, will point out someone with a disability and I’ll be like, oh yeah, she is in a wheelchair, or she is missing a limb or whatever the disability is because I don’t see disabilities anymore, I just see these children and teens as who they are.” I thought that was so powerful and touching.

After I was lucky enough to meet this wonderful girl (who we’ll call Sarah) on one of my volunteer days, my volunteer supervisor shared a heart melting and inspiring story with me. Sarah was born with multiple Congenital Limb Deficiencies meaning, in her case she was missing her right arm from the elbow down and her right leg from the knee down. While in the process of learning how to live her life with a prosthetic arm and leg she was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that is one of the leading cancers for teens but is usually found with boys. Sarah was experiencing pain in both her shoulder and both her knees. Her doctors assumed it was because of all the use with the prosthetics she was getting, however, as the pain got worse test confirmed it was cancer.

Sarah was able to have a limb-salvage on her right arm and leg but unfortunately had to have both her left arm at the shoulder and leg right below the knee amputated. This leaving her with all four limbs amputated. Now, seven years after having her two limbs amputated, Sarah wears prosthetics on all four limbs. Gladly to say though, Sarah is now in high school and is on the dance team and one of the best dancers at that. When I met her she was coming from a dance practice and was kind enough to show us her dance routine. It was beautiful! Sarah is inspirational because her story is one that if some people had to experience they would give up and feel that they could not do anything, she on the other hand, doesn’t let her different ability to stop her from achieving what she wants.

I want our society to understand what being disabled really means and learn how to help those in need instead of feel pity and shy away from them. I also want to change the representation of crippled and defective. To be defective is to not be perfect, I think I can safely say we call agree that no one is perfect; therefore, we are all defective. We should not pin the word defective or unable on those who use wheelchairs, are amputees, can’t hear or see as well as others, or are mentally unstable. Instead we should be using words like differently abled and we should all take part in changing our world to include disabled persons.

Work Cited

“Disabled” Def. Rawsons Dictionary. PCC Library. Web. 2007.
“What does being disabled mean?” CBBC Newsround. Web. 26 July. 2007.
“What does it mean to have a disability?” The Disability Pavilion.Web.
Gillam, Andrea. Personal Interview.

20 July. 2013.


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