A few months ago, I had the pleasure of guest-posting for Glamour.com on some myths associated with having a disability. What myths do you encounter in your own life that you'd like to squash?
It used to be that people heard the words disability and disabled and handicapped and immediately pictured scenes from those old black-and-white movies: A person bedridden and sickly looking, a blanket covering their frail frame and a round-the-clock nurse for full-time care.
Why? Because it was a simple fact: People with disabilities can't possibly take care of themselves, nevermind contribute anything worthwhile to society.
But times have changed, thank goodness. Well, they mostly have. I have a conversation or an encounter with someone every once in awhile that reminds me that not everyone has completely erased that image of a bed-stricken person from their minds. Sadly, some stereotypes are still circulating like a pesky tabloid rumor, like these:
Myth: We all want sympathy. I was born with Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder. I've had more than 25 surgeries, mostly to correct joint and muscle contractures, and I've seen the white walls and slept in more beds of a hospital far more times than I have the Hilton. But I don't sit around bemoaning my fate. And I certainly don't seek out sympathy every chance I get. I always tell people who ask (I don't bring my disability up in everyday conversation unless someone asks, either) that because I was born with a physical disability, I honestly don't know any different. It's sort of the idea that you can't really miss what you've never had. To me, this life--my life--is normal.
Myth: We don't work. I graduated college with a degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University in 2005. While in college, I worked on my campus newspaper as a copy editor and reporter, and discovered my true passion for writing and journalism. Now, I divide my time between being a newspaper columnist, blogger (my daily blog So about what I said covers my life and search for love with a physical disability). I also blog about my disability for Psychology Today, and am a newspaper adviser at the local community college--the same newspaper where I once served as editor-in-chief. Like any woman in her late ‘20s, my work plate tends to be pretty full, and I'm very thankful for that, especially in today's economy.
Myth: Physically disabled means mentally disabled. I used to get this one a lot when I was a child, and back then, I just didn't understand it. In fact, I still don't. Whenever we'd be out in public, people would ask my parents questions about me when I was right there as if I couldn't speak for myself. It was frustrating, but I suppose people saw my wheelchair and probably assumed my mind was impaired too. They soon learned otherwise when I opened my mouth!
Myth: We're not independent. When I was in first grade, I got my first electric wheelchair. As the story goes, I just kept saying "Thank you" to my parents because I could finally enjoy the childhood independence that I saw my peers experiencing. And now as an adult, besides needing assistance with bathing and getting dressed, I'm actually a pretty low-maintenance woman. Although I can't drive, I can take the bus to and from work, to the grocery store and doctors appointments by myself. It's a sense of freedom I've never taken for granted.
Myth: We don't want/need to have romantic relationships. I explore this topic quite a bit on my blog (in fact, I even write letters to my future husband as a way to dispel the stereotype that women with disabilities are vastly different from the majority of women. When it comes to love and romance, I have the same desires, hopes and dreams that most people do. After my father died in 2003, I remember looking back on my parents' marriage and thinking, "That is the kind of love I want someday. The deep and unconditional kind." My disability hasn't changed that. It hasn't made me any less of a woman, and I think people (especially guys) tend to forget that sometimes.
Let me just say this: We aren't disabled people. We're people with disabilities. People who lead full, enriching lives, have careers they love (I can't imagine being anything but a writer) and have families of their own. For a long time, especially when I was younger, I yearned to just be "normal." But not so much anymore. In fact, not at all. I look at all my surgical scars now and see them not so much as a reminder of a painful past, but of how far I've come, and of all the strength each one of those scars has given me. Besides, we all have scars, whether they're visible to the eye or not. Me? I'd rather stand out then blend in with the crowd.