Thursday, February 24, 2011

Disability Participation Can Be Boring

Today we have another guest post from Carl Thompson who writes the blog Working at Perfect. I first got chatting with Carl after he commented on the Weddings and Wheelchairs blog post, agreeing that it's great to see images of people with disability doing "normal" things. This post has kept me thinking on that point... Enjoy!

Carl Thompson
This post is about the concept of participation, and I am writing it for February's Disability Blog Carnival, held on the 25th. In its simplest form, participation means undertaking activities, often with others. This isn't an English lesson though, so instead I want to talk about what participation means for me in the context of my disability.

This is an extremely important topic for people with disabilities, as all too often doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and the media focus far more attention on what we can't participate in or do, as opposed to what we can. On the rare occasions where people with disabilities are portrayed in the media, it is almost always an inspirational story telling of someone rising to the insurmountable challenges they face, or overcoming great adversity - you know the stuff, the brave disabled doctor with six PhD’s, or the mountain climber with no arms who has scaled Everest solo.

So this is going to be a bit of a letdown, but what I participate in is pretty boring. Maybe boring is not quite the correct term, but definitely nothing out of the ordinary. I go to work, come home and sit at the computer for far too long. I also eat and drink, occasionally in places outside my own home! I have friends, they visit me and I visit them. We talk about movies and TV shows. Get drunk, play games and drink coffee.
Are you bored yet? I know I am, but I'm trying to prove a point. People with disabilities can be amazing, and can participate in activities which most people would think were impossible. But these utterly interesting people, like everyone else in the world, are the exception and not the rule.

Unfortunately, in addition to the pedestal that disabled people are often placed upon with regards to achieving amazing things, the opposite is also true. For instance, many people are amazed that I have a bachelor degree from University. Others are also genuinely impressed that I go to work, and shock horror, that I actually get paid for it! This is a revelation to these people, as they finally realise that I'm not a token disabled volunteer, and that I actually like money and higher education.

Why do people think this about disabled people? Is it really that amazing? What about the tens of thousands of able-bodied people who earn their degrees every year? Or the millions of Australians who work every day? What I'm saying is that many people mistakenly perceive my participation in everyday activities to be something out of the ordinary, when really, there isn't all that much people my age participate in other than going to university, drinking beer and starting work.

I'm not an inspiration - I'm not a prodigy, a miracle, or a Paralympian. I'm just a dude who rants on the Internet who happens to be disabled.

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