I took a long time to work out I had a disability.
Of course, I could see I was right hand-less, but because I grew up in an environment – at home and school – believing that I could do anything, I had no reason to believe that I had a disability.
That is obviously a great positive, and I have written before that I am better for it.
But let me tell you about what I have missed out on and how this ties in to the importance of International Day of People with Disability that is being celebrated today (3rd December).
Earlier this year, I interviewed an American who surfs with a prosthetic leg while he was in Australia encouraging other amputees to take up the sport. We were making conversation off-camera about how important it was to get such a group together for occasions like this, not just to give them a chance to try something new, but to give them the opportunity to meet other amputees.
The chance to bond over having less limbs than the average showoff, seems bizarre and perhaps even cruel, but in truth the opportunities to exchange personal experiences or disability knowledge, is very niche and not common to the public.
Unless I missed the memo, I never had the chance to associate with someone my age, with my circumstances growing up.
We are currently in an environment where technology is advancing exponentially and has amazing benefits for people with disabilities.
To share experiences as amputees, what prosthesis or technologies we use, or how we might complete common tasks can be valuable information. Even a sense of solidarity where you can sympathize (or laugh) at particular mishaps is priceless.
And this applies to all disabilities as well.
When I was 25, I was at an annual disability expo in Sydney where I came across the Australian Paralympic Committee. It was after the 2012 games in London and I was asking about how many of the amputee-athletes were lifting weights at the gym because I was limited at what I could do. Not only because I don’t have the ability to grip, but my right arm is a lot shorter so it was putting extra strain on my back.
They suggested I talk to a prosthetist about getting fitted for a prosthetic.
I haven’t looked back – at the gym, around the house, and even more sports that I can participate without the threat of injuring myself. I would never have known about this unless I spoke to people who had been there and done it.
Going to mainstream schools, having non-disabled friends and being treated as such, meant that I missed out on the chance to participate in disability sports, or discover adaptations to play musical instruments.
Don’t get me wrong – I am so grateful for my upbringing and childhood.
But I now have a great hope and desire that young amputees are accepted by their peers, like I was, but also come to know their disability earlier than I did.
That is why I believe International Day of People with Disability is important for the disabled and those without disabilities.
Several groups make public statements today and share both the trials and the successes of PwD. In countries like Australia and the United Kingdom, the focus is rightly on creating inclusive workplaces and societies.
The message is clear and obvious. All of us in schools, offices and on the street must take up the challenge of becoming more inclusive of the needs of all people.
But on this day as well, it is also beneficial for people with disabilities to realize they are also “part of a pretty great club” if they want to identify that way.
It doesn’t have to be derogatory, and it can be just as empowering.
No two disabilities are the same, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t scope to learn what others do, share our own disability knowledge and inevitably become better people with our disability.
Happy International Day of People with Disability!