Monday, April 18, 2011

Disability 'is a part of me, but it's not all of me'

I had the privilege of speaking at an education day for Toronto hospital communicators on Friday.

I was asked to speak about writing about people with disabilities.

I spoke about how too often we fall into using value-laden language that either portrays children with disabilities as victims or as heroes -- as somehow 'below' or 'above' the rest of the population, but not as a regular part of 'us.'

Lucy Nyman is a woman with a disability who spoke eloquently about what is was like to grow up with cerebral palsy. She talked about living in two worlds: the world of her family, where she felt respected and whole, and the world of rehab and her segregated school, where the message was: "You're not good enough. You need to be fixed."

She recounted being forced to walk in her underwear back and forth in front of doctors and "being talked about like I wasn't there. You felt like an object being observed." At age 10, Lucy stopped walking, and doctors insisted it was because she didn't want to go to school. "I remember not being believed or accepted. They thought I was making things up."

Lucy talked about how rehab has to be done in a framework of empowerment -- where children are given privacy and choices and feel validated. "It has to be about empowering the individual," she said. "My disability is a part of me, but it's not all of me."

Lucy now works as a peer support coordinator at the Anne Johnston Health Station, a community health centre in Toronto that serves people with disabilities and seniors. I wanted to share her wise words with you.

Thank you Lucy! Louise


That's so insightful thanks for sharing her words and yours. Very valuable.

And thank you for sharing her words with us -- yours were wise as well!

I hope your remarks went well Louise. Will you be sharing a copy of them? They would be great to read.

My 17-year-old is autistic and he went to elementary school in cluster classes. I saw so many parents there who just wanted their kids to accomplish the minimal requirements. They didn't want them to achieve or reach or grow to their potential. They wanted to coddle and protect them from the world. I can see both sides, but I think it's not right to just assume these kids can't do whatever they want to do. Your words are wise.

Louise that was my comment posted as Damon.. you see we have one cherished computer at my house and my boys Damon and James 9 and 10 now have gmail accounts. I went around leaving nice comments under Damon's name yesterday. Silly me.. I went to see a community classroom today .. it was nice but not for my girl and why do they always put these classroom at the back of the school. Ashley came with and made her way there with her walker took quite sometime to get there but I wasn't in a rush. Don't they know kids in these classes sometimes have mobility issue and get great benefit from using their walkers for short distances. Anyways I have no plans to send her there. :)

A beautiful, important reminder. Thank you.