Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How a tattoo made my disability cool

By Tim Rose

Hi there! My name’s Tim and I have a disability. But this article is not just about living with that disability, or about how it impacts my life. It's about the importance of celebrating disability and how it has led to very good things for me. It's also about some ink that I wear with pride on my arm.

Before going further, let me introduce myself more fully. I was fortunate enough to be born with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia. Growing up, I used to get frustrated with the limitations that my disability put on me. I couldn’t play sports, I couldn’t stay up past my parents’ bedtime and I couldn’t always play how I wanted to play. For years, these limitations bugged me. But then something clicked in my head: I needed to embrace my difference, not let it beat me. No matter how frustrated I got, it was a part of my life and it was up to me to make it cool. I did it with a tattoo.

Yup, almost five years ago I decided to embrace my disability by getting the blue wheelchair emblazoned on my right arm in permanent ink. I had talked about it for years as a way to deal with some of the challenges that my disability posed. Not only did it look awesome, but it made me feel like I was taking ownership of my difference. Yeah, my body is different from most, but that difference is not something to hide from. When I did it, I wrote a blog that has today inspired me to revisit what it meant to me.

You will be happy to know that, all these years later, I still love it. In fact, I love it for so many more reasons than I did when I first had it etched into my pasty arm (beyond the obvious that it looks great). For a start, the day I got my tattoo was the day I met the amazing woman who is now my wife. For another, it represents my disability positive career turn. I now run a business called Disability Positive Consulting where I help businesses, schools and health workers look beyond deficits and gain a new appreciation for what it is to live with disability. My tattoo reminds me every time I glance at it why I’m doing what I’m doing. Lastly, it has been a huge confidence boost for me and the way I embrace my difference.

When I first did it, I talked about how it helped me define my disability. Here is a snippet from that original post:

And so my tattoo is my way of taking control of my disability and my identity. I am branded now, not by society, by my own choice. My disability does not define me, I define it. My physical limitations are most certainly still here, but I have grabbed my disability and made it a trait to embrace. The tattoo, to me, represents a very true part of me. Yes I have a disability, but on my own terms.

In reading this over again, I'm struck at how this was the seed for me to begin to think positively about disability. It was the step I needed to take to start this amazing road that I’m on. As I look at the tattoo now, I feel that same empowerment and strength, it’s just reached a new level. I have now devoted my career, and taken the leap as an entrepreneur, in large part thanks to that tattoo and the way that it freed me.

Let me be clear that I'm not saying to be “disability positive” you have to have it inked in your skin. But whatever you draw empowerment from, hold on to it and celebrate it. Whether it is a family member, a movie or even a particularly hot article of clothing, embrace the feeling that it gives you. It just so happens that my mark is a tattoo. Remember, having a disability does not mean your life cannot be filled with awesome experiences. I had struggles, in fact I still do, but I also have a lot of opportunities because of my disability. It’s okay to get frustrated, but hold on to whatever you have that makes you feel good.

Photo by Jamieson Dean

Tim Rose is a Toronto-based disability activist, writer and speaker who believes in celebrating disability in all its forms. Driven by this idea, Tim founded Disability Positive Consulting, an innovative business to promote positive ideas around disability in businesses, schools and communities. 


Sad the article didn't include a picture of your cool ink

Hello Tim,

Gotta say very cool article. The idea of embracing disability on your own terms needs ought to be more popular. Congrats!

Terri-Lynn Langdon

I am under the impression that this tattoo, and Tim Rose's attitude are simply awesome! -- Inspiring in the least.