Today I was at a meeting for disabled people who are involved in User Led Organisations, it was run by the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People. We were there to talk about the problems we face in running organisations, businesses and groups, to see if there is more that can be done.
The thing that was most apparent to me was that we all felt that we had to be better, better than everybody else to make up for the fact that we are disabled. The world sees us as just that, disabled, un-able and for many of the people sitting round the table, the interpretation is that we have to pretend to be just like everyone else to be taken seriously and get ahead. We have to work harder, smarter and stronger than everyone else and hide any sign that our disability affects us, for fear that we are seen as less than.
As I sat there looking round the table at these incredible, inspiring people, I wondered why did we have to feel like we weren’t good enough as we were? Why couldn’t we see our disabilities as strengths and not weaknesses. Each one of us has fought with determination to reach our goals and overcome the obstacles of both health, social and economic barriers. We’ve found ways to live with conditions like loss of sight, hearing and mobility, battling daily pain and suffering, to get where we are.
If “normal” people have a resume of skills that they have obtained through education and courses, why isn’t there a similar way to calculate the skills obtained through life experience? Why is the person with a degree seen as more skilled than a person that has lived through decades of ill-health or disability? Yes they may know more factual information and have gained knowledge; but what about the knowledge you gain from handling doctors, negotiating your way round the health system, dealing with prejudice and misunderstanding in the wider world? Patience, strength, courage, bravery, determination, hope, resourcefulness – all skills learnt on the job, so to speak. To me they are as valuable and certainly more practical in the real world.
I wish for a world where we can be proud of who we are and what we have been through. Where we don’t feel like we have to apologise for our disabilities; but can tell people honestly without the fear of judgement. That it would actually be seen as something to respect and not pity.
That’s what I wish for.