I’ve come to realize that sometimes, I have to look at things in a different way.
Recently, I experienced what is known as ableism. I was asked why I was taking the elevator when everyone else was taking the stairs. “It’s just four flights of stairs, Jamieson.” They said. “You don’t have to be so lazy.”
I laughed it off and briefly explained that going down stairs is almost impossible for me as that relies on my balance and co-ordination. I can do it, but it’s difficult. They nodded, but I could tell they didn’t get it. I could see it in their eyes, that they were just agreeing with me so that they could change the subject.
I came home and realized that the comment was still bothering me. I wasn’t angry, not really. I realized that it was acceptance of something I had long denied: that the world is made for the able bodied.
Before this, I had never really considered myself disabled. Now, I know that I am disabled and that I carry a disease; I live with my cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis every day. However, I do everything I want to do, it just takes me a little while.
Having someone call me lazy because I took the elevator was like a slap in the face. That wasn’t the only occurrence, though. While out and about the other day, I had no choice but to go down a flight of stairs. I did so, holding on to the railing. A man saw me and asked, “What’s wrong with your legs?”
“I’m disabled,” I said quietly. It felt odd to say that word, but it was the quickest way to get the man to understand. “I have multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.”
“Shit.” He said. “That’s worse. I just thought you were injured.”
This brought home something for me. It had never occurred to me that I “looked” disabled, that my walk could make it that evident that there was something wrong with me. I had always assumed that my walk was fine, that it even passed for someone who wasn’t disabled.
This, paired with the elevator incident, really made me stop and think about who I am and what I carry inside me. I always try to avoid the term disabled and even go so far as using the term “differently abled”, referring to the fact that I lived beyond my disability.
I stopped and thought about it and have been doing so for the past week. In the end, I’ve come to the following realization: the disabled people that I know are some of the most amazing people I know. They live despite limitations, boundaries or borders that they face. They live when there are challenges, they face every day, be it doors, walkways, roads or transit that was not made for them but instead for our able-bodied brethren.
Yes, I live in a world made for others, created for those that can walk with no issues or no limitations. Yes, I live in a world that often doesn’t stop to consider what disabled people have to go through every day, just to live their lives.
And yet, they do so with courage and verve. They do so because they know of no other way. They do so because they want to live and to prove to all those people who tell them that they can’t that, in fact, they can. They are some of the most amazing people I know. They own their disabilities completely.
And I am one of them.
I wear my disability openly on my skin and within my bones. You can’t see my disease but it’s there. I live with a physical disability and a disease and I am proud of who I am. I am proud of everything that I accomplish.
So today, I tell you this: my name is Jamieson and I’m disabled and fabulous.
And I fucking sparkle.