I don’t often feel as if I live in an able-bodied world.
I know that we do. There isn’t much that is made with people who are disabled in mind. Those who aren’t disabled don’t have to think about anything, and why should they? They have enough to worry about.
I was out and about today as I was doing an all-day event. One of the first activities was a scavenger hunt. I was hesitant about being around so many people, but we were outside, and I kept my mask on most of the time, so I wasn’t worried. I was looking forward to a day of fun and simple pleasures, seeing people that I hadn’t seen in over two years.
From the moment we set off to follow our clues around Ottawa’s downtown core, I fell behind. Everyone else on my team walked faster than I did, and they rarely looked back to see where I was. I had to walk quickly to catch up to them. When I walked fast enough, I was able to walk with my team. I was frustrated but didn’t have enough time to reflect on how that made me feel.
At one point during the scavenger hunt, my group made their way down a huge, curved hill. Knowing myself and my body as I do, I knew that if I had attempted it, I would have fallen as I have no balance when it comes to anything slanted. I need something to hold to like a railing to be able to keep my balance.
“Is everyone okay to go down this hill?” Someone in my group asked. It was a hard pass from me and someone else who was wearing wedge sandals. We took the stairs down. I can’t do down very well with stairs either and tend to lose my footing. There was no railing, but there was a pointy fence that I could hang onto, thank goodness. It was safer to worry about losing my balance on the stairs than it was to tackle the hill.
We finished the scavenger hunt and ended up down in the market where we were set free to go for lunch. After we all met up at Majors Hill Park with our food. That was fun as I was able to talk with people I hadn’t seen in a long time, so there was some joy in the day.
I was worried for two reasons: the ground is uneven, making it difficult for me to walk if I’m not taking my time. Even when I did, there were a few instances where I lost my balance and had to right myself.
That, and there are no washrooms around.
Before the multiple sclerosis made itself known, I had a pretty small bladder. Now, with the MS, I have a near constant need to urinate. With no washroom in sight, I had to miss an afternoon activity so that I could go and find a washroom.
While I walked away from the group to find a washroom, I could reflect on what I was feeling. I was frustrated and for a moment, I thought that I was weak because I could be undone by such simple things. Then I held on to that thought. I know in my heart of hearts that I’m not weak, not by any stretch of the imagination. I know that. I often struggle against what I see as the limitations of my body. For a time, I used the term differently abled instead of disabled, but that implies that I am different from other people. I am different from anyone else, being a unique individual, but over time the term differently abled seemed to separate myself from others.
However, in those small moments, I always take a moment to picture myself on an island. I stand on this small mound of stand in the ocean and wonder what I want to fill my island with. I could be angry, I could lose my temper, but then what would that solve? I was the only disabled person amongst the group that I knew of and there’s no reason that the other people there or the organizers should take my disabilities into account.
I often struggle with simple things, so this time was no different. There have been a few outings that I’ve been on when I’ve had issues, but I try to always move forward and if I can’t, I find a way around what I can’t do. I always overcome the obstacles that are in front of me. There are times I wish that I didn’t have to deal with any obstacles, but I think dealing with them and overcoming them have taught me a lot about myself and what I am capable of.
These may seem like small mountains to climb, the scavenger hunt, a bumpy field and the lack of a washroom, and they were, but the thing about it is that those mountains shouldn’t have been there in the first place. If the world was a kinder place, everyone’s needs would have been thought of while the outing was being planned. However, we come back to the same thing. I’m open about my disabilities, but often I feel as if I’m not heard.
Like I said before, I’m not angry, people have enough going on in their lives what with the pandemic, the war and everything else going on in the world. They don’t need to hear me complain, but I should educate when I have the chance. I should use my voice to speak about the issues I face to talk about them and be an advocate for change.
I no longer think of myself as differently abled. I will use the term disabled but I will never use the word crippled; that’s always seemed like a derogatory term to me and no matter how many times I see it, a part of my cringes inside.
While I won’t use either term, I prefer to think of myself as bodily able. I’m not necessarily able bodied while I’m living with cerebral paly and multiple sclerosis however, I am not helpless either. My body is able most of the time and when there are those times I find myself having to take on a mountain, I will do so, even if it’s to find a way around it and change my path.
I know that the able-bodied people of the world don’t often think of those with disabilities or the needs that they face, but we need to change that. I should have had my needs considered today, no matter how small they are. I should not have been made to feel like I was on an island, surrounded by all those misfit toys.
One thing I have learned about making my disabled way through an able-bodied world is that I have the unique gift of being able to see different parts of the world that are often overlooked. What I see from down here is that even though there are shadows, we live in a world full of fighters and warriors of which I am one of them.
I don’t often feel as if I live in an able-bodied world, but when I do, I just need to remind myself that I and my body are able; we just have to find our own way to do things and use my voice so that I can be heard from within the shadows. All I need to do is use my voice and shine. I did so today when I checked my phone after I got home. I walked over seven kilometres and 10,000 steps today.
Sometimes, you have to celebrate the small wins and I always celebrate when I didn’t let a mountain block my path.