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Disability - A State of Mind

  • Published: 2009-01-18 (Revised/Updated 2010-09-25) : Author: Cynthia Doroghazi
  • Synopsis: In todays society with its progressive treatment of people with disabilities opportunities are available to people with a disability to become full members of society.

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In today's society, with its progressive treatment of people with disabilities and the numerous opportunities available to people with disabilities to become full members of society, it is hard to believe that attitudes such as what I encountered last weekend still persist, but they do.

Let me give you the background. My husband, Steve, and I (both disabled) were on a boat last weekend with a friend of his, who was instructing me in the basics of how to operate a boat. We had been cruising down the New River, which is located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for most of the day and I was now steering the boat back to our home. I turned to ask Steve's friend which way I should steer at a fork in the river. He asked me in a condescending tone of voice, how many times have you been up and down this river? I responded "not that many" and further elaborated that most of those times had been in the dark. This was probably only the fourth or fifth time I was returning on the boat in day light.

"That shouldn't make any difference. You should know the way by now," he responded.

I responded: "I've had a brain injury. One of the characteristics of someone with a brain injury is short-term memory loss. Until this becomes rote, it will be like I'm doing it for the first time."

"Well then, you shouldn't be operating a boat."

To say I was blown away by the insensitive nature of his remark would be an understatement. First of all, my husband, who is a long-time friend of this man, is blind. Not only has my husband been around boats and operating boats for most of his life, but he even designed a sailing catamaran boat that was nominated for "boat of the year" in 1994. Steve's friend knows better than to put limitations on what a disabled person can do, because he has seen first-hand how Steve is constantly defying and surpassing those limitations as a disabled person. The second reason I was blown away was that I, too, am disabled. I suffered a traumatic brain injury in May 1990 that left me paralyzed on the left side of my body, in a coma for three weeks, tied up to tubes, in diapers and in a wheelchair. Like Steve, I have defied not only doctor's predictions of my recovery from brain injury, but I have defied society's perceptions of what a disabled person with a brain injury can do.

As I said in the beginning of this article, it is hard to believe that in as progressive a society as the disabled live, such thinking still exists.

The only way to fight back as a disabled person is by doing exactly what I did and stand up for yourself. I looked straight into the eyes of Steve's friend and said, very sternly, "so you are saying that a disabled person should not be allowed to participate in life? That there are some activities that should be off limits to the disabled" Of course, how you deliver your message is predicated on the audience, but whatever you do, don't be a wallflower.

Reference: Cynthia Paddock Doroghazi is author of Searching for the Open Door: A Woman's Struggle for Survival After A Traumatic Brain Injury. She and her husband, Steve, who are strong advocates for persons with disabilities, have established New River Publications, LLC through which up to 20 percent of book sale proceeds are donated to various charities that help disabled and disadvantaged people.

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