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The Definition of “Disability”

Martina Navratilova, a well-known poet once said “disability is a matter of perception. How an accurate statement that is! When many hear the word disability, they may think of someone with Down syndrome, a person in a wheelchair, or one who is blind. A person who has limited function physically or mentally is referred to as disabled. Kris Boehm, my father, defines disability as a person who has difficulty with a particular task. My thoughts reflected such a viewpoint as well. Do I continue to have such an perspective?
In 2010, I lost my sight due to an attempted suicide. I only knew of one other blind individual, so I was unaware of what my future held out for me. Would I be able to pursue the same goals and live an active life as before? Would I be able to partake in the same hobbies activities as before? Initially, I thought not. How can a person with no vision live an independant and fruitful life?
My self-determination and positive attitude aided me in seeking out the education and tools that are available to the blind. I came into contact with other fine examples of blind individuals who did not let their lack of vision hinder them from pursuing meaningful and fulfilling lives.Thus, I feel that just because a person may have a limitation, whether it be physical or mental, with the proper training and education, such characteristics that appear to be a disability are no disability at all! For instance, blindness may be preconceived as a limitation, yet being vision impaired can be easily overcome with technology, education, and the right mindset.
A disability is something that limits you from performing a certain task. Hence, if you have the right training and education and you have learned to perform the same tasks you used to, just differently, how is that a disability? Can a person without an obvious impairment be considered disabled? Imagine a six foot six inches tall man trying to fit in a Mini Cooper. Such a tall person may not be able to fit comfortably in such a vehicle or have the ability to drive the coupe. Could he not be considered disabled by circumstance? I believe so. Therefore, if your physical impairment does not limit or hinder you in your daily activities, is it a disability? I believe not.
I have met doctors, chemists, teachers, golfers, Olympians, and business owners that are blind but “see” no limits as to what they set their mind on. I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Rickobono, the first blind man to drive a self-driving car, hitting speeds up to 43 mph in his first drive! Such examples motivate and reaffirm the notion that the only thing that will hinder me is myself.
Do others perceive the disabled as capable individuals? Unfortunately no! Due to ignorance and the inconsistencies from the media, the majority feel that those with disabilities are helpless and inferior. The disabled have advocated for themselves to legislate for equality in today’s world. For instance, in the United States, an outdated law entitled Section 14C of the Fair Labor Standards Act, discriminates against those who are disabled; the 1938 act allows companies to apply for certificates in order to pay disabled individuals pennies on the dollar, far lower than the minimum wage. In fact, businesses such as Goodwill pay their disabled employees as low as 12 cents an hour- and it’s legal! These same employers have multi-million dollar owners and managers that exploit the provisions of the Fair Wages Act. They even receive tax deductions, government cutbacks, and other incentives that find their way into their own pockets. Organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind and the American Foundation of the Blind, are working hard to legislate and repeal these unjust standards.
Often, parents and families of disabled children, due to being unaware of the availability of training and sources within hands reach, shelter their child so much that the child feels as if someone has to do everything for them. Such a person’s communication and interaction skills with others suffer due to their sheltered environment. This presents a challenge, but not a challenge that cannot be overcome with the proper training and education.
How does language influence how we view people with disabilities? The misconceptions and attitudes towards the abilities of disabled persons reflect onto the vocabulary and expressions used today. We may subconsciously discriminate against one with a perceived disability. Thus, such language transfers to the conscious mind, affecting our interpretations and opinions. The inaccurate belief that the disabled are not capable of overcoming their ailment highlights the need for further education and advocacy.
So are all ideas of disabilities accurate? No! Even though we live in 2014, much more effort and work is needed to educate the world about disabilities. Organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, lead the front to change what it means to be blind in the eyes of those blinded by false assumptions. Many blind have more vision than a sighted individual; numerous paralyzed persons in wheelchairs have walked through trials and tribulations triumphantly to live happy and satisfying lives! Technology has aided many to accomplish tasks that the everyday person would think be impossible. We disable ourselves only if we limit ourselves in our thinking! I asked my father, since having a son who recently lost his vision, has his thoughts on disabilities changed? He replied, “Yes… At first I thought we would become caretakers…but my viewpoint now is that perhaps the disability for many is their perception of how a person can adapt in order to be a whole person. Given the right opportunity and motivation we all can overcome anything others perceive as a disability… My son has proven that to me.”
So, what are your perceptions in referring to the disabled? Never be “handicapped” by preconceived notions!

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