Everyone in society wants to feel like they have a purpose or that they belong. Yet it is extremely difficult to feel like this when there are still countless barriers preventing someone with a disability to feel accepted and be given opportunities similar to that of their able bodied peers. Not only does the society in which we live create barriers for someone with a disability but more often than not, a person with a disability struggles with their own barriers to better and simple life.
I am an Occupational Therapist and I have worked with high school students with physical/functional disabilities for over 10 years. Many of my students feel stuck in their disability. In other words, they feel stuck by their body’s own limitations. Their own reflections of who they think they are becomes tied to their disability which determines their own sense of happiness and level of independence they achieve – which is usually less then what they are capable of. It’s really important to note. No matter what the disability, everyone can do something for themselves.
Everyday goals should be made in order to increase one’s independence and not only personal independence but also as an equal contributor in the home. I am speaking in very general terms since I would like to address everyone with a disability whether it’s cerebral palsy, spina bifida, autism etc…And don’t think, “yeah I already do that.” Actually form a list of the things you are going to work on towards your own independence (i.e. make bed, do up coat zippers) along with a list of what you would like to do to contribute to the general care of the household i.e. set the table. And do these things everyday pushing yourself to achieve the items on your list and once those items have been accomplished. Make More! You may be wondering, how this mundane stuff will actually contribute to my overall wellbeing and happiness. The answer is: The more you do for yourself, the happier you will feel in your body. It is proven. This is not a philosophy. This a proven fact.
Secondly, it is important to become skilled in self-advocating. Know your disability and know your limitations. For example, this is necessary when going for a job interview or when directing caregivers. Many of my students go for job interviews and they practice their interview skills with me before they interview with a potential employer.
I always try to help them in many ways. The number one thing they stumble on all the time is being able to say what their disability is, how they can be accommodated and what they are skilled at. Here is an example of someone interviewing for an office job. “I have muscular dystrophy, I am good at typing but have a hard time raising my arms so I will need an adjustable desk so I can rest my arms on the table top while I type.” Or “I have Autism. I work better when presented with a list of things to do for my work day.”
This is the type of information the employer needs to know and it is all about communicating and self advocating. The more you can self advocate in every aspect of your life the more you will feel understood and heard. You will also be seen as someone who is knowledgeable, confident and independent.
And finally, despite how you may feel, YOU, the person living inside your body, are separate from the disabled body in which you habituate. There is a unique and individual spirit inside that body. Don’t get stuck in your disability and don’t let your disability define who you are. For example, I am in a wheelchair because I have Muscular Dystrophy. No, don’t let the fact that you have muscular dystrophy and in a wheel chair define who you are. Think about your interests, talents, and take into consideration your physical abilities to start building your life goals, dreams, and activities around them.
I had a student that had difficulty with speech, stuttering and word pronunciation. She felt so robbed by this and felt so hard done by, she couldn’t see what other possibilities or avenues were available to her if she just worked at them.
It wasn’t until I told her of countless people who also had a disability who went on to do amazing things that she finally was encouraged to not only see herself as the woman with no voice but to figure out what she was going to do despite her odds. While many people think they are disadvantaged because they would have loved to pursue a sport or become a waitress, it is still imperative to create a passion.
The way to do this is to look at what your physical body is capable of then build your passions, dreams, and interests around the abilities of your body. Everyone has limitations to what their physical body is capable of. Some people’s bodies can do amazing and successful things such as win Olympic medals and other people’s bodies have poor memory or bad arthritis. The main thing, is to work your body towards accomplishing goals each day to build a better tomorrow not only for your body but for the person or self that resides inside that body.
About the Author
Emily lives in a quaint small house in the booming city of Toronto with her 3 legged husky, Niko. She has earned her degree in Occupational Therapy and works full time supporting students with special needs. She spends her free time exercising, cooking delicious, vegetarian food and regularly attending kirtan. Emily enjoys a regular, daily practice of mantra meditation and seeks to inform others of its benefits. She is grateful for the good will and support of her readers.
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