Every year, December 3rd is The International Day of People with Disabilities.
This day aims to “promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life”. (Text taken from UN ‘Enable’ website: http://www.un.org/disabilities.)
The theme for 2015 is “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities” – further details at: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1637
Based on this theme, why does inclusion matter? Well, I’ll tell you as a disabled person myself that it matters. A lot. To help you see why from my point of view I’ll give you some examples as to the times when I was, and wasn’t included.
From the moment I was born with Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy, doubts were raised as to whether I would survive and what I would achieve in life.
My parents bought me up to think of myself as “the same as anyone else,” probably to try to make me feel better about myself and an equal to others, but I must admit that there were many times in my life when I knew that my disabilities were the cause of massive barriers between me and many people. When I started school, I went to a nursery school class at a school for children with complex and/or multiple disabilities. As I was really young then, I can’t remember much of that time but my parents told me that I had physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
My first memories of not feeling as included as I would’ve liked in life were when I was at infant school. I can remember that children would not want to sit next to me, talk to me look at me or much less play with me. Many of the people who took notice of me and got me involved in school activities were the assistants that the school paid for to help me. The same thing happened in junior school and the difference was there that I was becoming more and more aware that my school was not inclusive and that I was not happy there. I didn’t have many friends and people openly did not want to be my friend because they noticed my disabilities . All of this did not help my shyness, which I would try to overcome by approaching people in my class or at school and talking to them but they didn’t really want to know and this made me feel worse.
In family life, I didn’t feel included when we had family gatherings, because I was naturally quite grown up for my age always, and would prefer to be around adults rather than around children. I suppose this is because I had always associated children with bullying and negativity seeing as they bullied me in my past. As a family, we mostly got on but I felt pushed out when the family were going to do something that I couldn’t do easily.
Me being me though,and seeing as I loved seeing my grandparents and the relatives who would strike up a conversation with me, I always found a way to not let it get to me. I would take myself off and read a book or watch some TV or something if I felt uncomfortable.
So, people’s reactions and attitudes to my disabilities and how they related to me played a big part in how “included” I felt. Over the years, I told myself that I had to let this not get to me if I was going to be successful in what I wanted to do in life and be who I wanted to be. I am glad I did tell myself this otherwise I wouldn’t have had the confidence or courage to follow my dreams and fight for what I wanted. I would not be fluent in Spanish, I would not have got a university degree nor would I be in a relationship and engaged and planning a future with the man I love. Even he noticed that when we met I wasn’t very confident but has actually complimented me more than once on how much I have grown in strength and spiritually since we have been in a relationship. I think it has something to do with the fact that I am in my own living environment with him and we can make our own decisions about our life. This is something that I spent years yearning for and which I really value because when I was in the education I felt like many decisions were made for me. Even as an adult, I have been in situations where people would try to make decisions for me and they would not be the decisions that I would’ve made for myself. This happened regarding care, housing, and problem solving to name a few situations.
I had a hard time, and still do, convincing people that just because I use a powerchair, wear strong prescription glasses and have a hydrocephalus shunt it doesn’t mean that I lack the ability to make my own decisions.
In fact, I am determined and go after what I want. I can also be very indecisive. People who don’t know me well will easily confuse this character trait I have and think I can’t decide for myself or that I don’t have opinions and/or can’t voice them.
That’s far from the truth. The problem is that people don’t always allow me to express them in the way I need to. I am fiercely passionate about seeing my needs met in life and will do everything within my power to see that happen, although my disabilities mean I require the intervention of different people such as occupational and physio therapists wheelchair technicians and visual impairment specialists. I have always, and still feel, more included and integrated in life when my needs are met. This is the same for all people with disabilities. I really believe in something my neurologist told me years ago now: “No one, not doctors, not anyone has the right to force their views on people, or pressurise them into something they don’t want to do no matter what disability they have.”
Inclusion matters to those of us with different disabilities and so much because it increases our self worth and self confidence that we can do things, be that independently or with help. Inclusion makes it easier to do everything: meet people, make friends and live the lives we want to live. Society has so much to learn to make that a reality though.
This year, there’s a melancholy undertone to today after the shootings in San Bernadino, California. My heart goes out to the families .