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Is disability in the eye of the beholder?

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Frank Verpaelst has dwarfism and has been blogging mainly about disability-related issues for a number of years, as well as and has been a guest several times now on various CBC radio shows. In this adapted article – Is disability in the eye of the beholder? – he expresses his feelings about what the label “disabled” means to him.

Is disability in the eye of the beholder?
Credit: ©Ailadi Ho / Behance CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Disability in the eye of the beholder

Is disability in the eye of the beholder or is society the disabled one: lacking the moral fiber to make our world inclusive for all?

To be blunt about it, I very much dislike words like “handicapped” and “disabled.” For quite a few years now, I’ve professed that disability is in the eye of the beholder. In reality, all of us living on this planet have a wide range of abilities and limitations, which are always in a state of flux. A positive and well-balanced person wakes up every day and focuses on what they CAN do, instead of getting hung up on their limitations, on what they can’t do.

And while I totally support the notion of believing in oneself, and having dreams, I also understand that delusion is not a good thing. Having been born with dwarfism, I totally accept, in all likelihood, I will never be a professional athlete. But should I let that stop me from participating in the sports that I love, out of self-doubt and fear? Not at all!

Is disability in the eye of the beholder? Click To Tweet

A whole world of possibilities becomes open to you when you concentrate on your abilities. For example, I loved Lacrosse, but I never played it. So I decided to get involved rather than whine about it. I coached a peewee team: truly one of the most thrilling days of my life!

I also have a good time playing table tennis, but I could never win a game against my taller friends. So, I joined a local club and signed up for a summertime training camp. Despite the fact I never managed to win a match in any of the camp tournaments, when I got back to college that autumn, my friends sure were astounded when those Ping-Pong balls started flying past them.

I stopped piling blame onto my shoulders at a certain point in my life because I could no longer walk up a flight of stairs. Was the entire construction business “design challenged,” or was I really disabled?

With all those civil engineers, architects, and inventors in the world, and billions of dollars spent on new homes and condos throughout the world, are you telling me that absolutely no one can invent an inexpensive and safe way to get a disabled person up the stairs? I truly believe we are not disabled. It is our society that is the disabled one: lacking the moral fiber to make our world accessible and inclusive to all.

When we look at each other, rather than fixating on disability, wouldn’t it be better if we all put the spotlight on each other’s abilities and potential? -- Frank Verpaelst Click To Tweet

Labels are linguistic constructs, which help classify and streamline the objects and ideas that surround us. But here’s an experiment that could show how even objects are limited by labels. Contemplate a chair: in the eyes of an adult, a chair is a chair, and nothing more. But is it honestly at most a chair?

Try placing a chair in the middle of a room, surrounded it with a few simple toys. Bring a child into that room, and quietly back away, leaving the child to their own imagination. Observe how the child interacts with those toys and the chair. What do you see?

I assure you - in the imagination of most children - the chair will become something else. It will become a castle, a fort, a monster, a spaceship. The chair will cease to exist as just a chair as it travels through the optic nerve, where it is wondrously transformed in the magical mind of that child.

Perchance to dream. Imagine instead of thinking “doors, stairs, and ramps,” architects and builders thought “multipurpose entrances.” How much more flexible would their constructions be? How more fluidly would we all move about our daily business, even those of us who society labels “disabled,” if building entrances were truly accessible.

Labels can be useful, especially when it comes to our rights, as well as having programs made available to persons with disabilities. Nonetheless, we must always be aware of the double-edged swords labels can represent. Even though we might have a certain disability, in my opinion, we should not let that disability define who we are, or limit who we can become in life.

When we look at each other, rather than fixating on disability, or any other labels brought to bear on us, wouldn’t it be better if we all put the spotlight on each other’s abilities and potential?

This is why I believe disability is in the eye of the beholder.

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Article by
Frank Verpaelst

Frank Verpaelst has dwarfism and has been blogging mainly about disability-related issues for a number of years, as well as and has been a guest several times now on various CBC radio shows.

Caption:

When we look at each other, rather than fixating on disability, or any other labels brought to bear on us, wouldn’t it be better if we all put the spotlight on each other’s abilities and potential?

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