Finding Value and Self in Disability
By Guest Blogger Karin Hitselberger, Freelance Writer
Growing up, I often viewed my non-disabled siblings, cousins and friends with a little bit of envy. I envied the ease with which they moved through the world and the fact that the world seemed to be made for them. It frustrated me that conversations around my body always seemed to be about how it needed to be fixed and how my life would be better if I could walk instead of using a wheelchair. When I was younger I saw my body and my disability as nothing more than a problem. I lived in a world that made it very hard for me to see how disability could possibly be a positive thing. The only thing I ever wanted was to be “normal” and be able to do things just like everyone else. I didn’t yet see the value and beauty that could exist in being different. I hated who I was and saw no value in it. I tried my best to pretend my disability didn’t exist, which was difficult considering my wheelchair went everywhere with me. The only thing I ever wanted was to be just like everyone else, to claim for myself the coveted label of “normal.”
Luckily for me as I grew older, that began to change. As I became more and more involved in my disability community, I learned that disability could be a strength rather than a weakness. Instead of seeing things as I did when I was a child, where my body was a problem, I realized that my different way of doing things could actually be a very strong asset in my life and the lives of other people around me. Having a disability gave me a different perspective on life, and let me see world in a different way than my non-disabled peers. A lifetime of having to do things differently, having to find another way and having to go in another entrance has taught me that there is never only one way of doing things.
Through my life with a disability I have learned that sometimes the more creative way is the best way and differences should always be seen as an asset. Since I naturally have to do things a different way and use different assistive technologies in my everyday life, I understand the value of teamwork and creative thinking. Disability has served me well by teaching me that interdependence is always the best option. On a very deep level, I understand the value of teamwork because my life would not be possible without it. My perspective on the world has shown me that everybody has something to offer and instead of encouraging everyone to think the same way, we should open up ourselves up to different points of view.
What makes me different is precisely what gives me the opportunity to change the world in which we live. I don’t need to be fixed because disability gives me a unique perspective on the world that could make me an asset to any team or job. Having a disability has colored every single one of my life experiences, but that isn’t a bad thing. It just means that I look at things in a different way, letting me see solutions where other people only see problems. Disability is not a problem that needs to be fixed, but a resource that needs to be tapped into. Society is so focused on making disability fit an “acceptable” cultural narrative that it casts a certain group of people as problematic instead of seeing what they have to offer. If we focus on only one idea of what it is right way of doing something or the right way of being, we miss out on so many opportunities and options.
I used to see disability as a problem, but now I see it as an asset. It has given me some of my greatest experiences and greatest relationships. I don’t know who I would be without the strong disability community I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of. I know I would not have the same passion, interests or drive without my disability. I can honestly say that my disability has had a huge impact on shaping the person I am today and I am not ashamed of that, nor am I afraid to admit it.
I used to desperately crave the false idea of normalcy, but the truth is that normal is nothing more than a synonym for average, and who really wants to be average? I know I don’t! I am no longer jealous of my non-disabled friends and I no longer want to be somebody else. Sure, disability can sometimes make life more complicated, but that doesn’t mean it is not a valuable life experience. My disability played a huge part in making me the person I am today and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
About the Guest Blogger
Karin Hitselberger is a twenty-something graduate student and freelance writer with Cerebral Palsy. She has bachelor’s degrees in communication studies and religious studies from the University of Miami and is currently obtaining a Masters degree in disability studies from the University of Leeds in England. She blogs about life and disability issues at Claiming Crip, and the intersection of disability, fashion and body acceptance at Ceepstyle. FollowClaiming Crip on Facebook. Karin is on Twitter, @karinonwheels.