By the age of seven, I had my spiel committed to memory like a seasoned politician. At the beginning of each school year, I would politely educate my pupils about the nature of my disability. I was cognizant to provide only pertinent information, not an excess of fear- inducing data. Even at this age, with my sun-drenched hair sprouting from the top of my head, I knew what I was saying was significant. Significant not only in universal context of the topic, but also in the weight it bore on my personal well-being. Would my classmates accept me?
Though concealed was my motive to detour any teasing and tears, the macro level threads of awareness I was sewing entered my mind. It had already become intimidatingly apparent to me that whatever alternative views–beliefs that did not criminalize me for having a disability–I wished others cultivated, were going to have to be planted by me.
“Even though I walk and talk differently than you do, I am the same as you are.” I can still recall the words I imparted to my peers, teachers, and adults revolving around my world. “I am not contagious, it is safe for you to be my friend.”
In myriad contexts, with varying diction, I am still tossing out these reassurances like shimmering copper into a wishing well. I am asking others to erase the dangerous indoctrinations of their youth about others with disabilities, and to embrace diversity, recognize shared humanity, and reach out with respect.
Why should you care?
Inevitably, you or somebody you love will develop a disability. This is a statistical fact. With equal rights and access declining daily, the best thing we can do is learn to support one another. Conversations about navigating interactions with intention and undiscriminating respect are more imperative than ever.