DISABILITIES WEEK 92
By Daniel J. Vance
In almost two years of writing this column I've rarely offered personal perspectives, preferring rather to showcase good people and their disabilities as wholly natural, like you and your limitations.
This column began in part because of my daughter born with spina bifida, which is the nation's most frequently occurring permanently disabling birth defect, involving incomplete spinal development. She is now 8 and learning piano and Latin. There is no difference between her and me except for legs from knees down that don't work and some other issues. Her spirit is doing quite nicely.
When not finding much being written for the nation's 54 million people with disabilities, I began writing. So far 115 newspapers have published this column at least once, including the most recent, the Mineral Daily News-Tribune of Keyser, West Virginia.
I haven't always been fond of people with disabilities. In fact, looking back, I'm ashamed now how I once viewed any person with a disability. Perhaps I was then a lot like the way you are now.
Students with disabilities in our '70s Ohio city rode a special bus to a special school called "Condon." Physically and mentally challenged students were whisked away, out of sight and out of mind. Even an incredibly bright child using a wheelchair and wanting to attend our neighborhood school couldn't. It wasn't accessible. So growing up I had hardly any exposure to anyone with a visible disability, except for one boy with muscular dystrophy at church.
When you have no contact with people, it's easier to degrade them. Back then, I often called people with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's "senile." People with Down syndrome were "Mongoloids." People that couldn't walk were "cripples." People with schizophrenia were "flipped out." People with major depression were "nut cases." People with birth defects were "freaks." People with dyslexia were "stupid." The deaf were "dumb." Quadriplegics were "vegetables." People using wheelchairs were "confined" to a wheelchair.
A while back my daily paper wrote of a man "confined" to a wheelchair. I should have complained. People in wheelchairs aren't "confined." Their wheelchairs offer freedom. Saying a person is "confined" to a wheelchair is like saying a trucker is "confined" to his truck.
But it's easy now to throw stones.
In short, my job is to teach you more about disability and to portray people with disabilities as people. I hope you continue reading.
For more, see www.danieljvance.com