Depressed. Anxious. Insomniac. Learning Disabled. Physically impaired. Sufferer of Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder. Would you choose any of these labels? How about taking two or three? Sound manageable? Probably not. But why? All across our society are plastered expectations of perfection, normalcy and “acceptable” images.
I am 27–years–old and, despite the years of education I have received, the communication skills I have gained in English and American Sign Language (ASL), the countless hours spent with doctors consulting about how to “get better,” I have lost my sense of identity. And, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my “authentic voice” has not yet been born. This is the reality for me and, I suspect, for anyone else who has been labeled disabled.
When I sat down to write this, I did not struggle coming up with a story to share nor the words to intrigue readers. Instead, I grappled over using my real name and not using a “pen name.” Despite my long and varied history with disability, it took me a long time to advocate my issues enough to receive services. Because labels are embarrassing. Because disability is embarrassing. And, so, now I have labels . . . many labels. However, it is still accepting them that I am left with. Unfortunately, I am just one of millions who are also fighting to find some sense of balance between honesty with myself and the societal labels that are at the forefront of our communities.
It has been a year since I took Disability Studies, a cultural pluralism course requirement for my Liberal Studies Degree at California State University. On the surface choosing this sub topic could have been perceived as an easy A, given that I am disabled. Yes, having a disability enabled the language used to be less of a shock in my overall comprehension. In reality, however, the struggle to achieve success academically is continuously challenged by my own disabilities. However, despite succeeding in the course, “easy” is not an adjective that appropriately represents my experience. The knowledge I grasped in the classroom helps me to understand what happens when I walk outside on any given day; but therein lies the glitch . . . the class is over, but my disabilities never will be.
Did I enjoy the topic of Disability Studies? Yes, immensely. Because it was something I could relate to. Did enjoying the subject matter take the struggle for comprehension away? No. Did my dyslexia absolve into thin air? No. Being disabled does not admit me, nor anyone else for that matter, into the disabled world with a “free pass from suffering” as if we are all in a club. Having a diagnosis helps to identify why I may not be able to do things in the way others may perceive as “normal.” But, it is the label of being “normal” that is detrimental to achieving success. It represents why our society has a stilted perspective towards those who wear glasses, use walking aides, or need assistance to get [End Page 205] something from a grocery store shelf. Additionally, implying that any one way of completing a task is “normal” is wrong and further accents those differences, which are just that . . . differences.
One component of this course was a Panel Discussion with those living in the TAB (temporarily–able bodied) community. Approaching this event, I was possibly more nervous to ask questions than for the four members having to answer questions. The paradox of wanting to gain more understanding from those most qualified individuals who live with these struggles everyday and intellectually knowing that respect needed to come first was immense. Oddly, once the panel opened up, asking questions was not hard. Within the first ten minutes my fears subsided; the entire experience was like speaking to old friends, only I had just met them. These individuals were, yes, dealing with impairments, but were just as relatable to me as I was to them. And, to my surprise, they were inquisitive and curious towards each other as well. This reinforced that fact that when information is lacking our society we still rely on stereotypes about topics we are not educated on...