What comes to your mind when you think of “the disabled”? Typically, we might imagine they are broken, like a broken car or computer, and aren’t able to operate at the same capacity as a normal human-being. We might feel they are slower, less intelligent, and deficient in some way. They are either physically impaired, psychologically damaged, and have some motor or cognitive challenge that prevents them from doing what we as ordinary people can easily do.
And yes, this might very well seem true…but it’s true only to the degree we judge one’s value to the world purely by how well they function within it. The moment we realize that one’s real value is not simply based by how well they fit into the world as it is, but much more on their capacity to elevate and transform the world, our perception of what disability is starts to shift.
“It is no sign of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
A paraplegic elder who discovers new ways to adapt to her environment, an autistic child who is able to focus on a problem with intense precision, a war-traumatized soldier with PTSD who is able to articulate the true nature of human suffering in extreme detail..the so-called disabled have much to share, many gifts to offer.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
George Bernard Shaw
There’s an African culture who looked at those experiencing great trauma not as someone who is sick or troubled but as someone who has much to teach us — an emerging healer for society. People who don’t fit into the status-quo, far more than being disabled, are actually catalysts for social transformation. And such a perspective can completely upend the way we experience and respect each other as human beings.
Next time you interact with someone you perceive as disabled, whether physically or psychologically, and before you feel pity and react to your sense of civic duty by extending a helping hand, also keep in mind it’s far more important to use the interaction as a gift to yourself to broaden your own perspective of life, and your own perspective of the world, by appreciating their unique challenges, what they’ve overcome, and what they are teaching us.