Disability 101: The chances of acquiring a disability
November 1, 2009
What does disability mean? Does disability mean something different to a person who has acquired a disability compared to a person who was born with a disability? Are there important differences between the experiences of each group?
Why do you, able-bodied person that you are, care? Well, for one, you may only be temporarily able-bodied. You are only one car accident away from acquiring your own disability. Listening to the radio reports regarding ice on the roads this morning, it’s not far-fetched. I can’t tell you how many people I know who were able-bodied and then had a car accident, or a skiing accident, and became paraplegic or experienced a traumatic brain injury.
Or do you think it will never happen to you? Is disability just something that happens to other people?
If you live long enough, chances are you will acquire a disability. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 43 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have a disability. Of people ages 75 and above, 64 percent have a disability. Disability and age go hand-in-hand. Think about it a moment. How many people as they age start to lose their hearing, their vision, or their mobility?
My disability is acquired. In fact, I lived 42 years of my life without a disability. I’ve only been living with MS for the past five years. I’m kind of a late acquirer. And yes, I was one of those people who thought it would never happen to me.
I can’t really speak much about what disability means to a person who was born with one, but I can speak about what disability means when you have acquired one.
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Acquiring a disability means starting over. An acquired disability strips you of everything you care about and leaves you naked and empty. And then you start over.
You start over with a new set of rules. You have no idea how the new rules work. You have no idea what you are doing and where you are going. But if you are lucky you have faith: faith that something worthwhile lies ahead. Because something worthwhile does lie ahead.
So you start your life over, from the beginning. Things that you used to be able to count on and trust, you can no longer count on or trust. Huge parts of yourself have been ripped away and stolen. But there is still something important left. So you begin again.
It’s hard. It sucks. You scream, you cry, you thrash. You try over and over. When you are sick of it all and think you can’t keep going, you still keep going.
And somewhere along the way, in spite of yourself, you begin to build a new life. You discover you are strong in ways you never knew. You discover that what is most important about you is still there. You discover new ways of doing things. You start to think outside the box.
You build a new life. If you are lucky, you build a new life. It looks entirely different from the previous one. It’s nothing like you thought it would be. But if you are lucky, you discover yourself on an amazing adventure.
It never gets much easier. It’s always hard. There is always crying and thrashing. But you discover that this journey is deeper and more meaningful than you ever expected. If you are lucky. Some aren’t. But I think I am.
Cut out this column, stick it in your wallet and carry it with you. There may be a car accident. You may need it.