Hi, I’m Tom and I’m Disabled…
I was the victim of an acquired Brain injury in 2009, which turned my world upside down. Suddenly there were things I could not do any more. Everything was a lot slower. By everything, I do mean everything: cognitive processes, thought processes, certain physical attributes and most certainly social engagement. Disabilities come in many shapes sizes and forms affecting many people in many different ways. In America, over the course of a year, statistics suggest approximately two a half million people will suffer from a traumatic brain injury similar to mine and yours with a similar set of consequences that will affect their lives forever.
That is often the case with disabilities as a whole. They are devastating, indiscriminate, life changing and, more often than not, permanent. The people who suffer these disabilities have a strength that is so often overlooked by the fully abled. This is not me saying that disabled people do not get the credit they deserve. What I mean with that statement is that people who have disabilities go on to achieve incredible things, even with the odds stacked against them. Often, fully abled people (and I used to be one of them, so I know of what I speak) often look at a disabled person and make assumptions, defining them purely on what they see. For example (and sadly, I have seen this happen in the street) when a person is in a wheelchair and they are being pushed along in the street by a carer or friend. Somebody who knows the two of them will approach to ask how the disabled person is doing. Instead of asking the disabled person directly, you will ask the person pushing the wheelchair, as if the disabled person is not even there and without considering the nature of the condition the person is suffering from. It is only when the wheelchair-bound person who is, say, disabled from the waste down, responds with perfect articulation and diction that the person turns bright red, quickly makes their excuses and leaves.
What Do We Hope To Achieve?
Now this scenario got me thinking… in fact the subject of this blog post has got me thinking about disability in a different way. If we are talking about the way that society looks at disabled people, (I feel it is an appropriate time to address this subject with the 3rd of December being International Day of Persons with Disabilities) when we engage with fully abled people and the subject about disability comes up, what is it we (disabled people) want to achieve when talking to them (fully abled people) about it?
I can only start by talking about my own experiences and what it is I hope to achieve. Most of the time I try to explain what living with a brain injury is like, the main agenda being to get people to understand what it is I deal with on a day-to-day basis. This attempt generally falls flat on its face. I never seem to be able to verbalise what I mean or accurately described the way that the injury has affected me. In spite of this constant failure, I’m going to have one more go as I have always seemed able to get things across in writing that I could never dream of doing verbally (even prior to the brain injury). So I will do it in the form of the following analogy: when a computer gets older, it starts to slow down. You sit down to use it, use all the programs it has on it CPU. But you notice how slow it is now, some of the programs don’t work the same way and some don’t work at all. You get frustrated at how slow everything is and how the investment you made appears to be falling to bits. You know that with the help of some specialists, over time, you may see some temporary improvements, but realistically it will never be the same as when you first bought it home from the shop.
The fact of the matter is it will be very difficult for anyone to truly understand what having a brain injury is like unless you’ve actually had one. No fully abled person will truly be able to understand what I have been through in the same way that I cannot understand what other people with more severe disabilities than myself are going through and the difficulties that they have to overcome.
To give a good example, a friend of mine (who I met as a result of my blogging and social media work), as a result of being born prematurely and having her brain starved of oxygen for such a long time, is now living life where she is completely blind and suffers badly from tonic-clonic epileptic seizures. While I can relate to and understand the issues regarding the epilepsy, for me to try to relate to and understand what it would be like to be completely blind and live a life without sight is not possible.
However, despite these handicaps this friend of mine has been accepted onto a course to study psychology through the Open University, with the hope of becoming a neuropsychologist and counselor.
To me, a person overcoming that kind of adversity in life, to not allow something as life changing as the disabilities she contends with on a day-to-day basis, define her and determine her, future inspires me to carry on working and to persist. She is truly inspiring to me and somebody I feel I can look at as something of a role model due to the adversity she has had to contend with. Also, and I’ve only just realized this when writing this blog post, when I try to look at things from her perspective I discovered I cannot even hope to understand what living without sight is like, the reason for this is because I’ve never been through it.
What We Can Realistically Hope To Achieve
I have come to the conclusion that expecting fully abled people to understand the lives we have and the challenges our disabilities present us is perhaps a little too ambitious. Instead, what we need to be striving for, just like my friend above, is to not allow our disabilities to define who we are and what our futures will be. What we should be fighting for and should expect, is for people to understand that, while we may have a disability, we are no less capable, motivated, ambitious or intelligent. What we need is to be treated with respect, have access to the same opportunities as those who are fully able, for our abilities, validity and work ethic to be acknowledged in the same way as anybody else’s. In essence, what we want is to be treated equally, because there are so many disabled people out there who have and are achieving so much, against the odds.
My final point would be to say that we, disabled people as a whole, also have to acknowledge the things I have listed above: our ability, work ethic and value to ensure we have the confidence, the determination and the belief to achieve all of the things that we want, that we need and most importantly, that we deserve in life.
About the author
My life was changed for ever on the 30th of August 2009 when an attack on a night out left me with sever brain injuries. I was left in an induced coma after suffering fractures to the skull, bleeds on the brain, as well as severe bruising to the frontal lobes. Since the injury I have found it hard to find and keep work, to maintain relationships, and generally stay positive. I have decided to share all of my journey with you, in the hope we can bring brain injury awareness to the level it should be at. Please, follow my own WordPress blog Life After Brain Injury to keep up to date with my brain injury journey! Follow me on Twitter: @ABIBlogger
Tom Massey, ABI Blogger