Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Perceptions of Disability

    I have dyspraxia & OCD (and some Aspergic traits thrown in for good measure), which have one thing in common; they are all "invisible" conditions. If I was sat quietly in a room, and concentrating on my expressions and movement, then it's possible you wouldn't have a clue that I had these conditions.

    It's not just these conditions, of course, that are invisible; everything from diabetes to Deafness is not visible by just glancing at a person. Of course, in certain circumstances, there are subtle clues and hints that knowledgeable people can pick up on, but in the everyday world - a friend of mine twigged that I had dyspraxia before I'd even said anything, but then again, she is a medical assessor.

    Being able to "hide" a condition can be nice, sometimes; it enables me to maintain my privacy should I choose. On good days, when the sun is out and the wind is light, I can appear almost ... ahem, normal ... and people wouldn't think any different about me to the next person. When I was younger, I was very sensitive about that. Now, my philosophy can be summed up by one word ... "meh". It doesn't bother in the same way it used to, and I'm a lot more open about my condition (as regular readers of my blog will know).

    One thing still bothers me, though, and I can't help but get annoyed at it. It's when people assume; they assume that a Deaf person is stupid because they can't automatically lip-read, they write a dyspraxic person off as clumsy and worthless because they can't catch a ball or think that because you rely on routine to get through the day, that you can't ever do anything new. Instead of thinking, "Oh, maybe that person has a disability", and adapting their worldview to take into account someone else's perspective, some people just assume - and get it seriously wrong.

    I'm fortunate to have Deaf friends; they're not my friends because they're Deaf, but their Deafness is of the things I know about them, as well as their eye colour, height and job. They're as - and in some cases more - intelligent as me, and just because they can't hear doesn't make them any less of a person. If someone's looking away from you and they ignore you when you call their name, have you considered that they could be deaf?

    For me, I've become quite good at "hiding" my condition - sometimes, you wouldn't think there was anything "wrong." I tell people if the conversation comes round to it, but never make a fuss - and so people are often surprised when I do mention it. Why do I hide it? Habit, mostly - because, at school, I hated the thought of being treated differently ... and I still do! I've been fortunate in that the overwhelming majority of people I meet couldn't give a ha'penny damn; on the flipside, there have been (thankfully rare) occasions where people seem to struggle with understanding ... well, me. I get annoyed when that turns into thoughtlessness - when they don't think I might need some extra support or patience occasionally (which can happen occasionally - even I have to remind myself I'm on the mild end of the autistic spectrum and sometimes need to pace myself).

    I must reiterate, though - that's thankfully rare (but tiring when it happens!). Most people are great - and recent conversations with new and old friends recently have reminded me that there are people out there who care and want to understand. You may not know who you are, but you rock all the same.

    You'll find a lot of similarities between people with "invisible" conditions - oftentimes, they don't make a big song and dance about it. They might feel frustrated in private, but it remains just that - private. I'm quite a private person, so that's how I am, but I wonder if we don't always do ourselves a disservice by not broadcasting when something - or someone - has been insensitive.

    That's the main reason I'm writing this blog; as a way of trying to raise awareness and show that I'm not fundamentally different. Yes, I may look at the world in a different way sometimes - but then, don't we all? What's my disability got to do with that? Let's start pushing back against those people who make assumptions - let's start gently reminding them that just because someone is Deaf, or dyspraxic, or ... well, anything across that spectrum, they're still people. Let's get that small minority of people educated!


  1. A very interesting and relevant post, thank you. I have a rare eye condition, and people are often surprised when I tell them about it. Fortunately for me I haven't let it affect my life in any massive way, but it is always a part of me, and something I would like to raise awareness of. Well done Smithy for taking that step forward.

  2. I think maybe I learnt to hide my dispraxia is because I want folk to like me, a person in my own right - not make an effort because I'm 'disabled' - I am more open about it in my old age and now I think it is because I don't want to be written of as 'old' with all those negative assumptions!! always trying to avoid being labelled:)