It’s all about perspective.
Physical disabilities often come with mixed views. There are people who see limitations… and people who see obstacles to conquer. I wish I could say that I grew up with a positive go-getter attitude that I would overcome any physical challenge I faced – but that was far from the case. Instead, it was a bit of a learning process. And one that I am so grateful for today.
I was the eldest of 3 siblings and a small army of close cousins. I spent a large amount of my youth very happy on the outside but internally asking myself “why me”?
I was always envious of the children my age who could play in the park without having to worry about someone putting them on a swing, or those who would jump on a bike and ride into the wind. Why did everything have to be so hard for me?
It was the second week of grade 5 when everything started to change… I knew something was wrong when my new teacher, Mr. French, met me with my school aide, Mrs. Mash at the bus one morning.
Mr. French was very different from my previous teachers. He was the first male teacher I had; He was over 6 feet tall and I remember his boundless enthusiasm. He always had so much energy!
That day, he grabbed my chair from Mrs. Mash and pushed me away. I was very upset – I have never had anyone else besides my parents, my siblings and Mrs. Mash help me with my personal needs.
But it didn’t stop there! Day after day, he would meet me at the bus, push me into the classroom, and take on an additional task including taking off my jacket and transferring me into my power wheelchair! After a few weeks, he didn’t allow Mrs. Mash to accompany me during recess anymore.
How dare he? How could he put my safety at risk? How could I do this alone?
One particular day, he gave me a detention! Me, the disabled student, a detention! How dare he? Why didn’t he feel sorry for me? Why was he treating me like everyone else? What was I going to tell my parents…
Little did I know that detention was going to change my life.
During the detention, Mr. French asked me why I was so upset. I told him that it was because he didn’t understand that I was handicapped and that I was different so he shouldn’t be treating me like everyone else.
He came over to my desk and sat down in front of me and asked me a simple question – “do you know what handicap means?” I was baffled at his stupid question. He was supposed to be smart! I answered “it means you can’t walk!”
He proceeded to tell me that I was wrong. He said “handicap just means that you can’t do something. For example, I can’t fly a plane. That means I’m handicapped. If I need to fly somewhere, I need a pilot fly me. But I’m still a great teacher!
You cannot walk, that is your handicap. You need people to help you with physical tasks only. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do other things. You’re great at using the computer and you’re really good at math. When you help your classmates with a computer and with math, you are helping them with their handicap. That’s all it is! “
Life is all about helping each other out with each other’s handicaps!
I was absolutely floored! I could actually see the trajectory of my life changing direction.
Everyone was handicapped!
Over the next few weeks I started observing everyone’s handicaps – some children weren’t good at skipping rope, some couldn’t read very well, some were really bad with art, and some people couldn’t dribble a basketball. I could help some students with their handicaps and there were others who would help me with mine. The world opened up for me!
Mr. French remained my teacher for the next 2 years. Over that time, he taught me how to look at tasks that I couldn’t do and either find ways to modify them so I could do them or start enrolling my peers to help me with these tasks. My mission became to analyze activities and find out how I would be able to do them. I started thinking out of the box.
By remembering that everyone has a handicap and not everyone is perfect at every single thing, we instead surround ourselves with those who are smarter than us…Those who fill a skill base that we don’t have…. Those that help us create a complete picture of our community.
Society is changing and evolving. We need to look beyond our differences and remember that we’re all just people who are striving to succeed in our life… And that’s something we do together!
Join Kiran, and Max at the 2019 Disability Pride Parade!