How do you define yourself? It's a simple question, yet difficult to answer.
I tried to create an answer recently, over a span of several days, but my answers were constantly changing. Some days I'd see myself as the smart, positive person that others may see. Other days, my opinion of myself would be a little less positive.
The problem is, it's all too easy to become wrapped up in how we think we should be, or how we think others can see us. Being a young person with a disability, I'm especially aware of this, and more self-conscious than people with no disability may be.
The answer is simple. I can't, on a negative day, fully accept myself when I walk down a hallway to find people shouting ableist language. For those of you who may not know what I mean by this, it is language that discriminates in favour of people who are able-bodied. Even though I know that none of this is aimed directly at me, when I hear it, it’s difficult not to take it personally.
It's often difficult for able-bodied people (such as friends or other students) to understand how these words can affect me, and my general mood, because it’s hard for them to consider that it might be hurtful. But if other students’ attitudes to disabilities are immature and rude, what's to stop them being rude to me personally about it? Calling people disabled, simply for an insult, is not ok, under any circumstances.
I've been fortunate enough to meet many people in my life who have overcome the personal challenges that have come with having disabilities and SEN. In fact, I don’t really think of them as having disabilities or SEN anymore! They mean more to me than that. I like them all for their kindness, compassion and humour. They’re all individuals and all different, they are not just a medical condition. So why should anybody just judge on factors that can’t be changed?
When you think of a person with a disability, what do you think of? My guess is that most people think of someone with a visible disability, and not the many people who look no different to you!
So how do we change this attitude? Change the stigma, and the stereotype?
I say, challenge it to change it.
Tell people about it, about the meaning of what they are saying, and how it makes you or others feel! Many people don't know the true definitions of the terms they use. Whether you have a disability or not, we all have a responsibility to challenge this behaviour and therefore give people a better understanding. By doing that, we may avoid people using this language and consequently stop hurting people in the future.
Yes, you may have a disability. But that does not define you. You're better than those words.