What the Gift of Disability Has Taught Me – Part One

Disability is often perceived as a negative, but in this two-part series, four blind and visually impaired people share their thoughts on the many positives of disability. Our first segment features writers Ericka Short and Denise Jess. Disability has affected their lives in different ways, but for both, it has molded them into the people they are today.

“Everywhere I go, I get the opportunity to educate.”

By Ericka Short

“I hate my glasses, mom! I can’t find anything! I can do it myself! Leave me alone!” Does this sum up most kids? I was no different. I just sniffed paper and anything else. I couldn’t recognize much beyond my nose without a few auditory cues. I didn’t know I was different until later. I still have a hard time defining “different.” What I have decided it is, I don’t want to change.

Honestly I don’t think I would be who I am if I didn’t have disabilities. I would be much quieter and less inclined to look at the bigger picture. I would probably be more distracted by little things and take more for granted. I would listen less. Who knows? I might strive to be a bum! Instead it’s given me an inner vision of who I am, a unique lens on life and a way to give back to others.

Everywhere I go, I get the opportunity to educate by just living my life whether I am mentoring a kindergartner, doing Habitat for Humanity work, or reading and teaching in my local church. You never know what impact you can make on someone. I share many Gospels; one is that being different is okay and I try to share the traditional as well. I have families of former residents from the nursing home I was an activity assistant in still take me aside years later and share how much I meant to their loved one because I could relate. That was one of my favorite jobs. My changing vision, along with my epilepsy, continually teach me how to be flexible, keep learning, ask good questions, be patient, and above all, look at things from another person’s perspective.

Through the years I discovered these insights through giggles and frustrations, honing them as my vision changed from 20/200 to nearly total blindness on a really bad day, also known as being “functionally blind.” I’ve had to be patient with myself while trying to adapt over and over. I can’t always believe what I see so I’ve learned how to trust others by learning through their world. I’m kind of curious and love to learn. Too bad I haven’t learned enough organizational skills and time management because of my vision loss!

I’ve met so many people because of disability that I wouldn’t have met in a small community thanks to Lions Camp of Wisconsin and other programs specifically for kids with disabilities. A town on 10,000 people didn’t have variety. Without camp and other programs specifically for kids with disabilities, I would’ve missed out on some great relationships including with my boyfriend.

Learning to Wait

By Denise Jess

As many of us with disabilities can attest, we do a lot of waiting…for rides or public transportation or to have things read or described to us.  This is in addition to the typical sort of waiting in line or on hold that we all experience.

A gift of my visual disability is that I’ve learned to quiet that agitation that, for so many of us, accompanies waiting. The funny thing about impatience is it doesn’t lessen the waiting – 15 minutes of waiting is 15 minutes of waiting no matter my mindset. I also know the by-products of my impatience can have negative longer-lasting impacts if I get myself all worked up or vent my agitation on the very person who is helping me out by greeting them with a curt “hello,” followed by a mini lecture on the virtues of promptness or a chilly silence and heavy sighs.

I’ve learned to use my waiting time to quiet my mind and still my agitated system, giving me a little respite in the midst of a busy day. Often it makes the waiting feel like it goes faster and the by-product is so much more positive. I am ready to warmly greet the person I next encounter, I can focus with more clarity on whatever tasks await me and maybe I even can tap into my creativity with a new idea or venture.  For me the awesome thing about this gift is that I get to share it with so many people.

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