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I’m a quadriplegic, not an inspiration

By Lachlan Nicholson

Fresh off of my twenty-fourth birthday and living with a condition known as spastic cerebral palsy, I consider most things in my life to be causes for joy and gratitude. After all, I have a full-time job, several good friends and though severe, my disability is not in any way degenerative.

However, one thing which has become a major annoyance, particularly since entering adulthood is constantly being labelled “courageous” or “inspirational”. Considering that I’ve been disabled from birth (brain-damage due to complications during labour), you might think I’d be used to it by now. The fact is that I’m not. You see, calling someone courageous tends to imply that they had a choice in their situation, like a fireman running into a burning building or a police officer taking a bullet to save a civilian.

Well, I hate to break it to you (no, not really) but had I actually been given the choice, I doubt very much that I would willingly have confined myself to a wheelchair for my entire sojourn on this little blue planet.

As for being an inspiration, people who say this to the disabled – usually with a quiver of sentimental reverence in their voices – are undeniably well-meaning, but none of them seem to realise the pressure such a statement carries.

If I were to attempt to live up to this classification, I would be unable to admit that there are days when I’m painfully reminded of my limitations and trust me, at times like those, my attitude is anything but “inspirational”.

This may seem stupidly obvious, but the most important thing to remember about people with disabilities is that even though some of us may look like human-vehicle hybrids, we are human and our personalities comprise far more than the challenges we face.

As a simple example, think about the following scenario; you head to a restaurant one night to enjoy a meal with some friends. Among those gathered is the new girlfriend of one of your mates. This is your first time meeting her; she’s smart, bubbly and attractive, except for a large, unsightly mole on her cheek. Now, unless you’re a complete social cave-dweller, it’s highly unlikely that the first words from your mouth would be, “Hey, nice to meet you. I’m really sorry about that awful thing on your face.”

So, what’s the point of this little rant? I guess it is my humble effort to remind anyone who happens to read it that disabled people are ordinary folks just trying to get by like our bipedal counterparts, perhaps just a little more slowly.

[To meet Uel Maree who had an unfortunate diving accident, click here]

[To return to the start of this series, click here]

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