Tag Archive: quadriplegic

The other day i wrote a post titled, ‘Do the Different Need a Disclaimer?’ in which i touched on how meeting someone with a disability or condition that makes them quite different to you can be challenging or scary in terms of not wanting to be awkward or embarrass them [or yourself] and my friend Michelle wrote a long comment in response. i asked her if she would upgrade it to a post as it felt quite crucial to this important conversation and this is what she sent me [which is one of the most powerful things i have read and had the privilege of sharing on my blog, thankx Michelle!]:


There is a huge culture of silence around encountering different bodies so thank you for posting an honest account of your reaction (internal as well as external) to this moment.

When trying to unpack some of the stuff around what I call “responding to difference” it’s hugely important to remember that those who embody the difference often experience silence as absolutely imperative to acceptance and easier relating.

This means that when encounters like yours happen (and they are bound to as we all move through our worlds) they hold an awful lot of baggage on both sides. Baggage which is most often unspeakable. Unspeakable because the so-called “able-bodied” are taught not to stare at difference and because the different are taught that value is found only in sameness.

What we’re left with then is embarrassment, guilt, awkwardness and silence on the part of both the different ones and the same ones and the nagging question of what constitutes difference or sameness anyway?

So what are we all supposed to do? Are the different bound to disclaim our difference upfront; “Sorry, I have no fingers”. I guarantee you the “sorry” will always be uttered – I’m sorry that for some reason out of my control my body won’t conform to sameness.

I want to say here that I believe that difference exists. It is a reality not a construction. This is actually a pretty torrid debate amongst disability theorists, many of whom claim that physical impairments are simply constructed as different in opposition to a dominant norm of sameness. So for example, these scholars have suggested that blindness is simply an alternate way to see. Interesting and mind-shifting but my personal belief is that eyes are meant to see and hands are meant to have fingers and so to lack these things is to be really different in real ways that make a real difference.

At a conference recently, a colleague who is quadriplegic said that when people meet him they never ask the normal questions that people ask other people (“what do you do?”, “are you married?”) they ask “what happened to you?” His different body automatically excludes him from work, love, relationships and he is reduced to “a bad thing that happened”. Difference is allowed to eclipse everything else about him and mostly dominates any relationship going forward.

So different people exist in a tricky place between real difference that makes a difference and, at the same time, wanting to be recognised for the sameness parts of us, the shared humanity of things like the music we like and the places we’ve been and the people who are our children and spouses and friends. Not to mention the ways that difference in itself is part of what it means to be human and that vulnerability is an essential part, as much as we may try to deny it, of humanness. We could, in fact, shake anyone’s hand, skip the formalities and ask, “So, what has happened to you?” Somehow, the disability difference, written as it is all over bodies, invites this question more readily.

So, are you overthinking the hand-shake moment? No and yes.

No because this is a good kind of thinking (and not just thinking but speaking too). This kind of stuff has to be spoken about, debated and thought about. Otherwise, the silence continues.

Yes, because a hand-shake is essentially just a weird thing that people do when we meet each other to make some sort of tactile contact and that’s exactly what you did, albeit differently, in this moment. I work with a lot of people with various disabilities and always reach for hands when I meet people and sometimes those hands are different hands. Hands without fingers or fingers that can’t be extended. Of course, this is made more complicated by the fact that I can’t see but however things end up we have still managed to have the “Hi, I see you (except I don’t but you know what I mean)” moment of connection that people need to have.

I think every person is going to respond to their own difference differently depending on what their journey has held. The only possible way to get to know this is by building real relationships with people based around more than just their difference.

[To return to the original post, click here]

[To read more from Michelle who shares about living with a degenerative sight condition, click here]


Hi I’m Keith. In the early hours  of 26th of August 2012 I was found lying paralyzed on the floor next to my bed. I had suffered a seizure while sleeping and fell to the floor. I had broken my neck by fracturing my C4 vertebrae, which has left me to be a quadriplegic.

I have no wrist or hand movement. I have regained use of my arms from originally not being able to move  them at all. Having movement of my arms has allowed me to do certain things independently once being set up, like being functional on my laptop, brushing my teeth, drinking out a cup and using my  push button cellphone.

One thing that has changed besides the obvious is that my days need to be planned before I get out of bed. Before I could just getup and decide at the spur of the moment to go to the beach or to the movies. Doing anything now takes time and needs to be planned. My body is super heat sensitive and I need to make sure I’m dressed for comfort. I feel the slightest wind breeze on my skin, my arms and neck area’s need to be covered. Being in air conditioned places make me very uncomfortable and my body stiffens up and I eventually get muscle spasms.

With regards to seeing people out in public and those ‘awkward’ moments when people don’t know how to deal with people in wheelchairs. I think people should just ask what happened. I don’t have a problem with people asking, I know they want to know and it would break the ‘awkwardness’ for them.

There is so much more to a quadriplegic than just not being able to walk or use our hands. Our whole nervous system has been shut down and the body has different ways of reacting to different situations. I have no feeling from my chest down, so i am not able to tell if there is a problem with my body for example, a broken toe or any injury, internally or externally. So my body will let me know by twitching or perspiring.

I can go on for days but i think we should leave it there for now…

[One day we hope that Keith will share some stories about that clearly possessed dog he has on his lap]

[To follow more of Keith’s Journey, you can like his Facebook Page over here]

[For other stories of People who are Living with Disability or Special Needs, click here]

Lachlan new 1

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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