My husband teases me about my addiction to apocalyptic movies. I’ve seen so many, and new ones come out each year! My husband assumes that the reason I love them is that I do have a pessimist’s soul. I’ve tried hard to change this and I’m certainly more optimistic at “almost 50” than I was at “almost 30”. However, that “end-of-the-world” vibe is not why I love apocalyptic movies. I love them because normal people rise to the challenge and become real heroes. One I recently saw was “San Andreas Fault”. Even though it was a good movie, “The Rock” (the leading actor) is not a “normal person”, nor did he play a normal hero. (At least his acting has improved over the years…) My favorite “end-of-the-world” movies are those in which folks with normal jobs “rise to the occasion” and discover who they really are in the midst of turmoil, tragedy, and overwhelming odds.
Coincidence, or Logical Comparison?
Each semester, one of the extra credit options I offer to my students is called, “disABILITY for a Day“, or d4D. I co-advise S.O.D.A. (Students Out to Destroy Assumptions), a student club focused to raise awareness and advocate for disability populations. In the extra credit opportunity, the students must “take on” one of a list of pre-selected disABILITIES. We limit what they can choose, so that students are not taking on a disABILITY that may perpetuate a stigma, such as a mental health disorder. The choices are hearing loss, vision loss, mobility (ambulatory) challenges, and fine motor skills. Students are provided with ear plugs, or an eye mask, encouraged to borrow crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, or they can tape one or both hands into a sock to limit their fine motor skills. We ask that the students take precautions… no driving, or trying to work off campus; if vision loss… secure a sighted guide for the day, etc. Students must:
- Complete a class rotation with their disABILITY
- Answer 10 essay questions and read an article about living with disABILITY
- Write a reflective essay on their experience (or a video testimonial).
I was quite surprised that five students from four different classes used the same phrases in their reflection assignment. To my knowledge, these students do not know each other. Here are the similar wording or phrases used in response to the question, “What was the most difficult part of being disABLED for the day?”:
- “felt alone”, “if this were for real it would be like the end of the world”
- “I became invisible, no one even looked at me”
- “It was like the apocalypse happened. It was surreal, walking around in a world that completely ignored your existence. I felt like I had the plague”.
- “It’s like a bomb went off and I was the last person standing. I have never felt so alone”
- “Even my professors ignored me. I felt so alienated. It felt like the end of the world or something.”
When I see similar phrases showing up, I take notice. Is it just a new way young adults are explaining isolation, discrimination, and stigma? Interestingly, in essays this year, many of the students reflections included seeing a person they knew with disABILITIES with “new eyes”. Many were convicted to do a better job reaching out and including those who are differently-abled. One student shared, “I go to class with a girl who has fine motor [skill] challenges. I chose to tape up my hands for my disABILITY. She was so excited to see what I was doing and gave me advice during class [about] note-taking and doing a team activity. She always has a smile and doesn’t try to hide her issues at all. I admire her so much. If I ever develop disabilities, I want to be like her”.
I’m so glad I grade essays at home. I read similar accounts from other students… a new awareness about what life is like for those living with what was their chosen disABILITY — only 24/7. I can’t tell you the number of times I cried at my desk. Not happy tears, and not sad tears. It was more of a WHEW tears.
WHEW. They get it.
I’ve never met a person with special challenges who WANTED those challenges. One of my students is legally blind. I was talking to him last year, and we got to talkin’ about acquired disABILITY. He didn’t lose his sight until his 20’s, which is when I began to lose my hearing. We discussed how we respond/think when people say how much they admire us now. He said, “Geesh. At no point did I say, “SIGN ME UP for being blind”. I didn’t ASK for this. You accept, adapt, and go on”. Isn’t that a terrific, healthy way to respond to challenges?
I (proudly) serve on my county’s Commission on Disability Issues and immerse myself in various local, state, and federal advocacy groups. Do you know that I am surrounded by heroes? Normal people with normal lives, forced to accept and adapt to significant issues. It may not seem like the apocalypse occurred – or that the end of the world is near. But… I can tell you that it can be hard. This doesn’t mean folks who are differently-abled or face significant daily challenges need Academy awards, fan clubs, or media coverage. We don’t want/need to see our “name in lights”, or for people to tell us how wonderful we are. Simply:
Believe in us
Advocate for us
Advocate? That’s right! The most important advocacy force comes from self-advocacy. However, peer advocacy, system advocacy, and legal advocacy are all highly effective forms of advocacy.
A new year is right around the corner. May I challenge you to try something in 2016? Advocate on behalf of another. Thomas and Bracken (1999) argue that peer advocacy is one of the strongest types of advocacy. You may find opportunities at work, church, or standing in line at the grocery store (check out video). You may be able to advocate at a local coffee shop (see video), or be able to participate in hiring panels. Just make sure it is advocacy that is WANTED. Be careful to avoid embarrassing someone, or advocating in a negative way. If you have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of another, I’d love to hear from you!
Thomas, P. F., & Bracken, P. (1999). The value of advocacy: putting ethics into practice. The Psychiatrist, 23(6), 327-329.
© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal