Living Beyond the Labels

People tend to diagnose Spinal Cord Injury with really specific check-box descriptions but, in reality, it's a whole variation of physical ability and sensation. For instance, I’m a quadriplegic. I am technically paralyzed from the chest down with no sensation below my injury. Yet, when I was pregnant, I experienced all that labor involves - from the first subtle baby kicks (much like gas pain) to the excruciating contractions that came every two minutes for days (imagine the irony of that statement).

Not only are there ‘categories’ that come with a medical diagnosis, there are the ever present stereotype labels. Yes, even in our open-minded, modern world. For example, the two words ‘pregnant’ and ‘quadriplegic’ are not commonly coupled together (honestly, I still have to explain that my teenage boys came from my womb. My legs may not work but other things do…I assure you!) Pregnancy and quadriplegia are my reality.

People are so afraid of variety that they try to fit everything into a tiny little box with really specific labels. I can’t stand labels! So naturally I have used my entire life to dispel the ‘label’ of ‘disabled’, ‘quadriplegic’ or whatever enigma is elected to segregate. Now, this is not a sense of denial or non-acceptance of my injury, it’s more of an attitude that I have adopted and applied to propel me in life.

I’ve thought about it a lot. Growing up in the 80’s in a wheelchair was very different than what is experienced today. Words like ‘normal’ were tossed around often. I can laugh at this now, but can you imagine the flood of emotions I had to deal with when I was twelve. I have come to the conclusion that if the best compliment I ever received was "Wow, you are really normal." (Please insert laughter here) that would be downright depressing. From my perspective, I would much rather receive a compliment like "You stepped outside of your comfort zone." or “You have made a difference.” I tend to think that you would agree with me. So if we all desire these things, why do we continue to stifle differences? Why are so many still pouring their brilliant individual light into a mold?

Perhaps the most common stereotype I have encountered is that I’m a ‘victim,’ someone that needs pity or sympathy. On the flip side, I’m not a ‘hero’ either. While at first glance this may seem better than ‘victim’ but a positive stereotype is still a stereotype. Why is this important?

If the social model continues to reject individualist, then the focus (and the need for action) is not placed on the individual but with society and the barriers which restrict. There is so much unlocked potential in people with disabilities. The reasons are multiple: society and attitude barriers, lack of incentive to be independent, family members that suppress. The list goes on and is as varied as the disability itself.

And I find myself back at the beginning, where the only thing left to do is to change perceptions. Let’s be honest with each other. ‘We’ as a community can change existing stereotypes? What are we doing every day to live beyond the labels? Change is needed.

Leslie

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