I am in the middle of my fifth decade of life. I acquired my disability at the age of two and one half years old. Living with a disability is a mighty challenge for anyone. My disability happened early in my life so I have always been a member of the disabled community. Identification as a “person with a disability” is a relatively new development/stage of disability. For most of my life, persons with disabilities were identified by the non-human nouns used to describe a condition or state of being: Crippled Handicapped, Physically Challenged, Differently abled, Disabled, and many more names that are too objectionable to give ink.
In my lifetime, I have been classified as many of the above conditions. All of the names/conditions have one key element alike. None of them offer humanity/personhood to the individual referenced in the name/condition. During most of my life classification as a condition, did not have a positive effect on my view of my humanity or my self-esteem. I am a testament to modern medicine. I am also a testament to the internal engines, spirit, and fortitude of the human existence.
I lived life in my childhood in almost total misery. Most people thought it was okay to call you out of your name. I was abused and bullied daily. You were a boy, and boys were tough. People told you to suck it up and just deal with it. I was fortunate because I have an identical twin brother and two older sisters along with my parents that gave me the tools and support I needed to survive. During my teenage years the misery continued. Added to the misery was the near complete denial of my humanity by African American teen-age young women. I grew up in St. Louis, Mo. during the sixties and seventies. Mixed race dating was not acceptable or allowed in Missouri.
I gained my independence and humanity through hard work, persistence, dedication, and the acceptance by my high-school basketball coach that I was a person. I have talents, skills, and abilities more advanced than physical dexterity. Once I gained my self-esteem and humanity life began to change. I became a leader of young men. A teen-aged African American young woman who saw “me” not my condition noticed me. I finally had a girlfriend. I became a leader at work. I became a leader in my high school. I was a leader at my college. I became a leader in my community. Living with a disability is a challenge in my expert opinion. It is a challenge that I have won. It is a daily set of obstacles to overcome. Having a great attitude and exhibiting positive behaviors will lead to success.
Kenneth Brown is a disability advocate/consultant and business owner. He welcomes your comments. Please send your comments to Kenneth at firstname.lastname@example.org.