When it comes to defining a disability, it’s easy to think about the extremes. Those who have a physical or mental condition that clearly prevents them from doing the daily activities they’d like to engage in, and those who would say that they don’t have these impediments. But, as with everything in life, disabilities come on a spectrum. What if you struggle day to day but still manage to keep your head above water? Does the act of successfully overcoming your disability, if only for the moment, suddenly mean you’re no longer ‘struggling?’
A single sliding scale of disabilities sounds like a more approachable version, perhaps. The reality is that you’ll quickly find that one dimension isn’t nearly enough to encompass all the many forms that disabilities can take. There are the physical manifestations, such as those that prevent one from walking, moving and speaking. And then there are the mental handicaps — those that are most widely acknowledged — such as damaged brain tissue from a stroke or learning impairments from birth.
But what about general mental fog? That sensation of being weighed down? Movements that are painful but still possible? It can be both a blessing and a curse to be able to hide these from the world at large. You may feel that you have to simultaneously fight for recognition as a person with a disability (or disabilities) and yet still be judged or looked down upon for what you can’t do.
Why does it matter if a person falls into this in-between zone on the disability spectrum? Sure, plenty of people could make arguments about how everyone has their own cross to bear. The truth is that acknowledgment and recognition are often the first steps in working toward equity (as opposed to equality, which asserts that we should simply treat everyone the same). Whether it’s extra time on a test, accommodations on public transit or a simple understanding of different expectations, this recognition can, in fact, make achievements that much more accessible.
Entering into conversations about disabilities that may be perceived as being in a ‘grey area’ can be difficult. How your disability makes you feel, and how you feel about it, may vary from day to day. Just remember that the end result may be life-changing if you do suffer from a condition that affects your physical or mental health.