29 October, 2013

The time I learned to say no

The Disney Channel has a series of spots called TTIs, short for "the time I...," where kids and teenagers talk about things that happened to them.  Most of the kids are not famous, but one TTI features a teenage Disney actress talking about her dyslexia.

She explains what dyslexia is and talks about how unhappy she was when she realized she couldn't read as well as other kids. Through hard work and pressure from her family to practice reading, she is now reading above grade level.  The TTI concludes: "Dyslexia makes things hard for me, but not impossible."

I'm not criticizing the actress--she may have been encouraged to spin her story in a certain way, or she may just feel that way.  But I wonder why when we try to give kids inspiring messages about disability, we always hide the possibility of impossibility.  When I was in elementary school, stories we got about disability pretty much were always about dyslexic people and how they had to "conquer their dyslexia" by forcing themselves to read for hours every night.  Eventually they got better.  It was never questioned that the kids in the stories would get better, and it was never questioned that they were obligated to add hours of work to their day for the purpose of doing so.

I'm not dyslexic, but I'm disabled, and I can do the impossible.  That is, if I work hard enough and make enough sacrifices, I can do any of the things that I would identify as impossible for myself.  But realistically those things are still impossible.  For example, if I have to stay up all night to do X thing, then it's technically possible for me to do X.  But like all people, if I stopped sleeping my immune system would start shutting down and I might fall asleep in dangerous situations.  I have to look at my life in perspective to say that it's impossible for me to do X regularly and it would be unfair for people to expect it from me just because there is a set of circumstances where I can do it.

It's taken a lot of bad experiences and support from other disabled people for me to start saying "I can't" and "That's impossible" instead of "That's hard for me."  I was always encouraged to think that if there's any possibility you can do something, you have no excuse not to do it.  Something being more difficult or stressful should not stop you from trying to do what other people are doing.  When I was encouraged to think I could do anything, no one seemed to consider what the consequences of doing anything might be, or if it might be better to put my quality of life first.

Sentiments like "Dyslexia makes things hard but not impossible" are intended as positive and inspiring, but to me they sound not like an encouragement but a guilt trip.  Can't disabled kids say that, yes, it is impossible to constantly work on dealing with their disability if they also want to pursue their interests, spend time with their friends, and just relax?  Can't they say, "Sorry, this is too hard--I'm going to play video games tonight like other kids."

Meanwhile, can't we teach kids to have compassion for other people's disabilities?  I'd argue that the constant procession of supercrips is not helpful in this area.  How is a kid who's raised on "The only disability is a bad attitude" going to be respectful of people who are too tired, too cognitively impaired, or can't see well enough to do what's expected of them?

I don't have a problem with this particular TTI, but I wonder when we will see an inspirational figure who says, "It's hard for me to read, so I'm pursuing a career where I don't have to read that much."  Or, "This is about the time I learned that if I accept my disability and make realistic decisions, I will be happier."  It's not what people want to say to kids--they think it's discouraging--but I think it's what kids need to hear, and I don't think it's discouraging at all.

1 comment:

  1. Very well put - it is asking people with fewer resources to work harder than other people, when instead they should be getting more help than other people.