Well this puts me in a real pickle, now doesn’t it? I have a friend who argues that a disability is something society gives handicapped people which makes them think they’re not quite as capable in certain things as the norms. If that’s a standard, then I’m qualified: I have lost jobs I would have otherwise gotten out of human resources folks dismissing me because of my arm. It isn’t fun. Officially, my deformed arm prevents me from doing very little; my parents always taught me to never outright believe there were things my arm would prevent me from doing. Unfortunately, a wrist broken in a 2006 bicycling accident taught me otherwise. For three long weeks I had to become a right-hander, and a lot of the little, everyday abilities I take for granted were suddenly impossible: I couldn’t write. I couldn’t shave, ride my bicycle, comb my hair, brush my teeth, and perform a few other things that I had to do on a constant, daily basis. This was only months after I moved to Chicago, too; at the time, I had no friends to speak of who could have made things easier.
I’ve learned to overcome my deformed arm in a lot of ways, but breaking my left wrist made me face up to the reality that my disability is a legitimate disability. It hasn’t kept me from doing a lot of things people tend to associate with disabled people not being able to do. Riding a bicycle became my very job not too long after my wrist recovered. I managed to teach myself a little bit of guitar, and I taught myself piano by playing my sister’s keyboard when I was about eleven years old. I’m hoping to learn to drum, if I ever get around to it; I own a pair of sticks. I can shoot bow and arrow and firearms. I played organized racquetball and hockey. I keep myself in shape partially by doing pushups, but that could be an argument FOR the fact that I’m disabled because I face a pair of insane obstacles in getting them done. (In fact, lifting weights in general is extremely difficult business for me. There are some weightlifting exercises I’m simply unable to do.)
Naturally, I tend to hold my head high and insist I’m on perfectly equal footing with everyone else. That makes it difficult that my next step is to march into the accessibility office and ask them for financial aid – if that’s what they do, anyway. It took many years – especially after being dismantled by my asshole peers in junior high school – but the message that there was no shame in having a birth defect did eventually sink in. I’ve taught my right arm to do a lot of different things, even if I’m not capable of performing certain daily tasks with it. Furthermore, I haven’t tried to hide it in many years. Yet, despite its legitimacy, it’s still a real blow to my pride to want to ask for disability aid. My appointment with the UB Director of the office comes in about a week and a half.
The truly odd part of this weird situation is that I’m sure I don’t stand a great chance of receiving any benefits anyway, because people who share my laments about disability tend to be on an edge. No matter how bad it really is, disability to the norms relies heavily on perception. There’s always a distinct chance that I could walk into the office completely without my arm and not be considered disabled. Maybe my wrist will straighten out and my two missing fingers will grow in and my arm will grow another 12 centimeters so its length is equal to that of my left arm. Disability is an abstract concept, so that might still be considered disabled if the circumstances are right.
Whether or not I can get any aid from it, I am legitimately disabled. There is an odd comfort in knowing I have limitations with my arm, though: It means I have a much better awareness of what I can and can’t do. I’ve also learned that in spite of my disability, I can do a lot more than people think I can. Hell, sometimes I can do a lot more than I think I can.
I stopped playing piano after about three years of sporadic practice, and now I can barely remember what the Center C sounds like. I was never serious about it, never challenged or pushed myself, and was always rather dismissive of it as more of a ten-fingered thing anyway. Besides, I never learned to read music anyway. I regret that attitude now, because it would be really cool to impress the norms by playing an instrument that requires the use of every possible free finger when I have a two-finger handicap.