Monday, August 8, 2011

What does handicapped mean?

My father lives in a retirement community.  When asked how he is feeling, he generally answers that he feels good.  And, generally, he does.  He does, however, have his third new heart valve, shoulders that don't allow him to raise his arms, neuromas that cause pain and numbness below his knees, and a variety of other aches, pains, and challenges.  When asked about any of those items - he, like most of the more well-adjusted residents, would answer that "everyone has their issues".

Issues are not restricted to the old-folks home.

Whether it is a bum knee, hearing loss, digestion issues, eyesight degradation, memory loss, attentional deficits, social deficits, dysgraphia, dyslexia, or some other deficit - everyone has their issues. No one is perfect.

I read an inspirational post at this morning that shows a handicapped boy wheeling himself to camp.  The other parents are horrified that this poor child has to wheel himself with his friends down the road to camp.  The kid's friends had to get their bikes to keep up with his speed-demon wheeling.   Which kids are handicapped?  It is the ones that aren't allowed to walk on their own or the ones that are forced to?

Early on in my teaching career, I had a student that was "handicapped".  In that I teach field courses with some rigorous physical activities, early in the semester I pulled him aside.

"I see that you have issues with your arm.  You look very capable.  I just want to let you know that if you are ever asked to do something that is difficult or challenging - just give me a nod, and I will understand.  Do you have any specific limitations that I should know about?"

"Nope.  I'll be fine."

Boy, was he ever serious.  This one-handed boy toted canoes, paddled canoes, pulled nets, went through samples, shoveled, and did everything everyone else did - plus some.  What a great kid.  This kid hadn't accomplished a lot despite his disability - his disability gave him the fire to accomplish whatever he wanted to.  How did he do it?  I couldn't even tell you... I saw the kid tote a canoe and paddle it, and I am still not sure how one paddles one-handed.  He's an accomplished fisherman too!

High school football?  Sure - he played until his father didnt' allow him to - after his good arm was shattered in a particularly rough tackle.  I knew him after he'd recovered from his football injury.  This kid was a perfectly normal, if motivated, bright, and active young man.

No one ever told this kid what he couldn't do - so, he found a way to do whatever was thrown his way.

If we are defined by our actions rather than our words or our shortcomings... we need to take whichever issues life throws at us, however big or small, and succeed however it takes and however we define it.

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