One of the critical skills for those of us with disabilities is to learn how to become assertive without being aggressive. Being assertive is standing up for ourselves and not accepting our disability as an excuse for rejection. It doesn’t threaten the other person. Being aggressive, on the other hand, puts the other person on the defensive and throws up roadblocks to win–win outcomes. Found below is the first hand account of a persons with disability.
To stop or prevent others from using my disability as an excuse for rejection, I have worked on developing “Me” as a person. I am educated and use these points to help others see me as a person, and not as a disability. Once I moved through my mourning/anger stages, I began working to recover. The man I had been before the accident changed a few things. The kindest, loveliest comment I have ever received was from a friend who said, “I don’t think of you as disabled. I think of you as you, just as you are”. That statement made me believe that I may be presenting myself as a person with a disability, not a disability with a person attached to it.
Prior to my disabling brain injury, I had friends and lovers. A year later they were gone. It had become apparent that my inability to walk or use my left hand was a permanent condition. So, they left. The “Disability excuse” was not given. My disability didn’t even come up in conversation. They just had “Things to do”. It hurt my feelings. I could have taken, “We can’t handle your disability” better that their unspoken, “We don’t like you anymore”. Now, it is I who uses the “Disability excuse”. I have no intention of becoming vulnerable by thinking someone likes me. I just think, “You’re brain injured. You can neither walk nor think straight. You are happy alone. So stay that way!” That is how I handle the disability excuse. I use it myself.
After being confined to a wheelchair now for 11 months, I decided to try something. I entered a wheelchair race, using my drug–store–variety wheelchair. Pro–wheelchairs are nice machines and so much faster. But I wanted to see if I could just finish the race in one piece and I did. Ten miles in 1 hour 50 minutes flat. A second wheelchair race, a 5K, took 40 minutes due to the heavy downpours and loss of grip and traction.
But I am starting to learn something about myself and other people as well. I found that the angrier I got at my pain and the loss of not only all my friends but also my girlfriend (after planning a marriage ), I found solace and comfort in total strangers. I cannot and will probably never be able to relate to others what it feels like to be among 7,400 other racers, all passing me, obviously, but cheering and clapping and just down right egging me on to the finish with their kind words of encouragement and faith.
They knew what I did not know. I was going to finish. Thankfully, they did not see the tears running down my face or my left hand that had swollen up so much that the paramedics wanted to see me first before anyone else had a chance to.
That was the first race. I then spent three weeks flat on my back recuperating from the strain and effort, something my doctors were worried might happen. My body collapsed at the finish line.
During my second race, I bumped into my ex–employer. It did not elicit even so much as a “Hello, how are you?” This after working and managing his dealership for 10 years.
I have gained more friends in the two races than I have ever had in my entire life. My pain persists. I climbed out of bed after two weeks after the race. In future races, I just want to finish and hear my friends and all my soon–to–be friends clapping and cheering me throughout marathons. It will not matter whether I cross the finish line or not because I already know the answer to that. These supporters, who have no idea who I am, have patted me on my back and clapped and cheered right along. These are my friends. And I will finish any marathon and keep going until my disease quits my body and abandons me once and for all!
That was some courage, determination and the doggedness that goes with winners. The lesson, one need never give up, on oneself or others. No matter what.