Disability 'is a part of me, but it's not all of me'

I had the privilege of speaking at an education day for Toronto hospital communicators on Friday.

I was asked to speak about writing about people with disabilities.

I spoke about how too often we fall into using value-laden language that either portrays children with disabilities as victims or as heroes -- as somehow 'below' or 'above' the rest of the population, but not as a regular part of 'us.'

Lucy Nyman is a woman with a disability who spoke eloquently about what is was like to grow up with cerebral palsy. She talked about living in two worlds: the world of her family, where she felt respected and whole, and the world of rehab and her segregated school, where the message was: "You're not good enough. You need to be fixed."

She recounted being forced to walk in her underwear back and forth in front of doctors and "being talked about like I wasn't there. You felt like an object being observed." At age 10, Lucy stopped walking, and doctors insisted it was because she didn't want to go to school. "I remember not being believed or accepted. They thought I was making things up."

Lucy talked about how rehab has to be done in a framework of empowerment -- where children are given privacy and choices and feel validated. "It has to be about empowering the individual," she said. "My disability is a part of me, but it's not all of me."

Lucy now works as a peer support coordinator at the Anne Johnston Health Station, a community health centre in Toronto that serves people with disabilities and seniors. I wanted to share her wise words with you.

Thank you Lucy! Louise