Able-bodied. There is so much that goes through my mind when I think of this term. Though difficult to put into words at times I think I can confidently say that I am an advocate for those with disabilities. At the same time, I am not an expert by any means on this issue.
What do you think of when you hear this term? Does able-bodied only represent the physical mobility of a person? Are the blind or Deaf seen as able-bodied? What about the mentally ill?
I personally do not use the term able-bodied very often because I think it shows a sense of black and white when talking about people with disabilities. There is actually a lot of gray area when working with people with disabilities because each diagnosis is unique to the individual. Most disabilities have a sort of spectrum that ranges from mild to severe. However, as soon as the word disabled is used to describe a person, mild or severe, there is a stigma placed on that individual.
I continue to grapple with the idea of stigmatization toward the disabled population. I grew up with an Uncle who had Down Syndrome. This exposure early on as a child taught my siblings, cousins and I a lot about people with disabilities. My family has shown the deepest compassion and empathy toward my Uncle, which is a big reason why I am passionate about working with people with disabilities. I have grown up around the understanding that I must foster the person and not the disability.
I have been working this summer as a Xavier Summer Service Intern (SSI). This program focuses on experiencing and discussing social justice issues while also challenging the students to live in community on Xavier’s campus. As an intern, I have been paired with a non-profit agency in Cincinnati to work at for the summer. I am working at Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. When I found out where I was going to be working I became anxious. I have worked with children and adults with disabilities before, but none that had people who are blind. I was nervous to get started because I did not feel qualified to work with this type of population.
I had no prior knowledge of the blind, but I knew how to interact with people who are disabled. I used this understanding and quickly began to learn about the blind and visually impaired. For example, tactile is huge for the kids because it allows them to feel and understand the surrounding environment.
One of the biggest learning experiences for me thus far is that the kids at Clovernook are pretty independent. A common misconception about people with disabilities is that they always need help. Now, there are people who are severely disabled, which would require a lot of care everyday. However, it is important to not assume that everyone with a disability needs help. My initial thought about working at Clovernook is that the kids would need assistance with everything. I was wrong. I almost felt useless during some days because the kids would tell me that they could do it themselves. I think that my tendency to constantly want to help comes from the underlying idea that people with disabilities do not understand. It is difficult for me to admit this, but I think being aware is the first step. Western society pity’s the disabled population because their lives are hard and different. This causes many of us to look down and baby people using canes, who have hearing aids or who use wheelchairs. In order to combat injustice for the disabled population we must become more aware of how we act, think and feel about people with disabilities.
My experience with SSI has challenged not only my beliefs, but also what I want to do with my future. I firmly believe in fighting injustice for those with disabilities, but I am not sure where to begin. One thing I do know is that, “You can’t change the world in a day, but you can change a life” –John Pickett (United Cerebral Palsy Nashville, Tennessee)
Beth Dubois will be a senior this year at Xavier, majoring in Occupational Therapy with a Gender and Diversity Studies minor. She will be working as a manager this year at the O’Connor Sports Recreation Center and is involved with different clubs around campus such as Autism Speaks U, Dance Marathon and Alternative Breaks.