I am proud to have a disability. I’m not going to sugar coat it: living with a disability is, at times, really tough.
Growing up, I remember feeling anxious at the thought of not fitting in; having to sit on the sidelines, watch my friends do what they wanted, run where they wanted, while I had to sit wishing I could keep up, but knowing I couldn't.
I experienced the feeling of people calling me names, like ‘cripple’ or ‘spastic’, and it would make me embarrassed that I was different. But as I grew older, I slowly started to love the fact I had a disability. I started being PROUD of the fact I had a disability. And why wouldn't I be proud? Everyone in life wants to be different.
Having a disability is a natural, normal part of society. It can happen to anyone, at any stage, even to you reading this.Dylan Alcott
They wear different clothes, different hairstyles, drive different cars and have different jobs. People make decisions all the time that separate them from the crowd, so what better way to be different than to have a disability, as long as I could harness the positives to be the best version of me!
But, I learnt that for the vast majority of people with disability this wasn’t the case. I would get really surprised when people didn’t admit they had a disability, even though they clearly did.
To this day, I see people sharing their stories, saying “my whole life, my family and friends taught me that I didn’t have a disability, and that I should tell people I’m not disabled”. Why? Because being disabled means you’re broken, less capable, unemployable and un-dateable.
I hate it when people say this because it means they’re embarrassed to say they’re disabled. I still get confused when countless Paralympians call themselves ‘Olympians’. They didn’t go to the Olympics they went to the Paralympics, and what’s wrong with that? That is nothing to be embarrassed about.
And why are they embarrassed? Why don’t people want to admit to themselves that they have disabilities?
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The answer is simple. Unfortunately, when you do speak up, society immediately places limitations on what they believe you can achieve. Immediately they say you can't do the work of an able-bodied person. Immediately they believe you are less productive or skillful. Immediately they think you minimise the chance of getting meaningful work. And for many, they believe that rules you out of the dating world as well.
To me, that sucks and makes me sad. And the worst part? These misconceptions are completely and utterly untrue. Having a disability is a natural, normal part of society. It can happen to anyone, at any stage, even to you. No one is immune. Disability does not discriminate!
But, contrary to what many in the able-bodied world may think, having a disability isn’t a death sentence either.
I have spent my life, (and the work I do through my new disability and accessibility training start up Get Skilled Access) changing the way people with disability are perceived in our community, normalising disability, and altering the existing negative stigmas and prejudice.
I want people in this country to feel comfortable to say they’re disabled. I want them to be proud of their abilities and differences, and get out and live the happy and successful lives they deserve. I want them to be able to shop, travel, work, laugh, live and love just like everybody else.
But, society needs to further the expectations of what people with disability can do. We need to stop overcomplicating disability. We need society to employ us, treat us like customers, and not be afraid to start a conversation.
- Dylan Alcott, 2017 Patron, International Day of People with Disability