What It's Like Living with a Physical Disability
I am a girl with a disability. I cannot deny that. But I should not be defined as “the disabled girl,” because I am so much more. My muscular dystrophy requires me to use a power wheelchair to get around. I can walk, but only for short distances. I always like observing people’s reactions when they see me walk for the first time without knowing that I can. It’s not the result of a miracle; it’s a result of my hard work. Yes, I do ask for help for certain things. Yes, I do accept offers of help, but those offers shouldn’t come from people who believe I’m not capable of doing things for myself.
I’m lucky to have grown up in a community that’s so accepting of people who are different, but I do still encounter overt discrimination towards people with disabilities. Earlier this year, I was at a school assembly, talking to a friend and a teacher. My auditorium does not have designated wheelchair seating, so I park in a little alcove in the back. A photographer approached us, and without addressing me at all, asked my friend and my AP English teacher, “Can she move her chair?” assuming that I couldn’t speak for myself. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last.
When things like this happen, I feel like a non-person--just a chair and not a human being. I have thoughts, feelings, ideas, and dreams, and I have the cognitive ability to respond to a simple question. Luckily, my teacher was as outraged as I was. She responded, “She can answer for herself,” and gave him a talking-to about how to address people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, discrimination against those with disabilities is as prevalent in modern politics as it is in face-to-face interactions. Two surgeries and a hospitalization for pneumonia all in the course of a year and a half is a very taxing and expensive experience. That's why I am upset about the House of Representative’s passing of the American Health Care Act. I have a preexisting condition, and that will never change. However, I deserve to pay the same as everyone else for health insurance. I don't know what my family would’ve done without health insurance to pay for my surgeries.
I’m only 16, so I can stay on my parent’s insurance plan for another 10 years, but this issue is much bigger than just me. My grandma has diabetes. Under the AHCA, she will have to pay enormous premiums for two factors that she has no control over: her diagnosis and her age. I urge you to contact your senators to help prevent this act from leaving millions of people like me and my grandma uninsured, just because of who we are.
I don’t know if I would be different if I didn’t have a disability, but I do know that I like the person that I am today. Ultimately, I’ve been able to accomplish great things, both in spite of and because of my disability. My disability hasn’t stopped me from excelling in school, making incredible friends, and living a happy life. I consider myself to be a teenage girl who just happens to use a wheelchair, and that’s how you should see me as well. I do face challenges, but these challenges have shaped me into the strong, positive person that I am today. Don’t feel bad for me because I have a disability. Instead, appreciate me for my abilities and talents, and treat me like any other person. Everybody who has a disability deserves the chance to be treated with respect and equality.
By Naomi Hess, 17