I know this is late but I was at the Polaris SF con last weekend and didn’t have time to post about being different, being disabled.
Yes, disabled. Literally a lack of ability, it doesn’t mean that a person can’t excel. Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest minds humanity has ever known. He also lacks the ability to stand. His weakness does not invalidate his strength, or his worth as a human being. How great the loss to us would be if we only saw him for what he is not. Conversely, how foolish and condescending of us if we don’t acknowledge the totality of him. An extreme example, would you want Stephen Hawking to work as a lifeguard? Stephen Pearl is nowhere near as smart as Dr. Hawking but Stephen Pearl does hold a current National Lifeguard Certification with the LSSC. Only by accepting people in their totality can we let them shine.
I know about disabilities because I have a disability. It is invisible and compared to many mild, but I am severely dyslexic. For most of my adult life I’ve spelt at about a grade four level. With much effort, using a computer that corrected me and offered alternatives without calling me a stupid, stupid boy like my school teacher, I’ve dragged that level up to about grade six, maybe seven. This improvement has been realised over about ten years.
My difficulties have hounded me professionally forcing me to spend hours correcting the spelling in my novels. It has also affected me socially where people on listing boards have attacked me for my misspellings. Many relented when I explained that I am dyslexic and that the time necessary to correct my spelling is prohibitive for non-professional communications. Others called me lazy. I had one who went so fare as to spell correct my post and e-mail it to me saying it took him five minutes and that I was hiding behind my dyslexia. What this fool didn’t realise is it’s easy if you know the proper spelling, but often faced with several choices for words presented by my spell checker I must resort to a print dictionary’s definitions to know which of the options is correct. In addition, I must ask, what makes these self-appointed grammar police think they have a right to harass another traveller on life’s road. If they don’t want to read the post they can just skip it or hit the ignore key by my name.
I would like to state that I have the greatest respect for deaf people who teach themselves to speak. As I understand it, when they do a prepared speech they will practice in front of an oscilloscope to get every word right. Though I would think this would prove impractical for casual conversation and it would be up to the listener to put in a little extra effort to understand what the deaf person is saying. I leave it to you to draw your own parallels.
Setting aside the school system that miss-diagnosed me as mentally retarded, another proper term the PC brigade has targeted.
Retard: to delay the progress, development or accomplishment of.
Mental: of or in the mind.
Taken from the Concise Oxford Dictionary.
I see no comment about a person’s moral worth or value as a human being here. I do see a clearly descriptive term stating that a being’s ability to grasp intellectual concepts is inhibited as compared to the norm for its species.
Back to point, Because of this false diagnoses I was nearly warehoused by the very institution that was supposed to help me. Fortunately my sister attended a lecture that discussed dyslexia and persuaded my parents to take me for further testing.
Years followed where I was in a special class. And in every school where there were special classes there was a class for the mentally retarded just down the hall. The name-calling and attacks this empowered added to the normal self-doubts of childhood.
At university I had a prof who sought to humiliate me in front of the class and forced me to be tested by another prof who tried to set one of his graduate students up with a nice little cash cow to milk for eighteen dollars an hour tutoring. A fist slammed into a desk and a raised voice that effectively told this weasel that I worked hard for my money and I’d take it out of his smarmy hide if he didn’t tell the first prof to back off on the spelling police and mark the content of my work ended that little scam.
Moving into the workplace I soon learned that it was useless to apply anywhere that demanded I fill out a form application. On a résumé I could take the time to make it right on a form it couldn’t be done.
And so life goes on. You notice something though. The base problem is an annoyance, a surmountable obstacle as is evidenced by the fact I currently have three novels published by two separate publishers. It is the response of people who are so convinced of their rightness and superiority that generates most of the difficulties. I am disabled, I am also fairly intelligent, have excellent swimming abilities, Good organisational skills, am a better than average public speaker. When you look at a person do you see all of them or just the wheelchair, stutter, white cane, mangled word? If you ignore the disability you expect the blind to cross the street unaided, but if that cane is all you see you put the blind in a box and deprive yourself of all that person can offer. The same applies to all disabilities they are part of a person not the totality.
Employers must ask themselves will the disability truly affect the ability to do the job? If not why focus on it, if yes, OK it’s a valid consideration.
On a personal note, I’ve found ways to make my disability a strength in my writing. As I read through looking for spelling mistakes I often find other things. A place where I’ve used three words where one would do, a logic flaw or the like. The meticulousness my disability forces on me improves the writing and makes me a stronger wordsmith. Thus a disability becomes an advantage.
Well, that’s my take on things. You can either come out swinging because I used language properly or hear the message of my words. Either way I ask this. Try to see the whole person in those you meet. A white cane, hearing aid, wheelchair, mangled word is only part of the story.
Causes Stephen Pearl Supports
World Wildlife Fund, SPCA, Farley foundation, CNIB,