At a very early age it became apparent that I was going to be doing things differently, the first teller of this was the way I struggled to learn as the other kids in my classes did. I was very fortunate to grow up with a family that although I was doing things a little differently never made me feel I in fact was different, less than or incapable of what others were. As I grew up, time and time again whether it be medically or intellectually, bumps appeared on the road but as always, I carried on with the simple knowledge that there were many ways to do everything. With this attitude I was able to carry myself with a certain confidence, carry myself in a way that no one would ever see me as “less than”.
When finally, being diagnosed with a learning disability in my first year of college, I was given accommodations. I was happy to receive these accommodations, I felt school was finally going to be as easy as or as hard as it was for everyone else. Getting notes from a friend with a new “Purpose for asking” was wonderful. However, at one point during the year I had a few teachers ask me “why don’t you take advantage of extensions, of extended test times, why don’t you go to the test centre to take your exams?” which posed a real eternal question of “I have the option of help, why haven’t I accepted it?”. Very quickly I came to the conclusion that I did not use those accommodations simply because they made me feel “different”, they made me feel like I needed help rather than I was just doing things another way.
I could say that receiving a diagnosis of having a learning disability and receiving what came along with that diagnosis, was the start of my understanding of how labels can change things, change perceptions. But, I think the first time I began to have an actual understanding of what it felt like to be “disabled” or how society reacted to disability was the day I began to walk with my cane. I was now wearing my disability on my sleeve, I was visibly different. Immediately it became clear how anxious, or rather unsure many individuals are of dissimilarities. In public when I smiled I no longer received smiles back, no longer was able to start conversations with strangers that didn’t eventually involve the statements “what’s wrong with you?” or “how did you get hurt?”. I became used to pity.
The truth and fact of the matter is that in this day in age, although society is moving forward, the single factor that unites those with disabilities is that our society discriminates against us. The way I see it is that if you are in fact “different”, especially visibly different, disability becomes a huge marker of one’s identity. What you do and who you are matter, but those pieces are no longer the most important part of your puzzle, of your description. I am thankful for the lessons I was taught from an early age about differences because realistically to most of society, disability is the opposite of the simple knowledge that there are many ways to do everything. To the general population disability is a problem.
Written by Katya Vukovic