Sunday, January 14, 2007

Difference, Disability or Distinction?

Down's Syndrome
Originally uploaded by Richard Bailey.

I've been thinking a lot lately about disability and mental difference - and not in the usual terms. You see, I've known deaf people (with and without hearing aids), autistic spectrum people, people with multiple personalities, schizophrenics and rather a lot of people who thought of themselves as "normal." I've known folks who couldn't see, folks who couldn't walk and more.

Some quantity of each were disabled by their mental or physical limitations. But it's come to me that most of the truly disabled people I've met would call themselves "normal," because of limitations they put upon themselves or put up with in order to be seen as "no different than plain folks." Those of us who can't contort ourselves in that way are, I think, somewhat blessed.

This is Georgina.
She works part-time as a chef at a leading restaurant in Cheshire.
She has won many, many medals at Special Olympics over the years in swimming and gymnastics and now she is a swimming coach for youngsters.

On top of all this she is a spokesperson for the Special Olympics.
I have been producing calendars to raise awareness of Down's syndrome and this image was shot for the 2006 calendar.
You can find out more information at:
Also you can look at: to see images from the 2005 calendar.

Uploaded by Richard Bailey on 7 Aug '06, 12.54pm PDT.

Thing is, there is really no linear scale running from ability to disability, any more than there is a true "normal," even in the conditional sense of "a normal What?" (I consider myself a normal aspie, once I discount the PTSD.)

Granted, there are people who are really incapable of doing much at all. But this does not apply to most folks.

There are two primary sources of disability, in my experience; one is imposed from outside, and the other comes from inside. There is a tremendous fear and intolerance of difference in our culture, and one of the ways of coping with it is to define differences as "disabilities" that make such people inherently "inferior" instead of different.

We also have a strong streak of Calvinism that says that a normal person "ought" to be able to do every conceivable thing they need for themselves. That's absolutely laughable in this increasingly complicated world; there are very few people who can honestly claim to be self-sufficient at a standard of living most of us would consider "normal" or acceptable.

The fact is that we all need accommodation and consideration; different sorts in different ways. The thing that has yet to penetrate the collective skulls of this culture is that people like Georgina bring as much to the party as they need to take from it. This is true of me as well - and I hope it's true of you.

Whoever and whatever you are.

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