Living with a Disability
Focusing on the People
By: Jordyn Oglesby
It can be so easy to live your life day to day without giving much thought to what you actually do. If you think about it, there are so many things that we take for granted. Something as simple as walking, eating, or talking can seem so ordinary to a lot of people. Is any thought given; however, to those that may struggle with these tasks?
People that live with physical disabilities on a day to day basis face struggles that can be hard to understand. It can be easy to think that those with these detrimental conditions focus on what they cannot do — making them an unhappy person. This mentality can be supported in a negative way by society. According to Disability History Museum Staffer Laurie Block, stereotypes, “suggests that the image or the attitude is unconsidered, naive, the by-product of ignorance or unfamiliarity.”
She also said that with years of popular culture, our society has adopted six common stereotypes for those with physical disabilities. They include:
· “People with disabilities are different from fully human people; they are partial or limited people, in an “other” and lesser category. As easily identifiable “others” they become metaphors for the experience of alienation.”
· “The successful ‘handicapped’ person is superhuman, triumphing over adversity in a way which serves as an example to others; the impairment gives disabled persons a chance to exhibit virtues they didn’t know they had, and teach the rest of us patience and courage.”
· “The burden of disability is unending; life with a disabled person is a life of constant sorrow, and the able-bodied stand under a continual obligation to help them. People with disabilities and their families — the ‘noble sacrificers’ — are the most perfect objects of charity; their function is to inspire benevolence in others, to awaken feelings of kindness and generosity.”
· “A disability is a sickness, something to be fixed, an abnormality to be corrected or cured. Tragic disabilities are those with no possibility of cure, or where attempts at cure fail.”
· “People with disabilities are a menace to others, to themselves, to society. This is especially true of people with mental disability. People with disabilities are consumed by an incessant, inevitable rage and anger at their loss and at those who are not disabled. Those with mental disabilities lack the moral sense that would restrain them from hurting others or themselves.”
· “People with disabilities, especially cognitive impairments, are holy innocents endowed with special grace, with the function of inspiring others to value life. The person with a disability will be compensated for his/her lack by greater abilities and strengths in other areas — abilities that are sometimes beyond the ordinary.”
These stereotypes for those that are living with disabilities don’t always define the individual. When it came to three Longwood students, however, there was a different perspective on what it means to live with a physical disability that was brought to light.
With the number of people in the country that have physical disabilities, there are an equal amount of organizations that offer accommodations. For example, there is the Association for the Physically Disabled, a national organization that has been helping those who are disabled for 80 years. Their mission statement is, “The Association for the Physically Disabled (APD) is a registered non-profit organisation helping people with most forms of physical disability.” The resources provided through this association include a wide variety from community services to commercial services.
Another beneficial organization is the National Organization on Disability (NOD), whose mission, “promotes the full participation and contributions of America’s 56 million people with disabilities in all aspects of life.” Moreover, NOD focuses on providing equal opportunities for anyone who is disabled to get a job.
Bringing the resources and mentalities of these organizations closer to home, Longwood University offers any help they can to those in need through the Office of Disability Resources. Their mission is to, “work with a diverse population of students with documented disabilities to assure equal educational access. We seek to collaborate with all components of the University community to increase awareness, remove barriers, and promote an inclusive environment where students are empowered to be successful learners, self-advocates, and citizen leaders.”
Resources offered to those in need include various services, test and final exam request forms, housing accommodations, and much more. With these organizations, can the services provided truly be that beneficial? What does it mean to live with a disability, to experience a different lifestyle on daily basis? How different can that be?
“The fact that I’m still here is what I consider lucky and so you just take it and keep rolling with it,” said Longwood student Clint Mooney. He is often seen going around campus with a big smile on his face, greeting his friends and peers with a friendly wave. Mooney is just like any other student here on Longwood’s campus — the only difference? Mooney is a paraplegic.
While it is easy to judge a person by how they look, their story can be something completely different. Mooney had always been avid about every activity he was involved with. He was on the cross country team, loved to drive his truck, and hunt. His story took a different road; however, during his first year at Longwood.
“I was injured in an accident my freshman year of college after Oktoberfest. What came along with that accident was I was in the hospital for probably about six months, and with the hospital and rehab came this chair,” said Mooney. He also went on to say that he is t-4 paraplegic, which means that from the chest line down, he can’t feel or tell anything to work even though everything still functions.
Disabilities are not seen as something that defines a person as Clint put into his own words. He also said, “I don’t like giving credit or bringing up the elephant in the room sometimes about it just cause it’s not a big deal to me.”
In disclosing to Mooney that I had been living with a disability my whole life, his interest brought him to ask whether I believed if there was a difference between the people out there that have lived their whole lives and those who had something happen to them later in life. The conclusion he came to, he said, was, “There are some things that I definitely took for granted [before], you know?” Mooney also said, “I think that one of them was just, kind of, patience. Just like, sitting back and taking time to think things through. Now that I’m in this wheelchair, I kind of have to take that time.”
Mooney closed his interpretation of what it is like to live with a disability about how people in the past had judged him merely by his appearance without making the effort to learn anything more about him. “Most people that try to interview me, they ask about, ‘how this injury has changed you’, or, ‘how does it affect you throughout your life’, and stuff. They don’t really ask about what are some of the personal things that come with it”, Mooney said.
Farris Hallaj is another unique individual who also attends Longwood University. He is a very active figure within the music department as well as an avid theater enthusiast. Similar to Clint Mooney, Hallaj has not let his disability stop him from any task he has faced in his life. Unlike Mooney; however, Hallaj has lived his whole life with his disability — severe visual impairment.
“Well, I was born in 1993 and I’ve been visually impaired from my birth to this day”, Hallaj said, “The interesting thing is that for most of my life I did not walk around with a cane.” Hallaj also said that the only reason he can be seen walking around campus with a cane is that he attended the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, which required everyone who was visually impaired to use a cane.
The optic nerve disease Hallaj has lived with is called optic nerve hypoplasia. He said, “That means that during my developing process my optic nerves ended up being smaller than normal and certain cells did not develop in the exact places they should have been.” What may be surprising to some is that Hallaj is defined as legally blind; however, he can actually see out of both of his eyes.
The most interesting fact about Hallaj is that he is very musically gifted, even with his visual impairment. “There’s nothing that stops me from doing instruments. I play eight instruments”, Hallaj said, “one of them includes singing but the others are the drums, the guitar, bass, saxophone, clarinet, and violin.” Hallaj also said that with his specific form of visual impairment, he has the ability of obtaining practically perfect pitch in terms of music.
Hallaj has had the opportunity to adapt to his disability. This means finding his limitations and knowing that sometimes, people may judge your abilities before knowing the full story. There have been opportunities lost with activities he’s wanted to do, he said he was denied the opportunity to zip line with his family in Puerto Rico. But, even with his disappointment, Hallaj understood that allowing him to go would have been dangerous for him and those around him.
There are benefits that have come with Hallaj’s disability and the use of his cane. “I learned that it is a symbol of my disability and it’s been positive, and if someone were to tell me to follow their voice if they are leading me somewhere”, Hallaj said. He also said, “I could let them know I can see a little bit and I can just follow them to where we’re headed.”
The last individual, Victor Bullock, is a Longwood University senior. He is another example of someone who has lived his life with a physical disability. The biggest characteristic that separates Bullock from others is his willingness to help anyone who asks — so unless he has told you, one would never guess that he has a physical disability.
“So I’ve always had it, it happened at birth”, Bullock said, “it’s caused by the doctor breaking the collarbone as you’re coming out, and so it tears the nerve or the muscle — I’m pretty sure it’s the muscle.” He also said that the doctors had to compensate for his broken collarbone by switching the triceps muscle with the bicep muscle. The result left Bullock with a significantly shorter right arm as well as very limited mobility.
When asked what his thoughts were on the fact that his injury was caused by the doctors, Bullock denied commenting. Instead, he said, “I read over some doctor’s notes and I guess that their initial thought was that I was going to be right handed so they tried to pin my left arm down and make me do things with my right arm.” This method never worked for Bullock; however, and is now left arm dominant.
“I wouldn’t say it affects me that much anymore”, said Bullock, “I’ve learned to pretty much adapt to it with anything I can pretty much tell what the disadvantage is going to be when I do an activity.” If anything, Bullock went on to say, he finds it funny when people ask him seemingly stupid questions like can he write with his right hand or does he have to use his left arm for everything.
Despite everything that Bullock has faced in his life, he faced many accomplishments — especially with sports. “I think in high school it was pretty shocking for everyone, I played tennis and it was kind of funny because I had to adjust my serve”, he said. Bullock was also a very gifted volleyball player. The only differences for him simply were he had to simply shift the way he played the games.
The original mentality I had going into these interviews, based on personal accounts, was that people would choose to only focus on the disability. What Clint, Farris, and Victor proved; however, was that you can prove all of those people wrong. When looking at the disability, it can be all too easy to doubt that person’s abilities. Sometimes those who are physically disabled need to remind others that while they are a bit different, they aren’t limited that much.
Living with physical disabilities on a day to day basis can be difficult to understand from someone who has never experienced one before. That can also make writing a feature piece about a number of individuals who have physical disabilities a bit of a challenge. There can be countless amounts of research done and interviews conducted, but to truly understand the life of a physically disabled and limited person, you have to put yourself in their shoes.
That is the reason why I chose to do this story. I believe that the voices of those who are limited or disabled need their voices to be heard, and what better person to do just that than someone who is in their shoes? You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me that I have been living with a physical disability for the entirety of my life, but I have.
I was born without a left hip socket — it just never developed when I was in the womb — and so the doctors had to construct one out of my femur. What has come with this are countless surgeries throughout my entire life, starting as early as me being a few weeks old. There have been times where everything has gone pretty well, I have a built in shoe lift in my left shoe to level my legs, I never had to run the mile in gym, and I was a pretty successful swimmer.
What comes with a physical disability, though, is not always positive. There are challenges and obstacles that are very much a reality. For example, when I was seven years old, my hip socket began disintegrating. What this meant for me was I kept falling down all the time, hurting myself more than I needed to be, until I had hip surgery where the doctors bolted my hip to the socket with a metal plate and two screws. The good news is that those screws and metal plate are still there today.
Knowing that you will have to spend the rest of your life going to annual checkups to make sure your hip isn’t falling apart, and knowing that hip replacement surgery is a very real thing that will happen in your life can be disheartening. At 22 years old, that isn’t something a young adult would want to worry about yet.
While there are these negatives and realities to consider, my quality of life and the quality of life for Clint, Farris, and Victor are no different than anyone else’s. There is more that we have to consider, and we may need a helping hand every now and then, but we are all living proof that living with a disability does not define us.