(Article 5 of 5)
Persons with physical disabilities hold limited positions as scholars, teachers or leaders in physical education, recreation and sports. Perhaps the reason is that the field is flooded with able-bodied people who think they know best. But what are they? Michael Oliver, a prominent author, and scholar argues that people with physical disabilities should be unique to the field of disability studies because they have physical experience with disabilities. The following five-part article series shares the perspective of a sports scholar with disabilities who has his own physical limitations. In each article, he addresses a different problem faced by persons with physical disabilities in the physical education, recreation and sports professions.
Part V: Talk to me
Traumatic Brain Injury can manifest in many ways depending on the severity and onset of the injury. For example, my bad injury happened when I was six months old. The brain at six months old has great plasticity to generate new neurons, which defines who I am today. I talked and walked, which the medical authorities doubted would happen. Plus, years of therapy and a loving, supportive family bring success. However, the visible difference was in how my body moved. My right side is affected. When I walk, my right leg swings wider than my left. To an able-bodied person this may seem like a limp, which is not the case. Actually, my toes need to clean the floor and because of that, I wear foot braces. My right arm and hand hang by my side slightly differently and my hands are clenched or my fingers are spread out at different angles. I should think about using my right hand. Also, I have a hard time pronouncing certain words and it takes a lot of effort. My eyes have exotropia which means my eyes are misaligned and sometimes my right eye will turn outward.
Unfortunately, people assume things about me because of how I look and how I move. I often notice people looking at me with what I call, “Appearance.” I’m not sure what”Appearance” means because there is rarely any conversation, just “The Look.” My body may be awkward. I am not, however mentally or physically disabled, nor am I in need of pity for my poor quality of life. A person can have a physical disability and have a good quality of life. Most foreigners assume that quality of life is not there because they don’t engage in conversation with me about this topic.
Aimee Mullins, a double amputee, in her TED Talk 12 pairs of my legs found something profound while doing a demonstration for a group of kids. He had asked that the children come without adults. He said, “Let the children come and talk to me.” In ten minutes with children exploring his legs, he went from someone children might train to ignore and fear to someone with the potential to be superhuman.
Able-bodied people are afraid of people with physical disabilities and because they are afraid of us, we never get a chance to show our humanity. Humanity is lost when eye contact is made and then broken by an able-bodied person looking away. We have a lot to offer. I’m a pro in motion science, give me a chance. Challenge yourself. Next time you catch yourself staring, stop, start a conversation. Open to new experiences. People with physical disabilities have a lot to share. You may find new friends, with a completely different perspective.
Mullins, A. (2009a). 12 pairs of my legs. Taken from TED: Ideas worth sharing: https://www.ted.com/talks/aimee_mullins_my_12_pairs_of_legs?language=en
Take This Month’s 5 Part Series
Leading as Scholars with Physical Disabilities
- Don’t judge me by my performance
- I Am Not an Object or Incompetent
- Time Power
- If You Can’t Do It – Can You Teach It?
- Talk to Me
This series was written by Aubrey Shaw, Ph.D. and edited by Dr. Sharon Stoll (University of Idaho)