Every once in a while, something crops up on social media that makes me think, YES!!! That what's happened when Handicap This, a two-man show that's all about inclusion, posted this graphic (see right) on their Facebook page. "Do you see me or my disability?" it asks. I knew the question all too well, because it's one I've pondered.
In an ideal world, people would see all of Max. He has cerebral palsy, but that's just part of who he is, not every bit of who he is. His disability should not define him. Max has so many other attributes: he's cheerful, funny, charming, curious, and bright. (And yes, he wears a fire chief hat at all times, which also qualifies as a defining characteristic—one that poses challenges at bathtime, when he doesn't want to take off said hat.)
It is impossible to ignore the fact that Max has CP; his speech is hard to understand, he has trouble using his hands, and he sometimes drools. Chances are if you asked people to describe him, they would say "He's a boy with cerebral palsy." And if you asked people to describe his sister, Sabrina, they would say "She's a girl with freckles who's a little shy." And if you asked people to describe me they'd likely say, "She's short with curly hair and friendly." People do tend to portray others by their most noticeable and distinctive characteristics. I just wish that it weren't only Max's differences that jumped out. How about: "He's a really cheerful kid who loves fire trucks and who has cerebral palsy." If one even needs to mention the CP at all.
Like many adults I know, I was raised without any awareness about people with disabilites and the abilities they possess. My mother and father were amazing parents; it just never occured to them to discuss the topic. Before I had Max, the only person with a disability that I knew was the guy who delivered the mail at the office. He had an intellectual disability. Mostly, I felt sorry for him. There's a guy at my current office who delivers mail and who has an intellectual disability. Only now, I see many other things about him, including how friendly, competent, and dependable he is. I do not look at him and think, He has a disability. I look at him and think, He's a great worker to have around.
I'm grateful to be raising Max at a time when social media is making people reconsider how they perceive those with disabilites. I'm also proud to be contributing to that conversation. Together, parents of kids with special needs can help change perceptions so that people will look at our children and see children first.
Ellen Seidman is a mom of two, writer, editor, and professional snacker who blogs daily at Love That Max. You can find her pondering special needs parenthood and other important topics (such as what her next snack will be) on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ even though she still hasn't totally figured out what Google+ is.
Image courtesy of the Handicap This Facebook page.