Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Condition, My Choices

- by Guest Blogger Stephanie Hickey -

My grandmother told me about a story on our local news: a young woman was raped by a census taker in her home. She was twenty-one and had Cerebral Palsy. I have Cerebral Palsy, so my grandmother warned me to be more careful - as if that story was more applicable to me than to other young women because of my condition. I told her I didn’t think I was any more at risk than anyone else because I have Cerebral Palsy and reminded her I have a dog to protect me from possible intruders. Of course that put Grandma on another topic: I should not have a dog because of my disability. A German Shepherd is too big a dog for someone with my disability. I could’ve argued that Sasha - my German Shepherd - has been an asset for my disability. Because of her I am not only walking more, but I am walking better.

Still, I knew there was no point arguing. Grandma made up her mind on my having a German Shepherd before I’d gotten Sasha. A German Shepherd would be wrong for me. Grandma’s reaction to Sasha is just the latest instance of my family members giving me their opinions on how I should handle and live with my disability.

Grandma is just one member of my very large family and they all are caring and supportive. If I hadn’t had such a strong support system, I wouldn’t have made the strides and improvements in my health that I have made over the years. But it has not been without its price. Every family member seems to have something to say related to living with my disability, whether it’s about my exercises, my weight, the way I walk, and now, even my dog. I can always do something more to improve my condition. But it is just that: my condition.

I know that my family only offers their advice because they are concerned. I appreciate the help they’ve given to me throughout my life, but I am capable of doing what I have to do on my own. I accept that I face certain challenges because I have a disability, but I do not think those challenges are extraordinary obstacles. So I want to do as much as I can without interference.

I think that many people with disabilities out there can relate to my situation. Many of us have family members that can’t help but give helpful suggestions about our lives. What they need to understand is that we have to overcome personal obstacles that we face in regards to our disability and any discrimination. We want to have as much independence as possible, and we don’t want to fight our families to achieve that independence. I think families can find a happy medium between being helpful and supportive and giving their loved ones the room to explore their independence.

Everyone - disability or not - has someone in his or her life who thinks they can live your life better than you do - and invariably wastes no opportunity to tell you so. Don’t be afraid to tell them, like I told my grandmother, that you are capable of living your own life.

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