Since September 11th, many stories have been written about heroes. They have described the many acts of heroism by fireman, policeman, and civilians who attempted to save innocent lives in the face of horrific conditions. Ironically, I have also read many stories recently about amazing achievements by people with disabilities. Many of these stories were presented as portraits of courage and heroism. For instance, an amputee who climbed to the summit of the world's highest mountain, or a wheelchair athlete who completed a 26 mile marathon. I always find it interesting how the non-disabled world views these feats as heroic. That they somehow are deserving of adulation. That the doers are role models. Please do not get me wrong, I view these acts as wonderful achievements worthy of praise. Challenging and overcoming physical limitations is a constructive endeavor for people with physical disabilities. It not only improves physical stamina and fitness, but also enhances mental health as well. I myself have enjoyed 12 years of wheelchair rugby. Competing in wheelchair athletics has been extremely beneficial to me. In fact, I am not sure if I would feel as satisfied with my life had I not participated in wheelchair sports. But these achievements are by far not the most important.
In truth, I am far more proud of other achievements. Like earning my bachelors and masters degrees from Arizona State University. Like going out and getting my first job...after my injury. Like building marketable skills that have allowed me to compete in today's workforce. Like not letting my disability stop me from participating in all aspects of society...not just social, but political and economic as well. These are the feats I would hope others with disabilities would want to emulate. These are the feats that prove that adjustment to disability leads to really "living" with a disability.
In fairness, I realize that not all people with disabilities can return to work or ever work. However, there are many that can and choose to not even try. The fact that only 1 in 500 people who get onto Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) ever get off, return to work, and earn above SGA (substantial gainful activity) seems to be some validation of this opinion. I am not suggesting that newspapers should not write stories about remarkable athletic achievements by [people with disabilities]. They are inspirational for everyone. I do, however, think we need more stories about achievements that many of us with disabilities view as ordinary and normal, but would serve as inspiration for those trying to climb out of the tangled web of disability and unemployment.
This editorial was writen by Phil Pangrazio, Executive Director of the Arizona Bridge to Independent Living. Printed in the December 2001 edition of The Bridge.
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