A Sideways Look at (dis)Ability - Who Gets To Write the Rulebook

An essay taking a different look at disability written by Louise Finer, who many would describe as being 'disabled' and who lives in one of our apartments together with her husband Harry.

Most people would agree that we are made up of mind, body and soul. Is there any individual who is complete in all three areas, or even one, be it emotional, physical or spiritual and what is the compass by which we measure such a thing? On a scale of 1-10 perhaps most of us would not reach 5 in more than one category. So, what is disability?

The word disability is commonly understood to mean that, to a particular person, specific physical actions are unachievable. However, many ‘able-bodied’ people who choose not to look anywhere other than straight ahead would, if they viewed themselves ‘sideways’, accept that they too do not achieve all they are physically able to, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are too stout or too thin, don’t extend themselves or are out of condition, etc. etc. So, it could be argued that, for many people, there is an element of choice with physical ability. If able-bodied people choose not to search out their potential are they disabled by default?

Or, perhaps it is the ‘no choice’ element that determines the definition of physical disability.

When applied to our emotional state the word ‘disability’ is surely impossible to quantify. Although we may feel we are emotionally intelligent – can this ever be judged subjectively?  There may be elements of our character that remain undiscovered to us until, or unless, we are challenged by certain situations. We may even consider that in specific adverse circumstances we would respond well. However, should such a circumstance occur, an observer may objectively consider this not to be the case.  It was said by someone or other (was it Freud ~ or Woody Allen perhaps?) that every person is neurotic within certain areas of their personality. The deciding factor as to whether psychological intervention would be helpful is usually determined subjectively by whether an individual feels able to function satisfactorily in their daily life; but some may feel they need help and not seek it. So, are we not all emotionally disabled in some way if we fail to reach our full potential?  However, does our emotional potential not always remain an unknowable concept?

Some people feel incapable of connecting with their own spirituality and forever travel a bewildering road, not knowing how to seek out or find the right path. Many may live in perpetual search of themselves, painfully longing for their elusive spiritual dimension as it continues to elude them. Do we consider them disabled when they search but cannot find? What about those who never start their search – their pain perhaps so deeply buried that they are oblivious a search is even an option? Or, perhaps people may feel satisfied by their earthly existence and have no yearning for spiritual fulfilment.  Can they be considered spiritually disabled?

Does our unquestioning acceptance of limitations, in any one of these three areas, without exploring our possibilities, equate with self-inflicted disability? Also, can it be considered a self-inflicted disability not to pursue obvious opportunities, for whatever reason, in whatever the circumstance we find ourselves?

And, as we all have our own baseline determined by a personal point of reference, who is it that gets to write the rulebook?