Marginalization and Learning Disabilities

Over the past several months I have had conversations with individuals with disabilities who have been marginalized on college campuses due to the actions and attitudes of their non-disabled peers regarding disabilities that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Living with a disability, especially a disability that is considered “invisible”, is difficult for many people to navigate.  After all, we don’t LOOK like there is something wrong with us. This often leaves the door open to those who think that these conditions are either made up by therapists in order to give those therapists something to do, or “faked” by us to gain attention.

The hard issue is that many individual’s who do not have LD, do not appreciate how difficult it is to navigate the world when you have disabilities. I my own life, I am often told that I must not be disabled if I obtained a college degree.  This is the type of statement that would not normally be said to an individual who had a prosthetic limb.  One might presume that life with the prosthetic would be easier to navigate, but we would never presume that the limb had grown back or that the individual was better because they had a prosthetic (if you did make that leap – it would be because you had not experienced the issues that come with having to use a medical device such as a prosthetic).

I have to make a side note here.  When I use the word “disability”, I use it universally to describe a condition or set of conditions that interferes with or prevents one’s ability to participate in the world without accommodation.  This is a simple definition, because it incorporates all forms of disability, not specifically learning disabilities. Many people would say that a disability does not make one “disabled” – which is true.  Lots of people live life with disabilities and they are not limited in what they can achieve or do.  Others will try, but will be stopped by the disability itself. And others will be unable.  No one person copes with a disability in the same way and no one way is better.

But I have noticed a backlash from groups who are frustrated that so many new conditions are being identified – in their opinion.  I continually hear statements such as, “When I was a kid, there was no such thing as dyslexia/AHDH/”insert learning disability here”. It is as if the very idea is preposterous because someone had not seen it or had not recognized it in the past.

The fact is that unless you have it or your related to someone who has it, it’s hard to understand the impact.  In our society, people desire to live a life that is complaint free.  We pat those on the back who have pushed their conditions aside and beaten the odds – so to speak.  Unfortunately, in the disability community, when one does a great job of moving on with their lives, the rest are often seen as victims, bringing down the system or sucking it dry – which is not the case.

The people I spoke to over these last few weeks did not see themselves as victims, they only knew that to be successful they needed accommodation.

Accommodation is such a tricky word.  People think it means taking from what others need to give something to someone else. I venture to say that in some ways every person on the planet uses some type of accommodation.  The mother trying to feed her young combative toddler uses a restraining devise (commonly called a high chair) to help her to feed the child without incident.  A young boy painting the house for the first time uses a ladder to reach the higher parts of the house.  Neither of these individuals is disabled. They use these devices because they are acceptable forms of accommodation.  They might have found a way to cope without it, but it would have been much harder. This is no less true for individuals with disabilities.

This appears to be the sticking point. or requested accommodation for the disability, they received public backlash – backlash that lasted for weeks and ended with the person feeling broken for asking for something that was necessary, just like the ladder and the highchair (yes – these are very simplistic examples).

Before you speak about a condition or a situation you are not living with or in – THINK. The heart you break with you choice words could take a lifetime to heal.

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