What every disabled person needs to ask themselves

Guest post from Phil Friend, Co-Author of a self help book for disabled people, employers and friends called  “Why are you pretending to be normal?”

Are you pretending to be “normal”?

Phil Friend
Phil Friend

A long time ago I went to a meeting during which I was asked, “Why are you pretending to be normal?” I’m a wheelchair user and my disability is pretty obvious, so I was really intrigued by the question.

What the questioner explained was that although my disability is obvious I acted in ways, which somehow denied its existence. The questioner pointed out that I ought to be seeing my disability as an asset not a problem. So here I am all these years later working with disabled people and asking them the same question!

We all know that disability can affect anyone at any point in his or her life. The impact is usually life changing for the individual concerned and for all those connected, family, friends, employers and colleagues. Given that most disabled people are ’not visible’ it is often extremely difficult for them to discuss the issue with others so there is a tendency to cope rather than manage the impact effectively.

Do you want to manage your disability positively?

I have worked with a colleague Dave Rees for many years running personal development workshops for disabled people. The primary objective of the programme is to encourage the disabled participants to take control of their lives by understanding their impairment and its impact on them and those around them.

Our book sets out to explain the social model of disability and, in the process, sends the central character Chris on an imaginary journey – that mirrors the psychological journey upon which many disabled people embark in order to feel comfortable with who they are and what they are.

For example, one conversation has George explaining to Chris the difference between disability and impairment, when to discuss it, how to discuss it and when not to discuss it. Angela suggests that we are all ‘normal’ and goes on to push the notion of the diversity of normality. Jan points out the differences between the social, medical and charity models of disability.

Are you feeling frustrated that people don’t understand?

Chris comes to realise that, “part of the solution is changing other people’s view of me when they know I have an impairment”. Chris’s final interlocutor is Paul; here the emphasis is on the idea that the language we use and the way in which we convey the message is vital – something Paul describes as ‘the music’ – together with ‘the dance’ – the body language, facial expressions and other subtle indicators that are often a guide to communication and meaning.

We hope that this book does justice to the hundreds of disabled people who inspired us to write it. We hope that you will read it and embark on your own journey, which will end when you see yourself as an asset and not a problem.