Living With Multiple Disabilities

In Features, My Piece of the Sky, Opinion by Ariel SilverSpirit

“What did you say?” I asked, as she pointed in the direction I should go. I couldn’t tell exactly where she was pointing, and some of her words were muffled.
This is so frustrating! It’s hard enough having ONE impairment, but TWO? I can just hear them thinking, “Wow, so you’re deaf too huh? Gee, what ELSE is wrong with ya!”

What’s even more frustrating is, when someone has one problem, they’re perceived to be unable to think or feel like “normal” people do. It’s hard enough not being able to see well, and doubly annoying to have to struggle to hear. Hearing aids work for some people, but not very well for me, so I have to make the best of it.

If being short were classified as a disability, I’d be in triple trouble. Having more than one thing that doesn’t function properly can sure be a challenge!

Often, I can compensate for missing words by piecing the sounds together. My intuition will also tell me what was said.

It’s very possible that my subconscious heard the words, and sometimes I can play them back in my mind and the message sometimes gets through by how it sounded, and the context of the sentence.

It still amazes me how Helen Keller managed, but she was lucky to have someone with her all the time to translate to her by using a deaf alphabet; the letters were formed into one of her hands, so she could feel them and then be able to respond. In reading some of her life story in her own words, she had amazing insight and imagination, and also relied on her memories from before her illness.

I’ve missed entire conversations because people were speaking too softly, making hand gestures, and having background noise interfere, too. People don’t always pronounce their words clearly, and run one word into another. This makes for interesting assumptions as to what was actually said, rather than what was perceived. They don’t need to over emphasize their words, or speak too slowly, either. It’s just as annoying for me to ask them to repeat something, as it is for them to do it.

Thankfully, with technology, we are better able to function beside everyone else. We have visual and hearing aids for so many things, which make living independently much easier, and many things that were specialty items for us are finding their way into the mainstream markets, making them more affordable and easier for us to obtain. Wearing glasses has become more acceptable than wearing hearing aids and other assistive devices, yet they can mean the difference between independence and having to rely on others for our basic needs. A good quality wheelchair is still a specialty item though, among many other things.

People in wheelchairs have a unique challenge, besides being unable to walk, because if they’re unable to stand, they’re “vertically challenged.” While lack of height isn’t considered a disability, it can be a big inconvenience. Our society seems to be designed around the average to tall person, neglecting to consider those who are under a particular height, which is around 5’5″.
Some people have trouble reading, and writing. The reading difficulty is known as dyslexia, the writing problem is called disgraphia. These two impairments may be interrelated, though aren’t always present together. Many people have dyslexia but not disgraphia.

Multiple disabilities happen in many different combinations, with varying degrees of severity, which are often related to each other, such as hearing loss and speech problems, reading and writing trouble. Many people with learning disabilities have trouble expressing themselves and may even have speech impairments. A lot of brain damaged people are also blind or deaf in varying degrees, some have movement difficulties, and some also have trouble speaking.

There is a place in this world for all of us, if society would be more sensitive and helpful. We need to be more vocal in letting them know that just because we may require more assistance and specific tools to help us do things, doesn’t mean we’re incapable of doing things which include learning, working, shopping, maintaining our living space and personal needs, enjoying games, movies, books, acting, singing, writing, sports, getting married and having our own families.

They need to see that all we need is a little time, patience, and compassion. We don’t want a handout, just a hand up. Encourage them to take time to get to know us, watch the expressions in our faces, hear our words, feel our emotions, and give us a chance to show how capable we are. They’ll be surprised at what they find. We’re all much more than our physical beings, with wants, needs, dreams and desires much like anyone else, who just want the chance to share, live, and love.

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