The month of March is full of things to celebrate. As someone who is very proud of my Irish roots, I always wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day and listen to traditional Irish/Celtic music. As an English major, I always set aside March 15th to reread Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, warning my friends on social media to, “Beware the Ides of March”. March is also a time where you can find me busily filling out brackets for college basketball’s annual tournament to crown a National Champion, commonly known as March Madness.
March has also been designated as Disability Awareness Month. In 1987, President Reagan designated March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month to increase “public awareness of the needs and the potential of Americans with developmental disabilities” and to provide the “encouragement and opportunities they need to lead productive lives and to achieve their full potential.”
I have Cerebral Palsy and even though World Cerebral Day is October 6th, it’s nice to have a whole month to appreciate those in the disability community and recognize their accomplishments and contributions to society.
When I was a student at Gardner-Webb University, I was on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Committee. The committee’s job was to not only make sure that GWU was in compliance with federal regulations, but to encourage them to go the extra mile to be as accommodating to disabled students as possible, whether they were deaf, blind or had a developmental disability.
I know opinions in the disability community are wide and varied, and I can’t speak for everyone who has a disability, but I never wanted to be treated any differently than my able-bodied peers. I just want an even playing field so I can have the same opportunities to succeed, or in some cases fail, just like they do.
Sometimes, people can be too aware of a disability, however. A trip to the Renaissance Faire with a group of friends provides a perfect example. We were moving through the faire grounds and went past the court jester. His job was to insult everyone who came near his area. He hurled insults at everyone in my group except for me. He was afraid I would be offended just because I was in a wheelchair. I asked him to insult me just like everyone else. He apologized and delivered one of the most stinging insults of the day and I could not have been happier. Why? Because it’s as if my wheelchair disappeared and he treated me just like he did my friends.
Several years ago, my cousin Greg Peterson was trying to earn his disability awareness badge for the Boy Scouts. He had to interview someone with a disability and asked me if I knew of anyone. “Me,” I replied. “Oh, yeah, I forgot,” Greg said.
You see, Greg did not see me as disabled. He saw me as his cousin Jacob, no different than any of his other family members and he has always treated me accordingly. My puppy Gabe is the same way. He doesn’t care that I use a wheelchair or walker. He gives out love and affection regardless. As long as he gets an ample supply of belly rubs and Arin’s Good Girl Dog Treats, Gabe is happy and satisfied.
So, while I recognize the importance of Disability Awareness Month to help shine the spotlight on the accomplishments of those in the disabled community and the need for us to have an even playing field and equal opportunity, I long for the day when it is no longer needed. I would much rather there be Disability Un-Awareness, where people do not see a disability, but a person with hopes and dreams just like they have. Now that would be something worth celebrating.