Thursday, January 13, 2011

a very special episode...

Today I was cleaning off my DVR and amid the episodes of SNL and Ellen, I found a gem that I completely forgot that I'd recorded- E! News Presents Born Different 2. Why am I so obsessed with these "freak of the week" specials showcasing  people with rare or compelling deformities and disabilities as they triumph over adversity? [Tangent: It will most assuredly be rerun, and if you are into that sort of thing, you should give it a try. It was actually really quality- a man with no arms or legs who was a wrestler...the smallest woman in the world who had birthed 3 children with little to no complication.]

Before Maury Povich became paternity test central, I used to complain about him having his "special kids episodes." These monstrosities were basically glorified freak shows, where he would make a young man with no arms show how he can still play the harmonica.[Tangent: I never quite understood why one was contingent upon the other. He still has lungs, right? If he had no lungs...then I would be impressed. Situation as it stands- the guy just has a hobby. Shouldn't all people have hobbies? ].  The audience would clap. Maury would tear up. I would gag.

With that being said, it seems ironic that I am continuously captivated by these TLC/Discovery Health shows that are basically doing the same thing...showing people who are disabled somehow kicking ass in life. Its a bit of a dichotomy. Maybe the absense of Povich is the variable that makes all the difference.

Not to get all serious on you folks [Tangent: Suddenly it's like a middle school dance where they stop playing the Tootsie Roll and start playing Unchained Melody.], but I often think about how I feel about that- being on display as a disabled person first and a person second. Separation vs assimilation. Its a bit of a tightrope walk for many wheelchair users (irony?).

Given the name of this blog, its strange to think that I wouldn't want it emblazoned on my headstone. Frankly, I innumerable other weird qualities that make me different. The wheelchair is pretty low on my list.

When I was little, I had no trouble sticking out like a sore thumb, mostly because I was a disability poster child and was the face of my disability (at least for the middle Tennessee area in 1989, when I was at my hottest!).'s my poster girl headshot. Thank god for orthodontia.
I'm sure I was picked because I was a little attention whore and could truly captivate a fire hall with my gapped teeth and incoherent ramblings telling people why they should donate money to Jerry's Kids.

Then I got a little older and became an insecure angst fest. Suddenly, I became exceedingly paranoid that my mode of transport would define me completely, especially given that, at the time,  I was in disabled swim classes, therapeutic horseback riding and went to Muscular Dystrophy camp every summer; I felt like I was becoming completely alien to the kids in my classes. [Tangent: As if I wasn't only wearing a t-shirt that said "By the way, I'm in a wheelchair" but that the phrase was glow-in-the-dark and I was constantly pointing to it like an A hole.] To balance everything, I subconsciously decided I wouldn't really talk about the chair with my peers.  I had friends in high school and early college that had no idea why I was in a wheelchair until I suggested that we sell shamrocks as a fundraiser in one of the clubs I was in.

These adolescent leftovers still pop up occasionally. In fact, in college, for a couple years I refused to utilize the adaptive technology center. [Tangent: The ADC was a computer lab at MTSU where the tables and printers were all the ADA regulation height and there were always willing people to computers were always available, a rarity in a college library.]. Being that I am a stubborn gal,  I always opted to use the main computer lab, even thought it meant struggling to reach the coin slots on the printers and straining to reach dropped papers. I claimed it was because I didn't "need" to use the ADC. In actuality, I was just trying to blend, even though it made everything 200x harder. Eventually, the lure of computer availability and free access to a color printer dissolved my reservations and separation prevailed, leaving assimilation in the stacks. 

Watching E! Presents Born Different 2 today just kind of reminded me of that struggle to be a person first and an advocate second. Over the years, I have worn in my role as a silent advocate anyway, opting to lead by example. Its important to show society that you can be normal without mentioning it all the time...or wearing a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt.

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