I'd like to share a submission from a good friend of the ranch, Jessica K. Jessica worked with us last summer. Her own disability gives her a uniquely insightful view of the world.
Growing Up with A Disability:
Childhoods are remembered through school days, summer nights, and down time with friends. For someone with a disability, like me, a childhood is remembered through doctor visits, surgeries, and therapy sessions. Having Cerebral Palsy, or CP, made growing up different for me than my able-bodied peers. Disability forces people into spaces that revolve around the medicalized need to improve quality of life. For me, surgeries were used to improve my mobility which, in an ableist society that values one’s abilities, is directly tied to quality of life.
Like most people with CP, I spent my childhood going to doctor appointments and having surgeries that required me to miss out on school and social events. By improving my body's function, my social and cognitive education became less important. I was lucky that my parents saw the importance of education and forced me to spend my recovery time doing make up work. School has always been a priority for me because my cognitive functioning could compete with my peers when my physical abilities could not. I tried to be as able-bodied as possible so I fit in, and the only way I could accomplish this was being good at academics. I see the same behavior with those who are intellectually disabled; they focus on their physical ability so people do not notice their academic struggles. This need to be academically superior not only benefited me in school, but at home as well. I knew I couldn’t be as sporty as my family was, but I could be the best student. Of course, no matter how smart I was, I still was bullied; though looking back, every kid gets picked on in school. I was targeted for my limp, because for some reason, kids don’t think I’m aware of it. What my peers didn’t know was I had no problem with my walk, in fact, I was proud of it. It took one surgeon six tries to make my legs and my brain cooperate with each other. Pride is one emotion I always try to feel when it comes to my disability, even with all of society telling me it is shameful.
Growing up, The Children’s Hospital Sports Program was the best tool I had for reinforcing prideful feelings. I was proud of my ability to ski down green and blue runs, and successfully manage chair lifts. Most of all I was proud of my disabled identity, because without it, I would not have discovered my love of skiing. By participating in the ski program, I saw disability as an identity worth celebrating. For eleven years I skied with other kids that had disabilities. Every other Saturday, for ten weeks, we owned the mountain. Over fifty kids with varying physical disabilities tore up the slopes and stereotypes regarding the inability of those with disabilities to be active. Skiing allowed me to accept my body, flaws and all. I have had as many surgeries as years I was with the ski program, and skiing is the experience that improved my quality of life the most. Surgeries fixed my body, skiing fixed my perception on disability. Disability is not something that is purely medical, it is the person’s interaction with the world: good, bad, medical, and social. My experience is with the physical side of disability, but there is one thing everyone with a disability has in common when they grow up; the social pressure of being fundamentally different, and accepting that being different is not negative.