MY WRITING ESSENTIALS LIST

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.” — Zig Ziglar

Like taking a bath, brushing our teeth and drinking water, adopting regular habits that promote a healthy lifestyle not only improves our health–physical, mental, emotional and spiritual–but can also help us maximize our productivity.

With that said, here is another list, and another happy Rhianna. [Okay, I’m always happy when I blog, but you know my thing for lists!] These are my six writing essentials, my must-haves that kick up my motivation, get my writing fingers in gear and make writing a little easier and a lot more caffeinated.

I. BrailleSense U2

My first foray into the world of braille notetakers for the blind was in the fourth grade when I received my first PacMate from Freedom Scientific. With a refreshable, 20-cell braille display, it became home to my earliest writings—stories about my crushes and my journal of the houseboating trip my family took two summers later. In middle school, I upgraded to the BrailleNote Apex from Humanware,similar in that it used a refreshable braille display and was a fully functional unit, but with more advanced features.

And since grade 11, I have used the BrailleSense U2 by Hims Inc., which I have lovingly nicknamed George.

Braille is not merely a method of reading and writing for me; it’s freedom, independence and a love I can’t quite articulate. Reading words with my fingertips shows me a world I can’t touch through audio; it’s tactile, real, and the words come alive for me in a way they can’t do any other way. Whether reading someone else’s words or writing my own, it needs to be in braille. I focus better, I edit better, and I believe that I write better when the words trying to escape my brain have a physical outlet beneath my fingers.

But these devices are far from affordable. Often in the thousands, I find it tragically ironic that assistive technology is often too expensive for the very people its created to serve. That’s why I’ve held onto George for as long as I can, but his time is coming to an end. The BrailleSense U2 is no longer supported by the manufacturer, many of the functions I rely on stopped working a long time ago and mine has developed an eerie rattle. But I can’t buy a new one like I could a new notebook [something I’ve always longed to be able to write in].

This is why I have a GoFundMe campaign to raise financial support to purchase a new computer. You can read about my funraiser for a QBraille XL here and I’d appreciate any support so I don’t ever have to write without my beloved braille computer, George. Because yes, every braille computer has been and always will be called George!

II. My Couch/Bed

I’ve been told time and time again that my two favourite places to write are bad for my back—and it is, awful, in fact. But I can’t escape it. The familiarity, comfort and safety they bring allow my brain to relax and let my imagination and words flow.

My bed and my couch are my two havens of comfort and coziness. I find that I am most productive here, wrapped up in a blanket and surrounded by pillows. It’s the perfect recipe for a happy Rhianna.

I can write in coffee shops, on airplanes and wherever else I happen to be, but by far, these two spots are for me, my words, and of course, my dog [because he has to be comfy too, right?]

III. Music

Not a unique item for a list of writing essentials, but as I am rarely without music as it is, it is even moreso when I’m writing. Whether it’s blasting on my Amazon Echo Dot or in my headphones, there is always music around me.

I have written with almost everything from country tunes to acapella hymns on repeat in the background. One of the key words there is repeat; I do have to listen to songs on repeat or else my mind derails and I get distracted in the story, the rhyme, the instrumentation or whatever else my brain desires to use as an excuse for not writing. With songs on repeat, I don’t have to guess at what’s coming up, and if the song inspired my writing, it’ll continue to do so as long as I play it over and over and over again. Apologies to anyone in advance who ever wants to write with me!

IV. Coffee/Water

Before the last few weeks, this item would have only listed coffee. But I’ve been re-inspired to drink more water, so now coffee has to share the spotlight.

I recently bought this half-gallon water bottle with time markings and I carry it with me everywhere. I make it a habit to drink one bottleful before bedtime, and though I can’t see the time markings, which say things like “almost there” when the line reaches 7 PM, I find it motivating to push me on. Water helps keep me healthy and energized, and besides, I get the bonus of having a water bottle in my favourite colour—green [the pink was a somewhat unfortunate side effect].

But that can’t detract from my love of coffee. Hazelnut creamer is a staple in the fridge, and I know the way to the shops that serve hazelnut lattes like I know my own house. Yes, I love the taste, but coffee is also a comfort drink that brings me back to memories of people I love. And yes, I’m drinking a hazelnut latte as I write this. Would you expect anything else?

V. My Blog

In college, I heard a story about the lecturer’s two daughters; when they were small and on a family hike, the mother tried to motivate them to reach the top, but knew that each daughter was motivated by something different. For one, it was chocolate, and for the other, it was a few dollars. I don’t remember the point beyond the commentary that a person is either externally or internally motivated, but it stuck with me.

Like the two daughters, I am externally motivated. Money and chocolate both work, but another force I’ve found to be incredibly adept at motivating me is my blog.

Seeing my words, alive on the page and being read by others is magnetic, a strong, unrelenting pull that encourages me on when I get discouraged. Hitting “Publish” on a post gives me an adrenaline rush that I can’t quite describe, like the moment my feet lifted off the ground in my Hawaiian vacation paragliding expedition. That feeling alone is worth writing for.

VI. My Why

When I was a kid, I wrote because it was fun. I could make animals talk and do things that I couldn’t do. Later, I wrote because I was told that I had a talent for it, a skill that if I honed, could take me places. And in the awkward years between teenager and emerging adult, I wrote because of the question that niggled at the back of my mind, the one that whispered, “what if you can’t do anything else?” That’s not to say that I didn’t love writing, that I wasn’t head over heels for the craft or the way words on a page could say what I couldn’t out loud.

But it wasn’t until after I started blogging that I began to write for myself. I finally found my why, the “thing” that I wrote for, the pull, the draw, the passion that moved me to get up each and every day and write, even if no one would read it [or even if they might one day]. It’s what I lived for, what I longed to bring to life and what satisfied me in a way not much else has ever done.

I found my why, and without it, there’s no reason to write. That is an essential I never go into a project without, because it’s the only thing that makes the words live and breathe and make them worth writing.

What are your writing essentials? Are you externally or internally motivated to pursue your dreams? What keeps you going? Tell me in the comments.

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — Y IS FOR YES!

It’s here at last, the final instalment in the series, The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility! It’s bittersweet reaching this point, but more than a sadness at seeing this series come to an end, I’m excited to see where we take it going forward in our lives. I, as much as anyone else, have so much to learn, so much to explore, and I for one, am so excited!

A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y… isn’t that the rhyme we’ve been taught when learning our alphabet? Y’s place on the list of vowels is questionable, but on this list, there’s no argument.

Why.

Because…

Y is for Yes!

I’m not a natural adventurer. I’ve grown into this aspect of my personality and primarily, it’s come through practice and repetition. When faced with “hey Rhianna, do you want to go [camping, spelunking, skydiving, etc, you can fill in the blank], my instinctual response is to say no in favour of staying securely within my comfort zone at home with a cup of coffee, my guide dog and the familiarity of my surroundings.

But I’m learning to say yes. Not always to adventures of the outdoor variety because to be frank, I don’t believe I’ll ever enjoy them. One needs only to ask my ex-boyfriend to find out how grumpy I am on camping trips. But in non-outdoor environments, ones that are designed to grow me as a person and expand the limited perspective I’ve become accustomed to from living inside Rhianna’s brain for 26 years, I’m learning to say yes.

So, when the conversation turns to accessibility, I’m learning to always say yes.

Recently, I was asked if I thought the perception around disability and disabled people in society was improving. Yes, I said, when it came to physical accessibility and the ways in which we can accommodate different bodies; more buildings have wheelchair ramps, there’s more education and resources available on adaptive equipment and the creation of those devices are becoming more widely known and recognized in the non-disabled community.

But I also said no, I didn’t believe it was improving in the places where it counts the most–in the hearts of the people we love and do life with.

When I’m being “helped” across the street against my will, I do not feel trusted as an individual, capable of making safe decisions. When I’m denied access to establishments because I work with a guide dog, I feel discriminated against because of a tool that gives me independence in a way I’ve never had before and that many people take for granted. When a disabled person is praised and viewed as inspiring for being able to use a microwave, we are belittled. When our disabilities make able-bodied people thankful that they aren’t like us, we are pushed to the margins of society.

Until our disabilities are seen as an asset, until we are treated as people, until we are valued as equal members of society and not pushed to the sidelines, we have not grasped the true meaning of acceptance, love and equality.

there is so much work still to be done. And the best way to do this is to say yes.

But how, Rhianna? What do we say yes to? Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

  • Say yes to making the lives of disabled people as fulfilling and lifegiving as possible.
  • Say yes when disabled people need you to cheer them on in the fight against ableism and discrimination.
  • Say yes, I trust you, when disabled people tell you they don’t need help.
  • Say yes, I’ll help you, when a disabled person does reach out for help.
  • Say yes to seeing people with disabilities as people and not broken objects in need of fixing.
  • Say yes to being our allies and not our enemies.
  • Say yes, I see you for you and not what is or is not on the outside.

We are people. And people deserving of the same human dignity, value and love that every human deserves.

But we also have disabilities, and those parts of us are just as valuable, just as worthy and just as in need of love and equality as any other.

Come with me and let’s work to create a world of accessibility, equality, trust and care for every person in it. Because when we make the world a better place for one person, it becomes a better place for everyone.

Well? What do you say?

A BOY BROKE MY WHITE CANE AND DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE — A MINI MEMOIR

A true story from my middle school days, I’m sharing the following story because I want to raise awareness of a very real issue that many people don’t consider:

Never touch a disabled person’s mobility tool. Whether that be a guide dog, a cane [as in this story], a wheelchair or any other type of mobility aid, it is for no one’s use except by the person it’s intended to support. And that is because it is not simply a piece of equipment or technology, but it is their access, their freedom, independence, mobility, safety and their means of communicating with and moving through the world.

But when that freedom and independence is compromised, it can wreak havoc and put that person in challenging and potentially dangerous situations. And more importantly, it takes away their autonomy.

There’s the moral of the story, even though we haven’t gotten to the story yet. So, without further ado…


I’m in the seventh-grade wing of my middle school, the halls blissfully clear and quiet now that class is in session. I’m on my way to the resource room, where I frequently work on projects one-on-one with my braillist. It’s just easier sometimes, especially in math and science when I need more specific adaptations or explanations of sighted concepts that are hard to understand. I don’t mind; anything to get out of a classroom of kids I’m not friends with.

The resource room is on the opposite side of the school, up a flight of stairs, down a ramp and past several twists and turns. But I know it forward and backward. I can walk it with my eyes closed, I think to myself, and I smile sardonically at my own blind joke.

And it’s a good thing, too, since I’m still in the hall by Mrs. George’s classroom when a boy slams into me, nearly knocking me to the ground. Where did he come from? There was nothing but a split second of pounding footfalls before the impact.

But before I can say anything, he’s gone.
I regain my balance, and notice that the quiet of the hall has returned as quickly as it was interrupted. I shake it off as best I can and grab my cane to begin walking to the resource room. But something is wrong. Very, very wrong.

The end of my cane, which has a rolling tip on it that rolls smoothly as I sweep my cane ahead of me from right to left, isn’t there. Instead of the smooth, bumping sound reverberating from the linoleum, there’s only an eerie nothingness. The tip isn’t touching the ground. It’s then that I reach forward, trailing my hand from the rubber grip top of the cane downward.

And then I see it. My cane is broken. Snapped in two like a twig. A carbon graphite twig. The lower half hangs limply from the string which is normally thread invisibly through the cane, holding it together.

I can’t use my cane like this! It’s physically impossible. And without a cell phone, or anyone in the hall, and no way to tell my braillist what’s happened, I take a step forward and am thankful I was taught how to keep myself safe as a kid before I got a cane. I hold my cane in the crook of my arm, and put one hand up to protect my face and the other in front of my belly button, and I start walking.

I shuffle through the halls–careful not to lift my foot in case of missing a drop off and POOF, down I go–up the stairs, down the ramps, and listen for the echo of the openness where the hallways intersect, and turn. I don’t pass anyone which I’m grateful for because I know this must look weird. What’s the blind girl doing now?

I make it to the resource room unscathed, my broken cane tucked under my arm. I work on my science project, then my braillist guides me out to the parking lot to meet my mom when the bell rings.

Then, we buy a new cane.

A WOMAN SAID SHE WOULD HAVE HAD AN ABORTION IF SHE KNEW HER DAUGHTER WOULD BE BLIND — A MINI MEMOIR

Disclaimer: This story deals with the subject of abortion. There is no explicit or graphic content, but if reading about abortion is difficult or triggering for you, I’d encourage you to think carefully about whether you want to continue reading or choose something else that I’ve written.
This is a true story that happened while I was in my second year of university. By telling this story, I am speaking up for the unborn children whose lives are ended due to disability. I am not seeking to debate or argue, so please leave such comments out of the comment section. Thank you.


My heart pounds and the tears sting my eyes. My partner reaches for me and I collapse into him. The room is quiet as the other pro-life club members look on in stunned silence, watching for my reaction. But I can’t react yet. I can only hold on to my partner for dear life. Life that had unknowingly hung in the balance for a girl just like me.

I meet her on the way to my health class as I crunch the leaves with a childlike joy. Upon seeing my white cane, she says, “I have a blind daughter. Can I ask you a question?”

“Absolutely! I’m Rhianna,” I say, offering her my hand.

“My daughter is only nine now, but I want her to have a good education. Seeing you here, I presume it works, but I don’t know how. Will she be able to do university?” She sounds both hopeful and apprehensive.

I want to hug her. She doesn’t know the ins and outs of post-secondary education with a disability, but who does until they’re faced with it head-on? I’m just so happy that she’s taking the time to find out.

We stand on the sidewalk, students bustling past as I detail my university experience — how I receive electronic textbooks, the accommodations provided for students for disabilities and the support offered by the Disability Resource Center on campus.

“Thank you,” she says, a genuine relief in her voice.

“No problem. Happy to help.” I say, and I run to my kinesiology lecture for which I am now almost late.

An hour later, in the pro-life club meeting, I excitedly relay my conversation with the woman with the blind daughter. “She doesn’t know much about blindness, but she’s determined to learn what she needs to for her daughter,” I say.

It makes me think of my parents, not knowing anything of disability until their four-year-old daughter gets diagnosed with bilateral eye cancer and then all are thrust into this new, unknown world. And with everything new and unfamiliar facing their family, they did the best they could—which was pretty great. I smile. My parents are awesome.

Valerie enters the room with a summary of her conversations around campus about the student body’s perspectives on the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

“I talked to this woman who has a blind daughter,” she says.

“I met her,” I say. “We had such a good conversation.”

“She told me that if she had known her daughter would be blind, she would have had an abortion.”

The silence is like thunder, but it can’t compare to my heart. How can this be? She would have aborted her own daughter? She was so determined to give her daughter a good life, yet she would have had an abortion and taken away that life by choice? And all because she was blind?

My mind starts spinning. Would my parents have aborted me had they known I would be diagnosed with cancer and be blind for the rest of my life? I know in my heart the answer is no, but the thought makes me sick. My parents may not have made that choice, but others have, and still might.

And now, all I want to do is hold this nine-year-old girl and tell her that she is enough, that she’s loved and she will have a good life.

After the semester, I leave the pro-life club, not because my position changed but because I’m not in a place where I’m ready to have these conversations and hear someone’s brutal honesty about people’s perceptions of the value of life, and particularly, disabled lives. Because I know that woman’s view is all too common, and it won’t be the last time I hear the same sentiments.

I just hope that woman’s daughter never has to hear it, especially from her own mother.

ANNOUNCING THE AUTHORS WITH DISABILITIES SHOWCASE!

When I mentioned to a friend that I was switching from posting on the blog twice a week to every other week to try and ease my mental stress, I was met with the exact validation I needed to hear: “Balance is the key.”

But balance is a very hard thing to do well.

And while I am trying to keep to a schedule, I’ve been sidelined by other blog-related projects that have me super distracted and super excited. And one of these is ready to be announced… today!

Please welcome to the blog … The Authors with Disabilities Showcase!

July is Disability Pride Month, and though I’ve kept quiet about this specific celebration on the blog, I’ve been celebrating hard. And this online bookstore is one of the ways I am choosing to celebrate this month and all year round.

The Authors with Disabilities Showcase [AWDS], came out of a desire to showcase the talent in the disability community. A place for only us to be center stage, a place where our stories are on top. I wanted to create a space where we can go to learn, discover and connect with someone else’s story of disability, because each story is as important and unique as the person who wrote it.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished on this blog. No matter how many subscribers I have or how many clicks I get, I’m proud, because I’m doing what I’m so passionate about and know deep-down that it’s what I need to do. But I’m just as proud of every other person with a disability out there who has told their story and is working to create a better world for us all.

That’s whose stories you can read here. And I sincerely hope that you do take some time to browse the bookstore and find something to read. You never know what difference it could make or what friend you could find in these pages.

Check it out here! And don’t forget to check back frequently as I’ll be continually adding to the collection.

Happy reading!

INACCESSIBILITY — AN UNFILTERED RANT

I am here for a quick moment, not with a pre-planned, edited post, all nice and filtered to give me a better chance at being listened to. I am not here to offer any deep thoughts or new ideas or suggestions to be a better ally.

I am here to ask one question, and one question alone.

IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK TO MAKE YOUR WEBSITE ACCESSIBLE IN 2022?

I HAVE planned to do a full, detailed post on one particular organization’s 1: lack of accessibility, and 2: inability to use disabled characters as anything other than inspiration symbols or pity figures, but this is not that post. It DOES however, deal with this organization, and their updated app/website experience.

It’s set to launch on July 18, 2022, but as an exclusive member, I’ve been granted early access. And while I’ve watched all other members loving and raving about the new update, I’ve been up late, almost in tears with my husband over the simple fact that I can’t access it. Their website probably looks great… visually. But it is utter h*ll for blind users, navigating it with a screenreader. Its features are probably so helpful and more detailed to give a better insight into the content… but I wouldn’t know.

I can’t access it.

And after the many months they’ve spent promoting the upcoming, updated experience, I’ve been wondering, “will it be accessible?”

I think I have my answer. I’m remaining slightly hopeful that the official launch will bring about some remnant of accessibility, but since I’ve had access [no pun intended] to the early preview, I highly doubt it.

It infuriates me. It makes me sad. It makes me want to scream, and cry, and wonder how, in 2022, they can produce content that uses disabled people for their inspiration and pity tropes, and not even consider accessibility so that their real-life, flesh-and-blood disabled fans can access that very content.

Are we not worth it?

Okay, I think that was two questions. And I will end with a third, one that I don’t have an answer to at the moment, but maybe someone will share their perspective with me. Here goes:

At what point does someone stop supporting a beloved cause to stand up for their belief and passion in equality and accessibility?

THE LIE OF THE LIMITLESS PHILOSOPHY — AND WHY LIMITS ARE ACTUALLY A GOOD THING

Whether you prefer to use the term pessimist, realist or glass-half-empty, it amounts to the same thing: I see the world as it is. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown up disabled, and been subjected to my fair share of pitying stares, condescending questions and ableist attitudes which have made me rather cynical. Or maybe it’s the handful of other trials I’ve faced that have shown me time and time again that life is, and will always be, a challenge.

This isn’t to say that I don’t dream, or have aspirations of greatness or ambition to reach high and achieve. Anyone who knows me in my personal life can tell you so. But I am, and will always be, a realist.

And as a realist, I must make a declaration, or a confession if you will, and one that I rarely hear uttered in the blind community. Pardon me while I take a deep breath.

There Is No Such Thing as Being Limitless

Well, have I done it? Have I just made myself enemies in the very community in which I’ve thrown so much of my time, passion and words into? Maybe, and the only reason I wonder is because, in my experience, this philosophy of limitless potential is one that is rather divisive in the blind community. But maybe, my words don’t have to be fighting words but offer another perspective for you to think about.

I’ve read many a headline, mission statement and mantra which propagate an idea that says that just because we are disabled, does not mean that we are limited. We’re fully capable of achieving anything we desire, and there is nothing that can stop us—especially people who aren’t disabled.

But each time I read the headline, the mission statement or hear the mantra repeated by a fellow disabled person, I inwardly groan. And this is why.

I have limits. So do you. You, my disabled compatriots. You, my able-bodied allies.

We all have limits.

And I believe we do a major disservice to the disabled community and our attempt at societal equality when we promote the limitless philosophy. Because it simply isn’t true. It creates a falsity that, motivating or otherwise, is wrong and will only lead to disappointment and failed expectations.

But We Are All Capable

Now let me be clear: Disabled people, and in particular, disabled children, must be explicitly taught that they are capable. The world does a good enough job instilling doubt in its disabled people, so we must combat that doubt with hope. Blind children can grow up to be teachers, lawyers, artists, performers, politicians, doctors and virtually, any profession they set their sights on. As a child, playfully predicting my future in a game of MASH, my friends and I always put “bus driver” as a possible profession, jokingly of course, since we knew that I could never be one. Ability is not a reflection of determination. For as hard as I may try, I, a fully blind woman, cannot drive a bus.

I have a limitation. There are things I cannot do, like drive, and there are things that are harder for me but still possible with the right adaptations or equipment.

Disabled children who grow up in the knowledge of their own capability, talents, skills and unique abilities can, and will, lead full lives. But what becomes of their dreams if a life without limits is the guiding principle?

Being realistic can have its downsides. But the prevailing positive of being a realist is that expectations can be more easily managed, and one’s limitations can be worked with, not against.

If one can acknowledge their personal limitations and learn to view them not as a drain on their existence but a parameter within which to learn and grow, so much can be done. How can the windows be washed to let the light in if no one acknowledges that they are dirty?

It’s the same with windows as it is for limits: we must know what they are, acknowledge their presence, and live on. Because to live life denying an integral part that influences my every decision is to deprive my life of what it could be if I were to embrace it, fully and completely.

Embracing limitations is not only a discussion for those with disabilities, though. Everyone has limits, so this is a discussion for everyone.

Maybe you don’t consider these limitations, but rather “struggles” or “difficulties.” No matter what you call it, doesn’t it amount to the same thing?

Being limitless is not what drives us to succeed. This philosophy only shelters the reality that, for many disabled people, is cold, inaccessible and an ongoing challenge. In this way, limits are exactly that, limiting, making it so that the person cannot achieve their goals and desires. But I believe that once the limits are acknowledged and not seen as the enemy, then a fuller, more free, success is able to be achieved.

And that success is a more rewarding kind, because it isn’t founded on the idea that we had no limits and could achieve whatever we desired, but that we embraced every part of ourselves and worked together to achieve our dreams. You don’t get more points for living a life free of limits, but you do get a more fulfilling one by working with what you’ve been given and doing your best.

Limitations are only limiting when we use them as excuses not to try. What we perceive as a limitation, like blindness, doesn’t have to limit blind people, but propel us to make a positive change. And this is what I strive for in my life, and what I want to encourage you to do, as well.

Tell me your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear your perspective about limitations and how you manage them in your daily life.

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — O IS FOR OPEN

Welcome, friends, to the fourth post in our series, The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility. Today, I want to share some thoughts with you about what I believe is the key to making the accessible, equal and safe world I dream about into a reality. Let’s chat about change.

Change is not easy. Sometimes, it can be downright terrifying. Even positive changes, like going to college, moving to a new city, getting a job, or starting a family, can be scary as well as exciting.

I held onto my childhood pajamas until they were so threadbare and see-through that my parents had to throw them away without my consent. I was so attached to the blanket I’d had since I was three that I wouldn’t go to college overseas without it [and still won’t sleep without it]. I cried when my mother cut her hair in a different style because I was scared to lose the mother I’d been able to see before I became blind.

But I had to make those changes. And do you know what I found out? Those changes weren’t as scary as I thought. They helped me grow into a better person … and my mom was the same, beautiful, loving mom she’d been before.

It’s the same way with growing and changing your perspective. It’s not about losing who you are, but making room for new things to come in and shape you into a better person.

It can be scary. Very scary sometimes.

But it’s worth it.

But no one can change if they aren’t open to change.

Open The Box

I’ll wager that every person reading this post has, at some point in their life, been told to “think outside the box.”

It’s pretty straightforward, right? It means to think creatively, freely, without limitations, to find solutions to problems that are outside the realm of tradition.

But is it really so straightforward?

Before you answer, I have three questions for you to consider when telling, or being told to think outside the box:

  • What box are you in?
  • What else is in the box with you?
  • And what will it take for you to get out?

As hard as it is to reconcile, our pro-equality, pro-rights society has continued to this day to put people with disabilities in a box. This box has been affixed with different labels at different times; “dependent,” “helpless,” “incapable” “burden,” and “inferior” are a few that come to mind that have been taped to my personal box.

When I’m passed over for a job by someone who is less qualified than I am, but isn’t disabled, my box says, inferior.

When I have to ask friends for rides to events outside of public transit areas, I wear the label burden and worry that they’ll resent me for being needy.

When I am forced into accepting help with a task that I am fully capable of doing on my own, my box says, helpless.

It seems that no matter what I do, my box has a label on it that tells the world I’m disabled and here’s what to do with me.

But I believe there’s another group of people who are in a box, too.

Able-bodied people.

Yes. Able-bodied people.

People who are not disabled.

Their box may not wear the same labels as those with disabilities. And it isn’t up to me to write their labels for them.

But I do have my suspicions. And what I suspect is that people put others in a box because they themselves are in one.

Hands up if you’ve heard the expression, “Hurt people hurt people.” It means that when someone is hurt, they may act in a way that hurts others, even people they love. Maybe we could adapt it. How about:

Boxed people box other people.

Remember the three questions I posed earlier? I want to take a moment and go through them, not to give you the answers, but to help you find the answers for yourself.

What Box Are You In?

Everyone’s box is unique, constructed from a combination of familial influence, experience, choices and a host of other factors. The answer to the question of what box you’re in will depend on your upbringing, your personal experiences, and how those experiences have shaped your worldview, and how you choose to live out your life day to day.

What Is In The Box With You?

Is it a need to feel superior? Is it a need for self-preservation?

Is it fear? Are you afraid that your world view and your place in it will be threatened by allying yourself with people who are different from you?

Maybe it’s pride.

Now hear me out before you click over to another blog.
Everyone has pride, and pride in who you are and what you do is a great thing. But it can be our downfall if we’re not careful; sometimes, pride can tell us that we’re above others who have less, do less, or appear less due to individual circumstances. And sometimes that can make us distant, hesitant to associate, or fearful of the results if we do.

What Will It Take For You To Get Out?

This will be up to you and your box.

All I can do is encourage you to explore a means of escape. Therapists and trained professionals are always a recommendation of mine. The therapist I’ve been seeing for five years has held my hands as I’ve struggled out of countless boxes. It may be an option for you, too.

Or maybe you need a friend.

But no matter what path you take out of the box, I believe the key is being open and willing to go.

Let people help you. Let people teach you. Let others take your hand and guide you. Let those who care about you come alongside you and encourage you every step of the way.

I believe that this is the way forward. To create that accessible world that I, and every other disabled person dream of living in, we have to not only think outside the box, but ditch the box altogether.

Open The Dialogue

But Rhianna, how do we do all this? It’s hard enough to get out of the box, let alone get rid of the entire box.

Yes, it is hard. And in no way do I expect you to do this alone, immediately or without mistakes. That isn’t possible, nor is it right of me to put those demands on anyone. So let me offer one, crucial way for you to get started.

Open the dialogue.

Start the conversation.

And see it through.

Talk to people with disabilities and listen to their stories and experiences. Ask them how they feel. If they tell you about the challenges they face, ask what would be helpful, or not helpful? What would they appreciate able-bodied people doing (or not doing) in interactions with them or in situations like employment, relationships, education, etc?

Talk to them. Talk to us.

Disabled people are the only people who know what it’s like to be disabled. Go to the source and get it straight from those who live it day in and day out.

By this time in the series, I may sound like a broken record to you. Ask, explore, include, and now open, they all lead back to the same, founding principle: people with disabilities are people and deserve the equality, rights, and dignity of every human being.

But I’m not just going to let the record play out.

I’m putting it on repeat.

Change is the only way forward. And being open to that change is the crux.

It’s often said that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. It’s true: As much as family and friends encouraged me to seek out mental health counseling and medication, I had to come to that decision on my own and in my own time; for years, I didn’t want to be helped and so I couldn’t be.

I was in a box.

And as soon as I realized it, and felt the effects of the claustrophobic space I’d created for myself, I did something about it. I got myself to counseling and began taking antidepressants.

It took a long time, and hundreds of sessions of therapy (yes, really) before I could see the progress I was making. But I had to be willing to take the steps to make that change.

I had conversations, sometimes hard and hurtful conversations, with friends, family and my therapist. I still have these conversations. But because I knew these people loved me and cared for my well being, I pressed on.

And those dialogues changed my life.

And the dialogues we have about disability will change our lives, too.

But it has to start with being open and willing to have those conversations and the change that will result from them. It will hurt. It will be uncomfortable, and may even cause some pain.

But I’d like to think that you’ll believe it’s worth it.


How can you help to open the box, step outside of it, and close it behind you?

Be sure to check back soon for the next installment! See you there.