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!

A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART FOUR: YOU SAY ENTITLED, I SAY EQUALITY

Please read A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART THREE: MOTHER MINISTRY, HER CHILDREN, AND THEIR CO-DEPENDENT RELATIONSHIP before continuing.

”Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – I Thessalonians 5:18

Corrie ten Boom, and her sister, Betsie, put this verse into practice in the very direst of circumstances—while in a Nazi-controlled concentration camp in World War II. Read her story in her book, The Hiding Place, or listen as a dramatized radio drama by Focus On The Family.

How terrible it would be to find even one thing to be thankful for in a concentration camp! I’m continually encouraged by Corrie and Betsie’s attitude of thankfulness and I try (and often fail) to adopt it for myself.

On the inaugural day of a week-long girls getaway, it became my mantra as everything seemed to be going wrong. From twisting my ankle, taking transit in the rain for seven hours with multiple missed or late buses, losing my credit card, winding up in emergency for my foot, and getting excruciating menstrual cramps, I repeated “give thanks in all circumstances” through the day. And though it didn’t change my circumstances, it changed my attitude.

Thankfulness can be a tricky concept. Many a disabled person can regale you with experiences where, when trying to explain the challenges they face living with disabilities, they are told to “just be thankful.” That same sentiment echoes in my brain when considering the system that both gives financial support for disabled people in British Columbia, and also takes it away, which, in doing so, puts the disabled person in financial stress. Ironic, isn’t it

But there’s one glaring problem with this response, and it’s this, that in telling a disabled person to be thankful for what they have, you imply that they are entitled if they ask for more.

If we are less than enthusiastic about the amount of income we receive from the Ministry, and even insinuate that the amount should be higher, we are perceived as entitled. If we want more, then we’re dissatisfied with what we have, and maybe even greedy. We expect too much, and think that we’re more deserving than we really are.

But hear me, oh please hear me now: This is not an issue of entitlement, but an issue of equality.

As a disabled person, I’m not being entitled to expect equitable treatment and support.

It is not entitlement to want enough money to supplement my husband’s income that allows us to sufficiently cover our living expenses.

Disabled people are not being given special treatment if they receive disability income support.

And there is one more misconception I’d like to clear up: Disability support is not a handout. It isn’t money given at will so that disabled people don’t have to work. It’s compensation to help sustain us month to month as we search for employment in a society in which it is very challenging for disabled people to obtain. We are not greedy, or lazy, and I’d wager that each individual receiving it would choose not to be reliant on it if they had a choice.

But the fact does remain that many people are in need of it for any number of reasons. And they should never feel shame or embarrassment at being in receipt of this support. It’s been my lifeline for years now, and I don’t know how my life would have unfolded without it.

But should disabled people be thankful for this sum of money that is, at times, laughable, because how does the government deem $375 enough to cover shelter costs for a single person?

Yes. We should be thankful that the Canadian government does provide a system for supporting its disabled citizens. The support we receive keeps many disabled people afloat, and acts as their only source of income. There are places and systems that don’t give, but take from its citizens. So yes, I am very thankful to live in a country that provides for people like me.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t criticize or speak out about its flaws or discriminations. If we keep quiet, nothing will change. And striving towards a positive change is what this series, and this blog, seek to do with each word written. Of course it’s uncomfortable and even hurtful at times, but that is because I’m addressing issues in a flawed world. But nothing will change if we don’t raise our voices.

And this blog is my voice. I hope that through this mini-series, you’ve been able to hear me, and hear not only the words I’ve said but the person behind those words. Because I am not the only one whose reality I have just stripped bare. This is life for many, many Canadians, and though every situation is individual, there is one commonality that binds us: Every disabled person deserves equality.

And my hope is that through more and more disabled people speaking up, we will grow ever closer to achieving it.

A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART THREE: MOTHER MINISTRY, HER CHILDREN, AND THEIR CO-DEPENDENT RELATIONSHIP

Please read A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART TWO: HOW TO HAVE YOUR COMMON-LAW CAKE AND EAT IT TOO [BUT WHY I DIDN’T] before continuing.

After a lengthy process of phone calls, office visits and mountains of paperwork, the drama of getting married in the eyes of the Ministry was complete. My surname was changed to match my husband’s, and he was added to my profile. We received reimbursement for our security deposit since it put us in “financial stress.” And, to our great surprise and utter relief, we also received a month of back payments to account for our substantial increase in rent.

My husband rested his head on my shoulder and we both let out deep sighs of relief. With a move, a possible job change, bills to pay, and dreams we want to fulfill as a newlywed couple, it’s reassuring to know we can make this month’s rent.

And yet, it grates under my skin the fact that working a full-time job at minimum wage, I would earn more money than what the Ministry provides to disabled people on permanent support. And with minimum wage set to increase, the difference is even more distinct. Yet, in a society that is still glaringly discriminatory against people with disabilities, finding work with which to support myself and my husband is a prospect I’ve grown bitter about—I can’t dare to hope for it because I know I’ll be disappointed yet again.

So I go back to the Ministry, month after month:

  • Yes, I am still in need of support.
  • Yes, I am still searching for employment.

It isn’t dissimilar to a parent-child dynamic in my mind:

A child is growing up, eager to spread their wings and fend for themselves in the world. Follow your dreams, fall on your face, and get back up again. It’s the only way you learn. And the cycle repeats itself over and over again until life itself is over.
But sometimes, parents don’t want to let go. They can’t let go. They know the thirst for freedom and independence their child has—it’s the same freedom they chased when they were young—but now, on the other side, it’s hard to let go and grant the independence that will transition their child from a dependent youth into a well-rounded, self-sufficient adult. And the struggle persists between parent and child, a struggle for freedom, control, independence and ultimately, life itself.

Okay, so it’s a flawed example. For starters, unlike the Ministry, parents usually want the best for their children even when it’s difficult. And though I’m speaking about financial dependence and not emotional or relational control in a familial context, my point remains: Children want to be set free, to experiment, fail, learn, grow, and not be under their parents’ authority.

And that is the sum of what I long for as a child of Mother Ministry. But to my chagrin, I’m dependent on her support to do that.

But I long to be free of the Ministry’s grasp, not to be dependent on the money that drops into my bank account every month which for years, has been my only means of survival. And even though I am married now, we are still dependent on it, as rent has increased, utilities have increased and the cost of a household of two costs more than we expected. In short, we need the Ministry’s money to make it.

But I long to claw my way out of the government’s hold, to follow my dreams, fall on my face and get back up again… Just like everyone else. I don’t want to need their support. I want to be a self-sufficient adult, earning my own money to put food on the table for my husband and I to enjoy together each night. I want to work and be productive, and believe that the work I do is worthy of monetary compensation, and feel a camaraderie with the majority of the world who go to work, earn a paycheck and come home, knowing that they worked for it. I want to use the drive and ethics and principles that my parents taught me, and that I want to pass down to my own kids.

They say not to bite the hand that feeds you. But whether I like it or not, I need the sustenance the government offers to make it. And don’t think I’m not grateful. But I’m despairing of the relationship that leaves me stuck, reliant, but unable to escape.

All right, so I won’t bite. But what did a nibble hurt anyone?

Read this next: A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART FOUR: YOU SAY ENTITLED, I SAY EQUALITY

A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART TWO: HOW TO HAVE YOUR COMMON-LAW CAKE AND EAT IT TOO [BUT WHY I DIDN’T]

Please read A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART ONE: WHEN I SAID I DO, THE GOVERNMENT SAID WE DON’T HAVE TO ANYMORE before continuing.

I got married.

And with that, my husband and I prepared for a unique financial situation—the inevitable loss of my disability income. But, there was a possible escape, a way to have my cake [ahem, income] and eat it, too.

Enter common-law relationships.


I grew up in a solid Christian home and as an adult, I still choose to hold to those values and beliefs. And I have always dreamed of getting married and having a godly, Christ-centered marriage. But by the time my husband and I met, it was clear that we had to make a choice between my financial stability and my longing for a godly [and legal] marriage. And I wasn’t the first to face this dilemma.

In British Columbia, the Ministry slashes a disabled person’s disability income once they get married. Because, as we all know, disabled people marry rich, financially secure partners with no money woes or debt to pay off, so it’s totally fine to cut back one partner’s entire income once they say “I do.”

Exaggerated? Maybe. But it’s sure how it feels, considering that is the choice my husband and I faced and now, the consequences we live with.

Let’s take a moment and refresh our memories, shall we?
As a married couple, both partners have to claim every dollar made between them, and each dollar claimed is a dollar less that can be received through monthly disability support once the income threshold for a couple [$18,000] is reached.

However, there is one loophole one can jump through in order to keep both their disability income and a shared life with their partner—living common-law. Many disabled British Columbians are opting for this option rather than legal marriage because as stated, it allows them to live with their partner and keep receiving support payments, which is often that partner’s only means of income.

My husband and I wanted a legal, on-paper, out-loud, God-honouring marriage. But that isn’t to say we didn’t seriously consider foregoing the tradition and simply moving in together and beginning our lives together without the fanfare.

Financial success isn’t everything. But being financially stable is not something to be dismissed, and it has always been a goal for my marriage. And we knew what we were up against: Being disabled is expensive. Caring for a service animal is expensive. And finding a job to pay for these expenses is next to impossible, since too many employers are unwilling to hire people with disabilities in favour of their convenience. Living common-law would at least let me share a home and a life with my partner while contributing to our financial future, whereas legal marriage would ensure a regress in our goals and a slap in my face for doing the right thing.

Now, being married and living with the aftereffects of that choice, I do have to say that I do not regret it. My faith and the values I glean from it are more important. But admittedly, it hurts, knowing that I can’t contribute equally to our financial future, that what I can contribute will be lost in a few months’ time, and that we have to have a “Scary Fund” to keep us afloat when the months without my income arrive.

But this is how it is with the Ministry every time I make a call, go to the office, or claim my husband’s and my income on our monthly report. It’s a slap in the face for doing the right thing, both legally and biblically. I did not hide my marriage nor skirt around it to keep my income, but in following their policies and procedures, I lose my income.

Why?

Because the government system in place to provide for people like me makes us choose between a loving relationship and financial security.

Because God knows, we don’t deserve both.

Read this next: A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART THREE: MOTHER MINISTRY, HER CHILDREN, AND THEIR CO-DEPENDENT RELATIONSHIP

A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART ONE: WHEN I SAID I DO, THE GOVERNMENT SAID WE DON’T HAVE TO ANYMORE

Important Disclaimers:
Firstly, everything I’m about to share in this post is derived from my own experiences and unique situation. In no way is this a complete or accurate portrayal of every person’s circumstances. However, after speaking with several friends who also receive disability income support as well as broader research, I can confidently say that my situation is not uncommon. But more than the numbers I’ll be sharing through this mini-series, I’m speaking more to the governmental system that provides this service and the attitudes and perceptions therein. Please read with an open mind, and please do your own research if interested, but remember that no matter what you read, on my blog or via another source, nothing can be verified unless it comes directly from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and its employees.
Secondly, I will be referencing the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction in each post in this series. But for the ease of reading, I will simply refer to it as the Ministry. For further reading, visit the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction’s Disability Assistance page.


Getting married in British Columbia is synonymous with financial hardship for people with disabilities. And I, as a fully blind woman, was all too aware of this as soon as my partner slipped the ring onto my finger. Our six-month engagement was not only a countdown to our becoming husband and wife, but also to the start of a bleak and downward turn for our financial situation that required as much, if not more, planning than our wedding.

Here are the facts of what we were facing:

  • A single person receiving disability income from the Ministry can earn up to $15,000 before their disability payments get cut, dollar for dollar.
  • When a disabled person receiving disability income gets married, that household can earn up to $18,000 cumulatively before their disability payments get cut, dollar for dollar.
  • The payments reset each spring and the client receives monthly support, but only until their income threshold [$15,000/$18,000] is met.

What did this mean for my husband and I? First, let’s look at this in a broader scope.

At the time of this writing in May 2022, minimum wage in British Columbia is $15.20 per hour. And if you dare to follow my less-than-exemplary math skills, let’s find out how much a full-time job at minimum wage turns out to be:

  • $15.20 per hour x 40 hours per week = $608
  • $608 per week x 4 weeks = $2,432
  • With a month’s income as $2,432, and using this income tax calculator the net income that is brought home is $1,851.

With one partner earning $1,851 at minimum wage, it will take an estimated seven months before their income threshold is met and the income support for the disabled partner is cut off for the remainder of the year. But many factors can affect this. What if the non-disabled partner works a job that pays higher than minimum wage? What if they receive a promotion or work a second job? What if the disabled partner has a job as well? It simply means that the income threshold will be met sooner and each dollar earned is one less that the disabled partner can receive from the Ministry.

And I’d be remiss not to mention that the income earned from the Ministry is less than that of minimum wage. And pardon my bluntness, but particularly in this province and the current economic situation, how is anyone supposed to make it as a single-income household? Rent is extortionate depending on the region in which you live, but prices are rising everywhere. Food and fuel are going up, and being disabled has its own costs—adaptive equipment, service animals, medical expenses, etc. It’s hard for anyone. And it’s under these circumstances that the government deems it appropriate to cut a disabled person’s income while they are already earning below minimum wage.

So for an average, newlywed couple without any financial advantages—you know, normal people—this means my husband and I are only able to receive my disability income for seven months, unless I’m able to get work and thus, reach the limit in less time. Any financial success we may come upon, every dollar we earn between the two of us, is one less dollar we won’t have once we reach $18,000.

But the most disheartening part of all of this is that getting married is the cause for these financial losses. When my husband and I first delved into the realities of what we had to prepare for, I sat at the kitchen island and cried. It wasn’t fair. Why was I being punished for finding love? Simply because I was getting married, the government felt that I didn’t need the financial support anymore. Was I supposed to marry rich just because I’m disabled? Sorry, but I didn’t get that memo.

Was I such a burden that even the government didn’t care to support me and help me thrive in our predominantly able-bodied society anymore? Could they not wait until their burden was shuffled off onto her husband to deal with now? *Sigh of relief*

I’ll never know. But what I do know is how it feels to make a decision that I believe in wholeheartedly and yet, feel as though I’m being devalued and penalized for it. But, there was a potential way out and I had to weigh my options carefully.

Marriage or money … it shouldn’t need to be such a stark choice. But it was, and even though you know what I decided, stick around for my next post to find out how I got there.

Read this next: A SILVER DOLLAR FOR DISABLED MARRIAGE, PART TWO: HOW TO HAVE YOUR COMMON-LAW CAKE AND EAT IT TOO [BUT WHY I DIDN’T]

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.