Tuesday, September 4, 2012
You Call This Disabled?
On Saturday, I was wondering how in the world I came to write a disabled main character into my first noir novel—especially when I really don't have all that much experience with disabled people.
And then it came to me.
I have a hell of a lot of experience with disabled people. It's just that I came to know each of them so well their disabilities became invisible to me, part of the landscape, like the shape of a nose or the sound of a voice—so integrated with how I related to them that the so-called "limitation" no longer registered on my radar.
My first experience with "the disabled" (I dislike that label, but for lack of a better term, that's what I'll use) was as a child. At first glance, Vicki was a young girl in a wheelchair. Her arms and legs were misshapen and tiny, while her face and torso were normal. It would have been easy to withdraw or walk on eggshells around her except for the strength of her personality. She was quick and intelligent, with a bright bell-like voice, ready for lively conversation with anyone willing to see past her physical appearance.
Fast forward to 2002, and I was pursuing entertainment journalism in Hollywood. One of my fellow journalists, let's call him Carson, had a missing hand. He opted for no prosthetics, just left his arm the way it was, in short sleeved shirts. He was sent out on plum assignments by the editor of a premiere screenwriting journal—interviewing the likes of Oliver Stone, David Lynch, Harlan Ellison and more, A-list all the way. Carson's work was superb. He earned every golden assignment thrown his way.
I only realized how laborious transcription was for Carson the day I broke out my laptop and starting typing at my usual speed, about 80 words a minute. Carson stared at my hands but he didn't say anything. In a flash, I realized that he must have spent dozens more hours than I had to, typing out lengthy interviews and editing them into shape.
Did he ever complain? Never heard a word. Because he never spoke of it, no one around the magazine thought to treat him differently or question his ability to handle the heavy-weight work. Carson showed people the way he wanted to be treated and we just naturally responded. It was a great lesson.
I could go on and on with more examples of disabled people including Mark, my landlord, a blind guy who works an IT job 40-hours a week and owns the little place I rent. When Mark walks around the property it looks like he can see, but that's only because he has every step and object memorized.
All these people (and more could be mentioned) taught me one of the most important things I ever learned: the biggest hurdles to anything, including disability, lie in the mind. We are all as abled or disabled as our minds allow us to be. Vicki, Carson and Mark inspire me and I'm so lucky to know them.
What do you think? What's your experience with disability?