Everyone is different. Variety is the spice of life and it can be wonderful. I say it can be wonderful, because it can; it can be great, but sometimes it can be quite the opposite. In a society that generally accepts all kinds of weird and wonderful things as the norm, I'm still often left frustrated at the ignorance of some people. I'm so proud to be able to say I live in a society where same-sex relationships and marriage are not just accepted, but encouraged. A society which thrives from the array of cultures we have here. A society that embraces dyed hair, tattoos and piercings. Of course, we will always have the minority of people reluctant to let society progress in such ways, but as a whole, we are generally accepting of the variety that we have here in Britain. How is it then, that amongst all this room we have for people with different cultures and religions, different hair colours and perceptions of beauty, different relationship statuses, that we somehow can't find room to accept the people amongst us with disabilities? Some of the most vulnerable, yet valuable members of our society.
I remember the first time I was made aware of this. In a French lesson at school, two years into the friendship with my longest standing best friend, she told me 'j'ai une soeur et un frere'. At first I laughed and told her to stop lying; I knew all the important things about her, I knew all about her big sister whom she had talked about at great length, it wasn't possible that she had a brother that she had never mentioned until now - was it? Apparently it was. She did have a brother, an older brother with a disability. I noticed that as soon as I asked about him she appeared nervous, almost uneasy. I didn't understand; what could possibly cause this reaction? I soon realised that she wasn't ashamed due to her own feelings towards him, but because of how people's reactions had led her to feel. She told me of an incident that had happened years before. Along with the staring, the whispers, the double takes and funny looks I began to understand why she would hesitate to tell people about him.
Naïve of me I know, but I always thought that it has to be the minority of people behaving like this. Surely society as a whole couldn't fail to accept these wonderful people, could it?
I'm fortunate enough to spend every Tuesday night with a fabulous group of people. All different, all unique, all with a disability. Each one of them makes me smile, laugh and love in a different way. Each week we do something different but we always have fun and enjoy one another's company. They are real people. People who have emotions and feelings, people who have good and bad experiences. They lose people they love, just like we do. They're no more different to us 'typically developing people', than we are to each other.
So why can't some people understand this? Why, on a weekly basis, do we still get the stares, the funny looks - from children and adults alike. Why do parents tell us stories about incidents that have happened, some recent, some at a very early age, where their wonderful children have been victimised, mistreated, simply for being different? It pains me to write this, it pains me when I notice the stares or the muffled whispers in our direction when we're out having fun, not causing any harm. Every incident and every stare leads me to repeatedly ask the question, "what is wrong with you?". "What is wrong with you, that you are reluctant to accept these people into our society, just because they may look, speak or act a little differently than you?".
People with disabilities are an asset to our society, it's amazing how much you can learn from somebody who has a completely different perception of life than us. Somebody who isn't governed by their mundane 9-5 job, the bills they have to pay or their insignificant woes. So next time you're out and you encounter somebody who is different to you, be it physically or mentally, just try to be aware of your actions, try to consider the battles that other people are fighting and remember that everyone has feelings. Disability doesn't equal inability.