Think before you speak..By Niamh Duffy -
To the woman who called me an ‘invalid’
When you got on the bus that morning when I was on the way to college and stated ‘it was the invalids day out’ I was glad it was me you said it to. Not a young girl who was struggling to come to terms with her disability, to whom your comment would have just been another knockback to her confidence. Everyone sat around in shock at what you had said, but no one said a word. I am sorry if you did not expect me to say that it wasn’t acceptable, I was always brought up to respect my elders but that was a step too far.
When I was little I used to wish every Christmas to wake up and there be fairy dust under the tree that would be able to make me walk again. This childish optimism soon became mature realism - my mind-set changed from hope of the pretty much impossible to determination to carry on anyway. Growing up I was always described as a strong-willed girl, ironic considering my muscle wasting disorder that had baffled doctors for years and still does. But where I lacked physical strength I was constantly told that I made up for it with how I faced life's challenges.
Everyone has problems in life and we have to just deal with them as they come.
At nineteen I can confidently say that looking back on my childhood I am proud of everything I have achieved. Although after many consultant appointments or physiotherapy sessions I was left downhearted and scared for the future, they have not stopped me living a life that has been full of travel, laughter and fun memories. I have been in a wheelchair full-time now for over a decade, life before is a distant memory brought back only through photos. My friends and family have been my biggest support and I genuinely can't thank them enough.
However, although my life has been full of holidays with family, days spent with friends and achieving beyond expectations in my education, my experience is not the same as many other people. I want everyone to understand that disabilities are not a label that means we are unable and unwilling, it simply means that sometimes we may need a little help along the way, or just a push in my case.
I am neither ashamed or embarrassed by my disability. But in modern society people are too quick to judge, make comments or stare. I don’t blame them completely, after all it is human nature to be inquisitive or to avoid potentially awkward situations - we all do it. I am, however, still a person with feelings and aspirations in life.
Although you won’t remember saying this or even who I am, I hope you understood what I said. Times have changed and derogatory names such as this are not helping to get rid of the stigma around disabilities in modern society. You do not know me, you do not know what I have achieved or even my name, just like I know nothing about you.
In my eyes, I may be in a wheelchair but I am not an ‘invalid’.