My life has been affected in many ways by a physical affliction, but I have always strived to live as happily and normally as possible, though it has not been easy. Perhaps a metaphorical walk in my shoes will help.
At age three, I was diagnosed with a progressively degenerating disability of the muscles called Duchene muscular dystrophy. At first, although it took me longer to do some things, I could still keep up with my peers. During elementary school, however, things like standing and climbing stairs became increasingly difficult. When other kids rode bikes or played sports, I couldn’t.
By middle school, most of my normal physical functioning was drastically reduced. I had to switch to public school because my Catholic school had steps, and I needed to use a wheelchair, which truly began the stigma of having a disability and dealt the biggest blow to my normal life. Slowly but surely, I was becoming more and more distanced from my peers.
Some things that I wanted to finish, I could not. I was a Boy Scout, but had to quit because of the physical nature of the program. Other activities my older brothers did were not possible for me, including altar serving, golf, and the People to People student ambassador program. More recently, I have been excluded from sports, music programs, and getting a driver’s license or job.
Because of my situation, I have experienced prejudice and social exclusion. Believe me, prejudice against people with disabilities is rampant. Although the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin was signed in 1964, a similar law for people with disabilities did not come into effect until 1990. Signing it, President George H. W. Bush stated, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” but this has not happened. I have been derided and called names like “cripple.” I feel I am not taken as seriously in school and public. I am “the kid in the wheelchair” and people avoid me, making assumptions about me based on my disability.
Despite all this, I have learned and experienced things I would not have otherwise. I went to a Muscular Dystrophy Association camp and met kids just like me who were also trying to get by in a difficult world. I even met Jeff Goldblum through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
I have experienced many hardships in my life because of my disability. I have questioned my faith and cried more than I would care to admit. Even though I will never experience a lot of things my friends do, I have learned there are more important things in life than walking. I am able to put things into perspective, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is too short to worry about some things; we should focus on what is truly worthwhile. Perhaps some able-bodied people could learn from my experiences and not take some of their abilities for granted.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.