Journalist, Columnist, Access All Areas, Living with a Disability in Surrey
Our columnist, Divya Babbar, a local 20 year old wheelchair user, on how having a disability doesn’t mean that you have to be dependent
People often express surprise at how independent I am, often giving me a congratulatory pat at the same time. Most of the time I take patronising comments with a pinch of salt because, let’s face it, people tend to underestimate me.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I have a rare disorder called SMA, a progressive neuromuscular disease that affects the nerves responsible for muscle function throughout the body. My muscles have less than average strength and continue to weaken as I get older.
Having a condition that affects your muscle function pretty much means that you have to rely on others for assistance with everything: eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, writing, turning on the TV, opening the laptop, paying at a shop, getting in and out of the house.
It sounds grim, but the good news is that 21st century technology helps. I have voice recognition software on my laptop that allows me to dictate what I want to type. My iPhone has an app that lets me turn on the light and operate the TV with the tap of a button. Kindle allows me to read without having to turn pages. I have a snazzy motorised chair that takes me from place to place, and I can take the elevator instead of being carried up the stairs.
While these inventions are a bonus, they’re not the most important factor when it comes to being autonomous. Ultimately, independence is more mental than physical. When people are surprised that I’m independent, it isn’t because I can read a book without needing someone to turn the page. It’s because that, despite having to rely on other people, I make my own decisions. And why shouldn’t I?
Disabled doesn’t mean dependent. It just means that I have a different way of doing things. I am, first and foremost, an individual. As individuals, we build a personal identity that’s comprised of our values, beliefs and morals. That sense of self gives us a voice, and it’s no different in my case. Having to rely on others may affect my ability to leave the house by myself, but it doesn’t affect my ability to have my own thoughts and opinions.
I’ll put it simply - you can feed me my sandwich, but you can’t choose what’s in it. Get it? Got it? Good.
Read more of Divya's work here