Picturing My Life Beyond Stigma as a Person With a Learning Disability
Michelle Steiner February 25, 2019 Originally published on The Mighty
I recently saw a meme of a wheelchair symbol that said, “Not all disabilities look like this.”
When many people hear the word disability, they think of visible disabilities such as when they see a person in a wheelchair. I am not in a wheelchair. I have a learning disability and struggle with math, eye-hand coordination and executive functioning.
My difficulties began with my diagnosis in kindergarten. I went to school in a small Western Pennsylvania town where everyone knew each others’ business. The close proximity in school made it hard to hide the fact I had a disability. All my classmates knew I spent time in a learning support classroom along with the general education setting. Most of the students were ignorant about what it means to have a learning disability. My peers labeled me as intellectually disabled and I was often picked on. The picture they created of me was an outcast.
Some of my teachers also had a picture they created of me. One teacher thought I couldn’t handle college because of my disability and tried to push me into a vocational school. There wasn’t anything there that interested me. Thankfully, I have had wonderful educators who not only saw my disability, but what I was good at as well. They pushed me to focus on public speaking and writing.
I have experienced prejudice in areas outside of school as well. I can remember filling out a form at the assistance office. I put on the application I had a learning disability and the case worker started reading the form to me. I asked her why she was reading it to me. Her response was, “I thought you couldn’t read.” I have also had other well-meaning people give their opinions as well. People have said things like, “You don’t look like you have a disability” or “you’re too smart to have a disability.” Another one was, “But you’re in college.” Other people dismiss my disability as trivial. “Doesn’t everyone struggle with that?”
I have also experienced people trying to “cure” me with basic math education classes or positive thinking. Some people have been blunt enough to say, “If you just got yourself together, or if you really wanted to you could overcome your disability.”
My brain processes information differently. I need to do things a bit differently than the average person. In school I needed academic supports to earn my Bachelor’s degree. I can’t drive but I can take a bus, walk or get a ride to go where I need to go. At my job I have learned how to advocate for myself, and have been able to maintain employment. Most importantly, I can create the picture of how I want my life to be.
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Dear Michelle, you are an incredible person! I felt so sad reading this account. While educators have made inroads into understanding and teaching students with disabilities, the inroads need to go wider and deeper. I wish your articles could be spread out to a wider audience. Your beautiful sharing of your positive and negative experiences have much to offer, especially to educators on ALL levels.
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