By Michelle Steiner
One of the most challenging parts of having a disability often isn’t the disability, but the limitations that other people place on me. When many people hear the term Learning Disability, they think that I can’t learn or be successful. The term may be confusing and indicate a person incapable of learning and begin to put limits on my potential. It seems like from the beginning people have put limits on what I could do.
When I was in school people thought that I would be limited educational choices in the future because of my difficulties with my disability. I always knew that I wanted to go to college work with kids, and be a writer. I can remember telling someone as a child that I wanted to go to college and I was told that college was for people who liked school. What many people didn’t understand was that I liked to learn. I didn’t like the frustration that came with not being able to perform in math. I also didn’t enjoy the bullying my peers inflicted on me.
When I got to college, professionals would try to put limits on me as well. I had a Physiatrist who told me that I most likely wouldn’t go beyond a community college. I also remember one who told me that my job choices would be slim because of my math difficulties. I knew that some programs weren’t worth, perusing because of my disability, but it terrified me that I wouldn’t be able to the degree or the job that I wanted.
I also experienced limitations in the workplace. I can remember getting connected with a social service agency that helped people with disabilities to get jobs and provided job coaching. Most of the assistance was little to help to me. I remember having one appointment, where I circled jobs in the newspaper, that interested me. I recall thinking I can do this at home. When I would tell them that I got a job interview, they asked if they could do with me for support. I declined on that and went on my own. I was able to find employment on my own as a substitute worker in daycares and schools. I found it difficult to make it to appointments because I was often working, during those times. Most of the people that the agency served were people who had Intellectual Disabilities and had more service industry jobs. The services they provided were more of a frustration than a help and I never found employment through them.
Other people have tried to limit me with job choices as well. I have been advised to seek work in fast food or stocking shelves because it is considered easy work. This type of employment may seem easy, but would present challenges for me that the average person may not experience. I would struggle with trying to take orders, and prepare food. I also wouldn’t be able to run the cash register because of my math disability. I also don’t think that I could move at a quick enough pace to be able to stock shelves. I’ve know people with disabilities who were trained to do this and were let go because they moved too slow. Most importantly I wouldn’t have the heart or the desire to do these jobs. I knew they wouldn’t be the right fit, but because of my disability people automatically assumed that is the only kind of position I could handle.
People try to box people into neat little boxes based on their abilities. Nicely wrapped packages are great for shipping products. A person places an order and they are delivered to them. In reality, placing people with disabilities in boxes doesn’t work as well. Individuals with them are people, not products. Each person with a disability will experience it differently, even if they have the same type. We don’t expect people without disabilities to fall into neat categories but understand that each person has different strengths and weaknesses. Yet when someone has a disability, we expect them to all be the same. When the person with one doesn’t fall into the neat box they are often shamed. People often try to cure them or put them in yet another box.
Having a disability does come with limitations. I have had to carefully make choices regarding what I struggle with. I have may have things that I struggle with but there are also many things I’m good at. It’s often not that I can’t do something, I simply haven’t found a way to do it. It may take me a while, but I will find a way to do it. Expecting me to fit in a box or placing limits on what I can’t do isn’t helpful. I’m well aware of what is hard for me and putting extra restrictions discourages me. When people limit me solely on my abilities it also squelches my dreams. When people support and gently encourage me to find a different way I feel empowered to try again and break through limitations on my terms.