Disability: It’s not a “bad thing”

Hannah knows people with a disability are not broken and do not need to be fixed. The community needs to stand up and say, 'this is not good enough'!

Hannah, 28, knows firsthand that people with a disability are not broken and do not need to be fixed. Read about her experiences and belief that the community needs to stand up and say, “This is not good enough!”

Hi everyone!

Hmmmm…. Where to start? I guess I should confess that this is my first attempt ever at doing a blog, so please bear with me if I waffle on a bit! Well, my name is Hannah and I am an adult who is both supported by and volunteer for, Aruma. I have adult ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, and am high-functioning within the Autistic Spectrum. Yay! All my statistics are out of the way!

So, going back to business at hand; why this topic? Why didn’t I choose another one? Well, to dive straight in with no more funny business, it came about as I was desperately thinking and thinking and thinking about what were the best and worst things that have happened through my life so far.

After a while, this led me to mull over several incidents in my life that showed how having the right approach to helping people with disabilities can have a massive difference in people’s lives.

From all this thinking, I had a light bulb (or Ah Ha!) moment! I realised that some of the worst moments in my life were a result of doctors believing that people with disabilities need to be “fixed”. The times that I have felt the most discouraged were when I had specialist doctors’ appointments in the Sydney CBD! At the time it was the only practice that treated people like me. It was so soon after ADHD and Autism had been discovered, that most GPs did not know that these disabilities existed! I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was seven and with high-functioning Autism when I was twelve.

My mum had been told when I was little from a number of GPs, that there was nothing “wrong with me”, so the doctors meant it was my mum’s bad parenting that made me “different” and that I was “just a naughty child”. Unfortunately, with the best of intentions, the doctors later said “I will never be a useful or active member of society because I will never get any better. I will always be a vegetable and not be able to interact and talk to people. It would therefore be better to drop me off in an institution, where I can get the care that I need, without being society’s and my mum’s burden!”

It was actually in the text books and believed at the time that people like me were parented by so-called “refrigerator mothers”, describing the mothers bad and cold parenting! Haven’t we come a long way since the end of the 1980s and into the beginning of the 1990s? Since my mum is a trained disability teacher, she knew that this was a very, very wrong opinion! This lasted until my mum actually got the right diagnosis for me!

This example, although unthinkable today, to me shows how viewing a person with a disability as a thing or as an object to fix, can have an impact on a person’s thinking, and consequently on the person’s behaviour and speech.

Now, I am not angry with the doctors, because I understand that even with the best of intentions, they probably truly believed what they were saying, and wanted what was best for me and my mum. It just shows that some terrible outcomes could have happened to me directly because of this attitude. This doesn’t just happen in the medical profession but in the wider community as well.

I think the attitude that people with a disability need to be fixed, is a lot less prevalent out in the community than when I was little. I believe that this is a direct result of the education of the community about the disabilities. However, I also believe that there are sections of the community who have never heard of ADHD or Autism. I found this out late in December last year when my family had a reunion. So, education of the community is still just as important!

We all need to be on the lookout for this potentially harmful attitude, address it when we encounter it and educate the community when needed. If we as a community, including people with disabilities (where possible, and if capable), disability organisations and the employees within them, and all our friends and families joined together and said “Disabilities are not bad, they are just a difference and the world needs difference to work,” I believe it would be amazing how quickly this “need to fix the disabilities” attitude would change!

We as a community need to stand up and say when things or attitudes are not right that “This Is Not Good Enough!” Simply because things will not change until you do!

On the flip side of this issue, when people come together, recognise that a person with disabilities is still their own unique person, who may need just a little support to live the life they want, you can see how much growth, confidence, security and belief that “I can do this myself”, can result!

I have seen great changes happen at Aruma over the past year, since I myself spoke up in December 2013 at the Human Rights and Inclusion Committee, when we were asked if there was anything that the audience was not happy with.

I told them that; “I have skills, I can help Aruma in Administration. I have experience creating and proofing internal control policies and procedures. I can help Aruma make sure that procedures are in place so that everyone receives the information that they need. Why aren’t you using people like me? After all, we are your greatest resource!”

The outcome of this is that I am now volunteering two days a week with Flexible Supports as an administrative assistant. I have also been a founding member of both the local self-advocacy group and the regional newsletter. I co-present Human Rights webinars which help train staff on Human Rights issues. I have also become a champion in the State Government’s Ambassadors and Champions Program, which involves me telling my story.

From this, I have recently started teaching with my mum, older parent and carers groups, the basics of how to fill out a person’s support plan using a one page profile. Since I have begun going through the NDIS process, I have also been asked by the NDIA to share my story for them as well. This means I now have a very full life, doing things even three years ago I never believed I could be capable of!

So instead of assuming that just because someone is disabled they might not be able to do something, think that they are just differently enabled and watch what could and does happen to people’s lives!