Ashamed? I’m proud to have a disability

I’m not going to sugar coat it: living with a disability is at times really tough. Growing up, I remember feeling anxious at the thought of not fitting in; having to sit on the sidelines watching my friends do whatever they wanted.

I experienced that feeling when people used to call me names, like ‘cripple’ or ‘spastic’, and starting to believe them and it would make me embarrassed that I was different.

But as I grew older, I slowly started to love the fact I had a disability. I started being PROUD of the fact I had a disability. And why wouldn't I be proud? Everyone in life wants to be different. They wear different clothes, different hairstyles, drive different cars and have different jobs.

People make decisions all the time that separate them from the crowd so what better way to be different than to have a disability.

But as I progressed through life, I learnt that for the vast majority of people with disability this wasn’t the case for them. I would get really surprised when people didn’t admit they had a disability.

To this day, I still see people sharing their stories and saying that “my whole life, my family and friends taught me that I didn’t have a disability, and that I should tell people I’m not disabled”. Why? Because being disabled means you’re broken, less capable, unemployable and un-dateable. I hate it when people say this because it means they’re embarrassed to say they’re disabled.

I still get confused when countless Paralympians call themselves ‘Olympians’. They didn’t go to the Olympics they went to the Paralympics, and what’s wrong with that? 

Why don’t people want to admit to themselves that they have disabilities? 

The answer is simple. Unfortunately, when you do speak up, society immediately places limitations on what they believe you can achieve. They say you can't do the work of an able -bodied person. or believe you are less productive or skilful. And for many, they believe that rules you out of the dating world as well.

To me, that sucks and makes me sad. And the worst part, these misconceptions are completely and utterly untrue.

Having a disability is a natural, normal part of society. It can happen to anyone, at any stage, even to you reading this. No one is immune. Disability does not discriminate!

But contrary to what many in the able-bodied world may think, having a disability isn’t a death sentence either. I have spent my life, and the work I do through my new disability and accessibility training start up Get Skilled Access, changing the way people with disability are perceived in our community, normalising disability, and altering the existing negative stigmas and prejudice into positives.

I want people all around this country to feel comfortable to be able to say they’re disabled. I want them to be proud of their abilities and differences, and be able to get out and live the happy and successful lives they deserve to live.

I want them to be able to shop, travel, work, laugh, live and love just like everybody else. But in order to do so, we as a society need to continue to further our expectations of what people with disability can actually do. We need to stop overcomplicating disability. We need society to employ us, treat us like customers, and not be afraid to start a conversation.

It is an incredible honour for me to be named the 2017 Patron of International Day of People with Disability. I hope I can give the position the justice it deserves.

Dylan Alcott, the 2017 Patron of International Day of People with Disability.