Have sym­pa­thy: Win­ter is tougher for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion - TESSA SMITH Tessa Smith, 20, is a Peter­bor­ough writer at­tend­ing Trent Univer­sity for English lit­er­a­ture. Tessa is a two-time can­cer sur­vivor, am­putee, a mo­ti­va­tional speaker and ac­tivist for hu­man rights, among other things. Con­tact Tessa at tes­sa­smith329

Look. I’m try­ing my best to em­brace this god-aw­fully early win­ter - heaps of snow, cold weather, and all - but it’s so much more dif­fi­cult to do so when you al­ready have phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers hold­ing you back in ev­ery­day life.

This is not a com­plaint, it’s my re­al­ity. Win­ter for me means tak­ing an ex­tra five min­utes in the morn­ing try­ing to get my heavy-duty boots over my pros­thetic foot, and ad­just­ing the heel height. It means go­ing out and buy­ing these boots in the first place, with the se­ri­ously in­suf­fi­cient ODSP amount I re­ceive each month. (Now this is some­thing en­tirely sep­a­rate, but let it be known that the govern­ment is not en­tirely sup­port­ive of the dis­abled com­mu­nity as work­ing class, sur­prise sur­prise.) Win­ter for me means anx­i­ety. Ev­ery day I leave the house, I’m think­ing 10 steps ahead (lit­er­ally), to where I’ll be trav­el­ling, how I’m go­ing to get there safely, and what I can do to lessen walk­ing dis­tances for my­self. It means fear­ing ice, and hop­ing pub­lic path­ways would have been salted by the time I have to oc­cupy that space.

Win­ter for me means hop­ing so­ci­ety will be em­pa­thetic to some­one whose very phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity is cloaked by jeans, a long coat, and boots. It means I get un­easy when my mom and I pull into the hand­i­cap space, know­ing the stares will be even more in­tense be­cause my dis­abil­i­ties aren’t vis­i­ble. It means that I have to trust strangers to lend a hand if they see me strug­gling through harsh weather. Even some­thing as sim­ple as hop­ing Peter­bor­ough Tran­sit driv­ers will wait a cou­ple ex­tra min­utes so I can safely board the bus, and not have to power-walk through slip­pery tracks, po­ten­tially fall­ing.

This all from the sim­ple per­spec­tive of a girl with one leg; this doesn’t even cover the full ex­tent of my dis­abled em­bod­i­ment. I have a pros­thetic right eye that (ob­vi­ously) lim­its my vi­sion, which is es­sen­tially en­tirely in­vis­i­ble to any­one who doesn’t know me. Even af­ter hav­ing this for 20 years, I still fre­quently bump into peo­ple in su­per­mar­kets, malls, you name it. I’ve learned to be more dili­gent with turn­ing my head to look for other peo­ple, but the con­gen­i­tal nys­tag­mus I have in my one see­ing eye puts up an­other bar­rier as well.

The harsh­est of these dis­abil­i­ties is my chronic pain. A vet­eran of this now for over five years, the cold weather wors­ens the aches that ra­di­ates through­out my en­tire body.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still ca­pa­ble.

But I’m also done be­ing held on a pedestal of re­lent­less in­spi­ra­tion that I can ‘do any­thing I put my mind to’. Maybe I can, men­tally, but there are many phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions that I sim­ply can­not over­come, no mat­ter what, be­cause I’m phys­i­cally lack­ing.

This is not a com­plaint, it’s my re­al­ity. My point is that win­ter can be a very stren­u­ous time for many - es­pe­cially those who ad­di­tion­ally deal with Sea­sonal Af­fec­tive Dis­or­der (SAD). The dis­abled com­mu­nity is present and strong; I hope this piece can serve as help­ful for any­one else who iden­ti­fies and wants this all said and known.

Take your time out there, and slow down if you no­tice you’re mov­ing too quickly even if you’re in a rush. Time can cer­tainly be against us all, but what I’ve learned from liv­ing in this par­tic­u­lar em­bod­i­ment, is that you can also take it back and use it to your ad­van­tage. I think it’s a pretty safe as­sump­tion that most peo­ple in the dis­abled com­mu­nity are more ef­fi­cient with pri­or­i­tiz­ing their time, be­cause they know they might take longer than “the av­er­age per­son” to get things done, or get from one place to an­other. This is okay.

Per­haps if you iden­tify as able-bod­ied in­di­vid­ual, and take a mo­ment to slow your mind and body, you will come to un­der­stand us a lit­tle bet­ter.

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