No one can deny that living with a disability renders daily living more difficult to varying degrees. Navigating through an able-bodied world in a wheelchair can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining. Ostomates almost always have to plan ahead or use spontaneous problem-solving skills. While society often projects its ideas of what it means to be disabled, you don’t have to be the person that allows those beliefs to shape your identity. Yes, you have a disability, but that shouldn’t be, and most definitely isn’t, the trait that defines your entire existence.
Some people find the phrase, “Don’t let your disability define you,” empowering because it encourages them to prove to others that the essence of who they are goes way beyond their medical condition. Others argue that their disability does indeed play an important role in shaping their identity both in a positive and negative way. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, we want to let you know that being a member of the disability community is not a flaw or imperfection, and you don’t have to let it keep you from being the person you choose to be. You are enough just the way you are!
Here are some of our favorite stories of people living with disabilities defying societal misconceptions — you know, those stereotypes that incorrectly label you. These incredible people are proving society wrong simply by being themselves and pursuing the things they enjoy!
Gaelynn Lea was born with osteogenesis imperfecta. If she had let traditional methods dissuade her from learning how to play the violin, we wouldn’t be graced with her beautiful compositions today, some of which address living with a disability. She is now using her success to fight for access and inclusion in the music industry.
Dr. Alette Coble-Temple
If Dr. Alette Coble-Temple, who lives with cerebral palsy, had decided to sit back and let others determine her educational path, she likely wouldn’t be an accomplished college psychology professor today and former Ms. Wheelchair America titleholder. Temple’s advocacy paved the way for others living with disabilities to pursue a college education. She continues to challenge misconstrued ideas of disability in her daily life as a professor, psychologist, and mother.
Even Zebreda Dunham’s parents were afraid to let her live an independent life, but the power wheelchair user decided it was time to branch out on her own and move to a place where the sun shines more often than not. Once she found an assisted living center to take her in, she made the move from Maryland to California where she plays power soccer and works on various inventions to help herself complete everyday tasks, such as eating, on her own. Check out some of her ingenious ideas at ZebredaMakesItWork.com.
It’s not unusual to struggle with defining yourself, especially when others are constantly trying to do it for you. Just remember, you don’t have to live down to outdated conventions on how to go about life as a person with disabilities, nor do you have to do anything “extraordinary” to prove that you don’t fit into those stereotypes. Brands from Hotels.com to Coca-Cola have used the concept of “you do you” in recent campaigns, and well, we think they’re on to something. So, go do you, whoever that may be!
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!