"It is always ‘able bodied’ people who decide what makes you disabled"
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I’d like to chop the onions
I looked down at Themba’s* determined face and panicked. The first thought that came to my mind was But how?
You see Themba was around 12 years old at the time and he had only one arm – the other hand been amputated around his elbow after he sustained serious burns to his entire body in a fire.
As the words articulated silently in my mind I immediately felt ashamed at my reaction
I felt the sensation of my cheeks turning red and I pretended to be busy with something while I contemplated my answer.
My reaction stemmed from a fear that he would hurt himself; after all, an onion needs to be held in place with one hand, while the other handles a sharp knife. Right?
What was I supposed to do? Say no? I had six other young children helping me in kitchen and it was hard-enough making sure none of them tried to stir the pot of pasta boiling on the stove behind my back, or to break up the fights over the cheese-grater.
I hesitated before I responded to Themba, and even as I said the words I was worried that I was not making the right call.
“Okay. Um. But can you wait 5 minutes for me to finish here so I can help if you need it. Chopping the onion is a very important part of the recipe…”
Several weeks later I was attending the launch of an anti-violence, HIV-prevention social mobilization campaign and one of the speakers at the launch was representing an association for the disabled. I won’t go into detail about what he was saying but he did say one thing which struck me and has stayed with me since:
It is always ‘able bodied’ people who decide what makes you disabled; what you are or are not able to do...
I immediately thought about my reaction to Themba’s request to help me with the onions. While a new wave of humiliation hit me, I also resolved to fight this kind of thinking in myself and in others. This is why I especially love UNICEF’s tagline/hashtag for the State of the World’s Children Report this year, focusing on children with disabilities: #thisability. I think it perfectly captures how we should all change our thinking and actively fight the stereotypes of people living with disabilities.
If you want to read the report you can find it here: http://www.unicef.org/sowc2013/
*not his real name