~ by Ashley Brien Class of ’16
I decided to join DDA this spring as a Junior here at Duke studying Public Policy and Media/Journalism. My experiences with disability related adversity were gradual and the notion that my emotional instability satisfied the requirements of a disability took a long time to actually believe. I didn’t think less of myself as a person, but all of the illusive hypotheticals and reasons for my situation fogged my perception of and ability to relate with peers. It’s not that I had an ill-conceived notion of what it means to be disabled.
I actually would like to think I’ve always been relatively aware of the cultural and social inadequacies that physically or mentally impaired individuals faced on a daily basis. But, gaining awareness through empathetic understanding is not nearly the same as becoming aware that your capabilities in society are marginalized. Resisting marginalized status and overcoming the institutional failures across our country that treat equal
access like a privilege is a battle I’ve taken on both for myself and for those in any stage of this journey.
I’ve come to adamantly believe that eliminating discriminatory boundaries and practices can be just as subjective as ensuring individuals are provided the necessary resources to optimize productivity (not to mention livelihood). The fact that a university, hospital, profession, health insurance policy, etc. isn’t obliged to actively equalize the playing field for fellow Americans, which emphasizes the ineffective structure of administrative decision making, given the absence of concern that the benefits aid in supplying cultural blinders that perpetuate discriminatory rationale.
There are some spheres within American society that eagerly address certain discrepancies with access and are clearly identifiable “on the books.” However, ensuring and maintaining ongoing accommodations for the disabled groups within a population is seldom considered to be a priority. I don’t necessarily know the reasons for imbalance of efforts in place
to protect against discrimination of opportunity without really doing much to make sure these measures work in practice not just in theory. There’s not always a visible, Herculean struggle to point to or remedy, but I think it’s important for the viability of the general cause not to suggest that any embodiment of disability is more difficult than another because it lies in one of the blindspots within our society’s legal culture.
Perhaps it would be naive to expect the pace of social and political change would be any slower than the personal journey
of identifying, accepting and coping with a lifelong impairment. But, when I gradually face increasing difficulty that can’t be cured or willed out of me, where do I place the line between health/happiness and achievement or success? How can I weigh the trade-offs associated with prioritizing my collegiate academic performance above all else when this lifestyle all too often prompts an abandonment of any concern for health, well-being,
and happiness? Or better question, are these trade-offs and sacrifices out of the hands of the affected party in the same
way that impaired persons have no say or power over the scope of the disability?
The intermingling of all these unknowns in addressing the problems and actively seeking appropriate solutions are lofty tasks given there’s no clear definition or framework for what society’s role (or duty) should be in all these matters. Waiting to fix individual complaints that gain enough traction will
never dispel the underlying biases that enable, and often hide, politically motivated inaction.
“The healthy and strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it. Whether he’s got an abscess on his knee or in his soul.” – Rona Barrett
I think the quote above really hones in on the importance
of having a personal sense of strength and direction regardless
|of what one must face along the way. Just because certain people|
|behave a specific way in similar circumstances, it should not|
|bear any weight in determining what is best/worst or right/wrong|
|for someone handed a different set of “ability cards.” In many|
|ways, I think my own experience with a mental disability and|
|confronting the challenges that such a diagnosis inevitably|
prompts has made me tremendously more able in emotional/mental