A few weeks ago, I went to Sky Zone with some of my classmates. When we went to play dodge ball, the attendant told me I had to take my glasses off. It was the first time I had tried to do anything significant without my glasses in the four months since I started wearing them full time, and I quickly realized how much I had come to rely on them. Everything on my left (bad) side was blurry, and when I strained my eye to try to get it to focus, it hurt. When I tried just closing my bad eye, I had no depth perception – not ideal for playing dodge ball.
I did not think of it this way at the time, but for those several minutes, I was disabled. We tend to not think of sight-impairment as a disability because such a huge portion of the population wears glasses or contact lenses, so it is “normalized.” However, everyone who wears glasses or contacts needs assistance to bring their vision up to society’s accepted standards. Without my glasses, I could not see as well as my dodge ball opponents; I could not conform to that standard.
This revelation contributed to my understanding that disability is far more widespread, and has a far broader definition, than I had previously thought. We discussed in class how people are disabled in certain situations because society was not built to meet their needs, and one of my classmates mentioned that this applies to land-handed people. I have actually wondered for a while now why “left-handedness” is not considered a disability. I am left-handed, and I have been inconvenienced my entire life because the world is not built to accommodate lefties. At my undergrad, most of the desks were meant for right-handed people, meaning that I either had to sit crookedly in my chair in order to write or sit in the back of the classroom, where the left-handed desks usually were.
I cannot use certain cooking utensils, and I cannot write with pen or marker without smudging the ink. The only reason I can use scissors is because I must have trained myself at a young age to cut with my right hand; perhaps my preschool only had right-handed scissors. The way much of the world is designed only for right-handed people absolutely fits the definition of disability as something created by society. About 1 in 10 people are left-handed, so thinking about it this way further shows just how widespread disability is.
We also discussed diseases such as cancer and AIDS in the context of disability. I have to admit that I am still having trouble reconciling these diseases with the way I understand disability. We discussed how society creates disability, but although society certainly affects the way we understand cancer and AIDS, I am not convinced that it creates them. With often deadly diseases like these, is changing society to better fit these people’s needs really the best solution? It still seems to me like we should be trying to cure them, because simply changing how society responds to these diseases will not save these people’s lives. Right? Or perhaps I just need to think more about this in order to come to terms with how these diseases fit into a broader definition of disability.