What is a Disability?


A disability is any condition that prevents you from performing activities of daily living, and from which there is no reasonable expectation of recovery.

ADLs—activities of daily living—are the normal things people do in the course of a day:  walk, use the toilet, brush your teeth, prepare and eat food, read, hold a job, talk on the phone and so forth.

Conditions that prevent you from doing these things include having severe arthritis, being incontinent, having incompetent muscles (for example, muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis), having certain kinds of cerebral palsy, being blind, having severe and chronic mental illness, being deaf and so forth.

Non-disabling conditions are ones that do not interfere with performing ADLs, such as high blood pressure or diabetes mellitus, or are temporary, such as a broken leg or pneumonia.

I lived in an apartment building that was (clearly, illegally) segregated for people with disabilities.  Christopher Community, the managing company, went through six managers in five years and then decided to stick with an old battleax who was heard to tell a middle-aged disabled man, “I couldn’t make my kids clean their rooms but I can make you.”  In an attempt to guilt the tenants into accepting the manager, the management company said to us, “Would it surprise you to learn that the manager is disabled, too?”  Yeah, it would surprise me.  If you can hold a job without any apparent special accommodations then you’re not disabled.

On the subject of handicapped parking:  there never is enough of it for people who are actually handicapped because the handicapped tags are being issued to people who aren’t disabled.  The handicapped tag is only for the driver!  Okay?  If a passenger is disabled then the driver pulls up to the front door, discharges the passenger, and then parks the car wherever there’s a place.  You do not get a handicapped tag if sometimes you drive your grandma to the grocery store.

I had a home health aide who drove me to the grocery store.  She had a handicapped parking tag and when I asked her why, she said, “They gave it to me after my little toe was amputated.”  In the first place, losing one little toe does not in any way interfere with your ability to walk; it is not a disabling condition.  In the second place, they don’t give it to you; you go and fill out papers and ask for it.  Either people are lying or else the clerks issuing the handicapped tags need to be sent back for retraining.

Regarding the electric press plates that open doors:  they are for people who are disabled and cannot open doors, not for able-bodied people who are lazy.  “Stupid” and “lazy” are not disabilities.  Most electric door openers are battery-operated and building management is spending money unnecessarily to replace them.  At Syracuse University they are trying to make the students conscious of their actions and get them to stop using resources that are intended for people who are disabled.

When able people use the (only) wheelchair accessible door, or walk up the ramp instead of the stairs, or park in the limited handicapped spaces, then you are depriving disabled people from having equal access.  You not only get to use the able-accesses but you also block the disabled-access points.  Disabled people only have one shot at access and if you’re using our access then we have to sit and wait; you don’t.

Here’s another good reason for you to stay out of our space:  the less you use your muscles to climb stairs, pull open doors and walk from the back of the parking lot, the more likely it is that you will end up in a wheelchair.  Use it or lose it; exercise or risk heart disease, diabetic amputation or stroke.  Don’t take the easy way out.  Start now to make use of every exercise opportunity you have.

When I was your age, I never imagined I could end up in a wheelchair.  You should start now to prevent ending up the way I have.  Exercise as if your life depends on it.  Not only your life but also your happiness does depend on it.  The two most important factors contributing to happiness are family and health.  Climb the stairs and hold the door open for people in wheelchairs—stay healthy so you can stay happy.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to What is a Disability?

  1. I do trust all the concepts you’ve introduced for your post. They are very convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for beginners. May you please lengthen them a little from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      No, I will not lengthen my posts. I write thousand-word essays; that’s what I do. If you need to read more, feel free to read other or additional posts. I’ve got several hundred posts archived that you can read. Does length equal substance? I think not. Please give me your reason(s) for wanting greater length.

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