It started with ballet shoes. Like any stereotypical young girl, I had my heart set on becoming a Prima Ballerina. Too innocent to comprehend the challenges I’d face to get to where I needed to be, I just wanted to fit in and dance with the best of them. One evening, over a family dinner, I announced my dream subconsciously expecting a round of applause: “I am going to be a ballet dancer!” What followed was not congratulations, but a tentative suggestion that I might want to rethink. “How about setting your sights on choreography instead?”
For a long time, I resisted getting involved in anything which was disability-related. My parents had taught me that disability shouldn’t define a person, nor should it be an excuse. I didn’t deny I had Cerebral Palsy – when you spend your life riding in a six-wheeled robot, it’s hard for anyone to miss. However, I constantly battled with societal ideals of what I should be; dependent, influenced and disabled. On the flip side, my parents wanted me to be independent, responsible and to do what everyone else does. None of the above were collectively attainable.
Throughout my futile efforts to live up to expectational stereotypes, I lived my life by the notion that nobody asked to be disabled in the same way that nobody asked to be able-bodied. I just had to trudge the water and get on with it. I knew I was more than my disability – more than what anyone wanted me to be. I didn’t want to become engulfed by the flames of what I couldn’t do, so I skirted around the fire instead of using it to my advantage.
The problem with shutting out something that is so obviously a part of you, whether it be through ignorance or avoidance, is that it’s still there. I was still disabled. A label is still a label no matter how people use it or abuse it. Despite the fact no one realised it, this is what I’d unintentionally let people do. I experienced society’s uneducated approach to someone who doesn’t slot into what they class as ‘normal’. I experienced the presumptions of what I would go onto achieve. I experienced the stares in the street. I didn’t, and don’t, blame anyone for that. What would you do if you feared the unknown?
Irrespective of any misconception, understanding should not mean acceptance. Whilst I was preoccupied with what society thought of me and my disability, I had missed what was happening within my own minority group in their attempt to reach equality. So often, society is taken for granted in the assumption that disabled people are owed something in return for the inconvenience of their disability. For me, this is where a problem which is far bigger than myself arises, and this is where I want to bridge the gap between to promote integration.
Equality isn’t accomplishable. It is a necessity on the grounds that we should all have equal opportunities, but to have equality in its entirety is to neglect our chances of becoming the best versions of ourselves. For example, what would I gain from auditioning for a role in which it was requested that I pirouette on the spot? Because we live in a society that’s scared of offending the minorities, I’d almost certainly get a call back before I wheeled through the door. If I then secured the part because it was a box- ticking exercise whereby disabled people needed to be represented, no matter how many Equality Acts there are, I’d never be on a level playing field. Whatever unfortunate circumstance I found myself in, as a result, would be partly my own doing. I would’ve accepted the role just because I felt entitled to it. As opposed to being honest with myself and educating those around me as to what effective inclusion really is, I would’ve used equality against us all.
Equity, on the other hand, is a more functional and sustainable concept for society to work towards. It judges everyone on their own merit and makes reasonable adjustments based on that specific person’s needs. In my audition, I would have to explain I wasn’t suitable for the part due to my disability. However, equity would enable me to ask for the role to be altered in a way that’s accessible to me. This could take many forms; a turntable where I could graciously perform my six-wheeled pirouettes, or a disability-integrative theatre where there were multiple people simultaneously undertaking the same role.
Equity is the metaphorical marriage counsellor bringing disability and equality together. Disability symbolises everything we cannot do, equality symbolises everything that, in an ideal world, we want to do, and equity is what our full potential looks like. Through equity, we can reach true diversity. Diversity is the fire inside of us that says; “I know I’m disabled, and I know I’m different, but I have determination and ambition. I will achieve my dreams and, in doing so, I’ll make a difference.”
So, with this in mind, I’ve almost come full circle. I know what I have to offer is a unique and honest perspective on what it’s like living with a disability. I’ve learnt the key is to know your limitations and realise your strengths. I may not have become a Prima Ballerina, but ballet shoes are symbolic of the new chapter in which I decided to dance to my unconventional tune, irrespective of what people thought.
I’m on a mission to tell people that Disability is not something to be afraid or ashamed of. The only way we’ll ever provoke a positive change is through ongoing discussion where nobody is judged for their views. Education is paramount to this. Equality is valid until it’s taken too far just for the sake of political correctness, and this is when equity comes into its own. Regardless of whether someone is disabled or able-bodied, we need to realise we’re all striving for diversity in which everyone is valued, accepted and heard.