Reflecting on what it is to have a Disability

The American with Disabilities Act or ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability.

First of all, I would imagine the experience of living with a disability is different for everyone-even two people who share the same type of disability. This can actually be a good thing. While a person may have the same or similar symptoms as their friend, they may deal with these symptoms and the disability differently. What does this mean? It means we can help each other by sharing the experience-the experience of having a limitation on one or more major our major life functions. And just what are these life functions I keep referencing. I borrowed the following from Examples of major life activities are breathing, walking, talking, hearing, seeing, sleeping, caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, and working. Major life activities also include major bodily functions such as immune system functions, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

What can sharing the experience do for me, for you, for all the people out there fighting some kind of battle? It can show us we are not alone. Sharing can help us learn not to define ourselves by our disabilities- I am not Mary Pyatt, the Obessive Compulsive lady, I am Mary Pyatt, a person who happens to have OCD. When I talk to someone else with OCD, I can let my guard down and tell the details. The details of what it’s like to have a mental illness. Sometimes a little commiserating is just what I need to know that what I experience is normal. I can feel more alike others than different. I can share my experiences in both by personal life and professionally. I can do this because I work for L.I.F.E., Inc. where I meet people with disabling conditions every day. I’m not, however, just referring to the clients I serve. 51% of our staff and board members are disabled as defined by the ADA. Coincidence? No, this is actually a part of L.I.F.E.’s core services and values. As a staff person here at L.I.F.E., I don’t pretend to be an expert on all disabilities however, if a person expresses the desire to have a peer match with someone with the same or similar disability, I can facilitate making that happen. While I may not have the disability in question, one of my co-workers might. If no one has this disability in-house, we have resources we can tap into to get that person in contact with that person who share the experience.

If you are someone you know needs peer support, please contact L.I.F.E. at 573-756-4314

Written by Mary Pyatt