Chapter 23 » 23.37

Social justice

Discrimination and disadvantage

Having a severe disability in my experience meant almost total isolation from my peers during my teens and early twenties. I could not talk with them or go out with them and this had a drastic effect on my confidence and self-respect. I suffered agonies of repressed sexual longing.

I was lucky. I had the means to recover unavailable to great numbers of young disabled people. As I found vehicles I could drive my contacts widened and I could exercise my freedom, responsibility and keen intelligence but it took long years of learning to catch up on normal life…

In some circles it is quite impossible for me to get an honest opinion about what I think and do. Any trivial achievement is regarded with awe and anything approaching normality is quite inconceivable. If I committed some frightful social blunder, they would nod their heads and make irrelevant excuses for me.

Enough of such things. You soon ‘forget’ them; but deep within you burns a clear impression of profound inferiority; of unacceptability; of a need to apologise for even being the miserable wretch that you are and for needing that minimum of help you dare to require. When all this is added to a very real and terrifying social immaturity, where can you begin to hope? …

Many people, much less disabled than me, accept the role society imposes, hating themselves and their handicaps, hating to ask for help, hating friendly curiosity and concern, hating to admit to what they feel they are.

All this is a terrible indictment of society but it is not an indictment of the individual. Each of them, including myself, is only echoing the fear and hurt about disability and about their own minds and bodies that they received when they were young. Young children, left alone, will look, enquire, accept, and sometimes even care, without prompting.

Everyone must learn to be glad of what they really are and must feel able to ask for the necessary help to fulfil themselves. We are all in this together, handicapped or not. We all need help to be ourselves.

Jonathan Griffith, 1981

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