Living the differently abled life

| 18/09/2014

Most don't get it … and I hope they never will … because the only way someone will ever "get it" is to LIVE IT. Living with a disability is hard enough – whether it be your own or that of someone you love – but to endure the struggles of physical difficulties while trying to navigate a society of cluelessness is downright impossible. The average person is blessed to avoid this reality and can only look upon those "less fortunate" with apathy or empathy. They will never truly understand the struggle. 

It hurts me to no end that parents of specialneeds children are looked upon with sympathetic stares and teary eyed nods of encouragement, called amazing parents and wonderful people … just because we were given the monumental task of caring for someone who requires 24 hour love, support and attention. We are no different than any other parent, except that we are more tired, more stressed and more likely to face divorce, physical ailments (brought on by lack of rest and stress!) and a deeper look into the darkness of society vis a vie the lack of support on a daily basis.

Don't misinterpret what I am saying – as a recent recipient of the most wonderful kindness and generosity of this country, I am the first to say that we are a nation of philanthropic givers … but let's be honest, that's really only in crisis … as most find it easier to turn a blind eye to the plight of the disabled on a daily basis. Not because they are evil or cold-hearted, but because they simply do not grasp the struggles that these members of society endure and it is too uncomfortable to remain exposed to it for an extended period of time. Once in a while is good enough, thank you very much!

Unfortunately, those with disabilities do not have that luxury and must live with themselves 24/7/365 … no escape, no reprieve. Those primary caretakers, parents, grandparents, siblings, etc, likewise must learn to cope with "normal" life … that their own abilities permit … while experiencing the reality of life that their disabled family member brings to the table. Some days that life is amazing, wondrous and so rewarding … some days (and nights!) it really sucks.

So I donot expect anyone who is not living it to understand. What I DO expect is for those who do not understand to accept that we, the parents and those disabled with a voice, have SOMETHING to say. We want the needs of the disabled to be heard and answered. We want the support of the government to make and enforce laws that protect and help our children and family members. We are not asking for money, for hand-outs or for favours. We are asking for the people that sit in the big building to carve out some time to address this festering situation and make it a national priority. We are asking for some respect from the RCIPS and we are asking that the citizens of the Cayman Islands appreciate that life as a disabled person is hard enough … don't make it worse by being insensitive and ugly!

Recent comments by the RCIPS, defending the actions of their officers caught illegally parking in a Blue Spot (a specifically dedicated parking space for the disabled) brings to light the insensitivities at the highest levels of our society's protection echelons. For a body of authority to declare that the spot did not meet the requirements to officially be deemed a disabled parking space – despite being clearly painted the right shade of blue and despite it bearing the universal symbol of the disabled – was a slap in the face to every disabled man, woman and child in Cayman. What that utterance may very well have succeeded in doing was to discredit the exhaustive, hard work of so many dedicated and committed individuals who are trying to raise awareness for the disabled. In declaring that a spot without a sign, regardless of its colour, proximity to the front door or symbolic demarcation, was not good enough for someone in a wheelchair but just perfect for police officers wanting a short walk or quick spot, sent a message that anyone, anywhere can challenge the rights of the disabled. Thank you very much RCIPS for your support in our lame cause.

Forgive me for being too emotional. That's what becomes of parents who run on fumes, sacrificing a good night's rest to ensure that their disabled child is comfortable and their needs are met, even if it takes 3 or 4 awakenings throughout the night. Parents who are emotional say things that will get them in trouble; it kind of goes with the territory!

Clearly, emotional parents are the only ones who feel that it is wrong for teachers to mock the disabled children that they teach at special needs schools. Such was the case right here in Cayman, where parents were in utter shock and disbelief at the annual game of "Best Imitation of a Student", where the teachers competed to do their best and funniest impressions of their students. Golden moments! What would YOU as a parent expect from that school, should you learn of these activities? I can tell you what the parents involved expected, but as you can guess, there hasn't been much movement in that respect. The parents, meanwhile, as well as their own child, have been shunned at the school … for taking a stand and expecting at least a minimum of compassion for an already difficult and challenging life. Heart-warming.

How can we, as a society, not circle wagons to protect our vulnerable? How can we challenge those chosen to raise them, care for them and defend them? Whether it is for a parking spot or insurance coverage? When did it become ok for people to throw the defenceless to the mercies of the world?

While there have been strides over the past years to paint parking spaces blue, the reality is that most of those spaces are simply blue painted, normal parking spots – not wide enough to allow a wheelchair ramp to come down without hitting the closely parked car beside it. While there is a planning requirement to have disabled parking at every establishment, the reality is that there aren't ramps at many of them, preventing wheelchairs from even making it onto the sidewalk. While many establishments have engineered ramps from the parking lot to the sidewalk, the reality is that the doors into their premises are not wide enough or there is a step up that makes it impossible to get inside. While many of these situations do not exist in places, the reality is that there are often no elevators to the 2nd level of restaurants or businesses, eliminating those options and shrinking the world of someone who cannot climb stairs due to their disability.

Why? Because it is not a priority to make the Cayman Islands accessible to all.

Medical bills mount. Insurance premiums sky rocket. Opportunities are few and far between and continued education, employment and meaningful adulthood is all but a wish of the parents who once looked upon the impending birth of their perfect child with hope and dreams of greatness.

The life of a differently abled person is fraught with dilemma, disappointment, frustration and depression. Please consider that the next time you make fun of them, park in a disabled spot or choose to look the other way, rather than face them head on like a real person who deserves a smile, a hello, a chance.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Chelsea, unfortunately it seems that in Cayman people spent their days making up excuses why they can't and are quick to get offended and spent then more time trying to justify themselves, rather than admitting that they are wrong and focusing their time on how to right that wrong so  the RCIP's statement on the recent circulation of "the picture" comes as no surprise. It is evident that in Cayman we love to write all kind of laws into the books, just to toss them then aside as we do not have anyone in power who actually has the balls and wills to enforce any of those laws. I can only imagine the frustration you are experiencing on a daily level having to deal with such a complex situation and encountering so many ignorant narrow-minded and selfish people along the way. It is a hard pill to swallow when there are so many people who believe that they are entitled to park at the front door of each and every establishment with absolute no consquences to their action, but that frustration is taken to a higher level when those who are meant to uphold such laws are disregarding them with a bunch of excuses. What hope is there then?

  2. Maria Yapelli says:

    This was so well written and your feelings were expressed in a very respectful way. I wish your son could receive the same respect for people in authority that you provided them. I have four friends I would love to come visit me here in Cayman. Unfortunately, while they have the financial means to come here, they all have each have disabilities. They have looked into whether or not this country would provide them the necessary options to visit, such as ramps and handicapped bathroom facililities. Unfortunatly, from thier investigations they know that Cayman is not handicapped friendly. This is not a third world country…there is no excuse.

  3. Anonymous says:

    An excellent article, written from the heart and containing far too many uncomfortable truths.  There are many on this Island, particularly within various government departments, who should hang their heads in shame in what can be described at best as apathy and at  worst as wilful neglect.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for writing this piece Ms. Rivers. 

    I can only say that I agree with you whole heartedly!

    The powers that be (including the Police) and much of the general public of Cayman, speak about respect for the law, and for Christian values….but far too often that speak (talk) does NOT transmit in to meaningful actions.