By Stacey Francis with contributions from members of Youth Without Limits
May is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month in Canada. Nationally, 1 in 500 babies are born with cerebral palsy, and it is considered the most common childhood physical disability. This is a significant portion of the population and clearly there is a need for cerebral palsy education and awareness in Canada. When I think of the term “Cerebral Palsy Awareness”, the need for education and discussion comes to mind. Regardless of having cerebral palsy, we are people first and foremost.
Cerebral palsy is a complex disability in the sense that it affects everyone differently. Some people may have mild degrees of cerebral palsy where as others may be more severe. For more detailed information on cerebral palsy, click here.
As a person with cerebral palsy, it is safe to say that for most individuals within the disabled community, issues have arisen throughout some point in our lives that the average able-bodied person could not understand. CPABC’s Youth Without Limits Support Group has given youth and adults the opportunity to begin to talk about these issues and build a community.
Our Youth Without Limits Support Group has been meeting every three weeks since the beginning of February. We have talked about issues surrounding Disability and Identity, History and Disability, Language that Surrounds Disability, Disability and Multiple Minority Groups, and our most recent session Disability and Dating. Through these sessions it is apparent that the disabled community experiences these issues very differently than the average able-bodied person.
Embracing your disabled identity can be a challenge. What often happens is that people want to distance themselves from their disabled identity. Often people feel ashamed of their disability. These feelings of shame stem from a history of misconceptions, segregation, oppression and bullying.
Furthermore, there seems to be a connection between the history of disability and the use of language. Much of the language we use to refer to disability – both offensive and not – was created by able-bodied medical practitioners. The language that we find offensive today was not necessarily meant to be offensive, but came to be that way as time went on.
As a result of misleading language, misconceptions, and lack of education, physical inaccessibility is an ongoing issue. Assumptions are often made about what people with disabilities are capable of and interested in. Barriers to access reflect limited ideas about the diverse interests and ability levels that exist within the disabled community. This lack of awareness and inaccessibility was a common issue that arose in our discussion on disability and multiple minority groups, including the Aboriginal, gay, bisexual, transgender, and Korean communities.
When it comes to dating with a disability, reluctance to date other disabled people was expressed by members of our group. Sometimes this has to do with not wanting to be even more closely associated with disabled identity, and other times it is just a matter of personal preference. Another common theme seems to be that disabled people may feel undesirable by able-bodied people, and may have experienced, or have a fear of, rejection.
In light of Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, I would like to raise awareness of these issues. I asked members of Youth Without Limits what Cerebral Palsy Awareness means to them. Here is what they had to say:
Cerebral palsy awareness refers to helping society gain a better understanding of the disability and how it affects individuals. Cerebral palsy awareness aims to reduce barriers in society by helping people overcome biases about the condition and thus, achieve inclusion. -Ekamjit Ghuman
I had luckily never been bullied like other people in our group. This is because my friends have always been very supportive of my disability. For my advice, have someone that you can you can tell anything to like my friend Ira. – Ethan Kenny
For myself, Cerebral Palsy awareness means being aware of my limitations and doing what I can to grow as an individual and prove to society that I am capable of a lot more than what people give me credit for. CP is no picnic and I have had to overcome many challenges throughout my life, but I find that living with CP has taught me a lot about myself and how to get through daily tasks differently to others without CP. The way I stay active is through my community with working at my local community centre, playing power soccer, being on an advisory committee for people with disabilities on the North Shore, looking for work, travelling, swimming, going to the gym, and keeping informed with technology news and events. – Shayne De Wildt
To gain a deeper understanding that will lead to the social acceptance and break-down of the social sigma that surrounds cerebral palsy – Lauren Stinson
Importance in Community, Importance in Awareness and Inclusion – Carrie Torrans
Cerebral Palsy is a very common disability and one that is on the rise. It is clear that there are many issues that affect those with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.
People with disabilities need to know that they are not alone. There is an entire community that experiences the same issues. My hope is that we can continue to discuss these issues to raise awareness and increase education.
For more about Youth Without Limits, please go here.