I’ve always considered myself very accepting of people with a disability. I was brought up exposed to people with disabilities and as a health professional always valued their contribution to life. But, I’m ashamed to discover that despite this, I still had the belief that in some way I was superior to them. They were ‘different’ to me and ‘not normal’. Whether this was due to how society perceived those people with a disability, highlighting their weaknesses, I don’t know, but when I acquired mine at the young age of 24, the discrimination towards those people like me who weren’t ‘normal’ personally impacted me. Suddenly I saw firsthand things from their perspective. I didn’t feel heard, included and felt my confidence spiral downwards every time I was spoken down to, stared at or ignored. The importance of inclusion and valuing another was suddenly so apparent to me.

Recently I received an email from a childhood friend who was born with a disability (•see email below in italics). The email was expressing her thoughts about my book, Reinventing Emma’, I never wrote this book with people with congenital disabilities in mind and so foolishly didn’t realise, how much common ground we shared. Thankfully, my means of articulating some of these likenesses seemed to benefit her. She writes, ‘it’s almost like you know what my heart is saying…” Her words definitely challenged my own thoughts about how I perceived disability before and after I acquired my own.

They made me reflect on and question my personal beliefs and exposed my preconceived values. I sheepishly realized that despite my very accepting upbringing and realization of the importance of treating every individual with respect, I had this preconceived notion that unintentionally meant I was discriminating against people, like me, with disabilities. If I, as someone exposed to disability and taught throughout my childhood the importance of including those with differences had this belief, what did those people who weren’t exposed to the importance of this equality, actually thinking? If I as an occupational therapist had a sub-conscious belief that without a ‘disability’ I was in a way ‘better’ than my patients, what type of therapist had I been? If I now am passionate to educate those to include people with a disability, how much harder was it going to be if my audiences had a preconceived notion about disability that they weren’t even aware of? Do your preconceived thoughts fit in today’s society?

Although I feel very clear about my own values and beliefs, this realisation has definitely challenged me. Whilst confronting, it has made me see the importance of enabling others to reflect on their own thoughts about disability. Surely without understanding how we feel, what we value and how these beliefs came about, we cannot begin to include others or operate on a common ground.

I strongly feel that we all need to reflect and contemplate how we perceive disability. In contemplating this, each of us will only have more clarity and be more effective in our roles.

Dear Emma,
Reading through the book it sounded more like a thriller than a real life experience, it must have been very difficult for you to deal with, I can’t imagine how you must have felt.

For someone like me who was born with a mild intellectual learning disability to someone who had acquired a severe disability through a stroke, it kind of makes me feel awkward and anxious about being taken for granted, as you were in the book. I don’t know how you did it, how do you keep yourself going?

You know something, on the inside I feel scared, lonely and not taken seriously, I feel used and taken for granted, all I feel like doing is shouting at people and tell them to stop, I want my voice to be heard, but apart from all that I don’t think that they will listen to me anyway, i’m sorry i’m just babbling and right off the subject here, I had to get this out of my system anyway but, if I hadn’t read your book I probably wouldn’t have done this.

Emma, I see you so much more differently now, you make me feel like a weakling compared to what you went through, I actually feel like crying right now, it’s almost like you know what my heart is saying and what it’s longing for, you feel like a soul sister to me, I don’t know how else to describe it.

Thank You so much for letting me read your book, it really has touched me in so many ways.