On Disability

September 27, 2009

I’m leaving Portland in four days. From there, I head to the Bay to spend some time with my family, and then I fly out of SFO on October 6th, arriving in Shanghai on October 7th. Then I spend some undetermined amount of time in China (at least 9 months or so) before coming back to the States. Where to? I don’t know.

And so I have been moving and packing these last few weeks. Doing everything I can to off-load all my furniture and books and everything else, so I can vacate my current residence and leave nothing – without having to pay for storage.

So what does any of this have to do with disability? Well, I play football on the weekends. I happened to play last Sunday. And I also happened to tear up my left ankle while doing so.

This was a problem on a few levels: first off, I don’t have insurance, anymore. I was covered when I was a full-time employee of the middle school, but that’s no longer the case. And since insurance is really expensive, I decided to forego that for this month (until I get on travel insurance for my trip to China).

Second: it’s really hard to pack, move furniture, and work when you can’t walk without crutches (and therefore can’t carry anything while you walk). And I’d forgotten that.

Because this isn’t the first time I’ve injured myself. I’ve done some major damage to my legs (usually the right) pretty much every year for the past four years. And yet, somehow, every time I forget how much harder it makes things when it happens.

Trying to work while on crutches is not easy.* Especially when you’re taking the bus to get to work. It’s physically demanding (crutching multiple blocks is flat HELL) and takes much longer. It takes much longer to get ready in the morning (re-working routines to do everything without standing up or trying to balance on your legs). And then there’s being AT work – dealing with stairs (no, we don’t have an elevator at school), trying to get materials ready, etc.

Then, as I was trying to make my big push this weekend (moving all my furniture out), I had to call on friends to show up and carry things for me, help pack, etc. Luckily, I have some good friends to do it, but it still only worked out because folks were free. If they hadn’t been? I would have had to hire movers (which, again, is expensive).

And this is all for a simple ankle sprain.** It’s not like I’m in a wheelchair. Or paralyzed. I can still talk and direct people. I can use my arms and hands. And – most importantly – I am steadily improving, so that there will be a time in the not-too-distant future where I will be 100% and once again under-appreciative of how good I have it.

So this is my attempt at acknowledging a HUGE portion of this country (and world) who I have not spoken up for very often. Sadly – like most situations – I had to get a taste to be able to properly reflect on other people’s plights, but at least it happened. And to honor these folks***, I set the intention of doing some research and work to get myself aware of just one more group of people who are ignored and deemed “other” (and therefore not worth thinking about) by the majority in this country.

Before I get back from China, I hope to have taken a few strong steps towards being an ally to another group with less privilege than I have.

* I’ve been subbing regularly at the middle school and high school programs this month to earn extra income for my trip.

** Granted, it’s a particularly bad one, but still just a sprain, nonetheless.

*** Does anybody out there know the preferred terminology?

**** By the way, since it looks like I’m not going to be able to access my blog directly while in China, I wrote this post by e-mail (and posted it in the same way) as a test-drive for how I’ll likely have to do it while abroad. I hope it worked out okay.



  1. Long time reader, first time commenter here. Had to de-lurk for this post since it speaks to my own personal intersectionality as a WOC and a wheelchair user.

    About your question: I’m pretty sure that in the US the preferred term is people with disabilities (PWD). It’s all part of what they call “person first” terminology, where language is used to emphasize the humanity of the person being spoken about instead of defining them solely based on their (dis)ability. For example, I’d be a woman in a wheelchair or a wheelchair user, rather than a wheelchair-bound woman.

    I’m looking forward to reading about your adventures in China, and I hope my answer helped!

  2. Yes, been there (moving w/ a bad sprain).

    Gratuitous advice.

    Use ice a lot. Elevate. Bring an ankle brace w/ you to China. Get a walking stick when you arrive in Shanghai.

    I agree that things like sprains really help you understand more about what it’s like to be a person w/ a disability. I found pregnancy to be a bit that way too – when I found (for example) it very hard to fit in some of the teeny toilets in HK.

    Being a mother of an infant too – hard to use as squat toilet when you have a baby in a baby carrier on the front and back-pack on the back. Having to carry a stroller up stairs on the MTR or to a supermarket (lots of supermarkets in in HK involve stairs).

    Have fun in China., but take it easy w/ your bad foot.

    I will enjoy reading your impressions, if you plan to come to Hong Kong, post about it – maybe I can give info or help.

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