Friday, May 2, 2008


A simple question isn't it? A yes/no kind of deal. You are, or you are not disabled.

I've been thinking of this lately. National Disabled Blogging Day has come and gone and while I had no intention of participating it got me to thinking. Also, reading blogs like and Screw Bronze and The Mouth On Wheels have had me pondering this question. But note, the question is not "what is being disabled" it is "am I disabled" Yes, there is a personal component here.

Several years ago I did something stupid. I fell sixteen feet down from a tree and landed directly on my left ankle. Crack. Ouch. Mutherfucker. Yeh, like that. I shattered basically all the bones in my ankle. Shattered, not broke. Not a break but pieces, lots of little pieces. So this means that I now have two, eight inch steel plates in the ankle, bound together buy seven screws and eight pins ... or it may be eight pins and seven screws. Or it could be paper clips and baling wire, it really doesn't matter. Its metal. Lots of steel, so much so that ankle is noticeably thicker than the other ... damn, there goes my shot at being a world famous .. um. .. sock model (or something). So it was surgery, a couple days in the hospital, three months in a non weight bearing cast and a couple months of physio.

So where does that leave me? Well, I am self employed. At the time I was still working exclusively for Videopulse Studios but I did not draw a salary, I was paid per project on a freelance basis. Which means no health care whatsoever. Now, Collette works for the Toronto Board of Ed and I am covered under her policy. Still, any day lost work meant no money for me. All the time in that cast I could not drive and although I came to be pretty proficient with the crutches, I certainly was limited. Here's the good part. I'm a video editor. I work with computers. I work on my bum. We brought the edit suite to the house and I was working within a couple of days. Lucky I do the job I do; if I was still cooking or in some other occupation I would not be able to work. If I was a freelance camerman I would have been screwed.

Time went on, the cast(s) came off, physio terrorism was endured. Where am I now? Am I abled, disabled? I can walk; sometimes I have a limp and the walking is limited. Most times you would notice nothing. If I'm wearing sandals you can see the scars and the distorted ankle but just walking around, I am fine. I can walk for long distances on pavement or other firm surfaces; Hayley and I still do our two hour walks on the weekends. I can go and down stairs. If the stairs are steep I would need a rail but no big issue. Walking long long distances on soft surfaces is an issue; I went golfing with my brother in law (something I've never done before) and my ankle was wrecked halfway thru. Wrecked. Swollen, very painful and I was just not feeling good. My balance is shot. I was never a big athlete but I always had a great sense of balance; I did gymnastics as a kid and a little bit of fencing. I taught myself to skate at age 40 and while the Olympics would never call me, I could pass. Skating is down now, both for the balance and for the fact that the ankle is still weak, no matter what I do. Running is out. I was a jogger for a period of my life and although I had fallen out of that habit, it is never coming back. I don't run, I basically do a fast hobble. Its not pretty, turn away.

So, am I disabled? I can't do all the things I used to do. I am certainly limited in some ways. But I function and I function nicely. Again, I sit on bum for a living so that has not changed. The amount of camera work I do is not affected; I could never be a full time camera op anyways because of a bad back. So, professionally, it really has not affected me. I can drive now, no issues, get on subways, buses etc. I am quite mobile. I could probably ride a bike but that is another thing I stopped doing in this city. So, limited, yes; disabled?

Well, here we go, this is what we come down to: How do we define disability. Governments have their definitions, insurance companies do, medical communities do. Often, it seems, these definitions are self serving and self defining and may have little to do with any individual. As I began asking this question I started to realize that I had my own definition of disability: Limitation. Scroll up (I'll wait) its right there. I may not feel disabled because I don't feel "limited". I think a lot of society shares this definition; he can't walk, she can't see, they can't hear ... they "can't" do things and this makes them limited. We look at what people "can't" instead of what people "can."

He can't walk but if we give him a wheelchair, he is mobile. She can't see but if we give her a dog and braille and audio transcribing technology, she can be mobile and read and use a computer. They can't hear but if we teach the sign language they can communicate. Are they limited? Sure, in some ways, no doubt. Are they able? Part of my defining myself was if I could work, well I could with no adaptation; what if I had those other jobs? Could I find a way to cook, to be a full time camera op? Probably. Maybe I would need some assistance, but I could do it.

If can be productive but need some form of assistance are you limited? Are you able? I am a work oriented guy so if you can work or pursue your passion, no matter how, you are able. But what of other disabilities like chronic pain or respiratory issues or neurological disorders; there are ways to aid these situations but some, unfortunately, are still limited. Are they disabled? They may be limited but with help, with aid, with medicine, with support .. almost anyone can be able.

What do we do about that? People battle with insurance companies (companies they pay, thank you very much) to get the tools they need, like the right kind of wheelchair or Dragon Speak, tools that would clearly make them more able. People fight with our governments to provide them with the healthcare, the medicine, the homecare (again, we are paying for this) that could change their lives and lift some of their limitations.

Too often "disabled" people struggle to get the aid they need to make them more "able". For too many people I know there is no magic bullet but there is always something that can be done to make some kind of change, and even a small change, some small measure of relief can affect a life in a meaningful way. Just being pain free for a period of time can turn a brain back on and return some one's energy. They could become more able; denying them this certainly disables them. Not considering the needs of people, the needs of all people, all the needs of all people maybe a disability of our society.

So, here we are, back to the question of the moment. Am I, Victor Kellar, disabled? Fuck no. I am able. I have my spouse, my dog, my family, my job, my passions. Am I limited? Hell yes. But everyone is, to some degree or another. The question should be Am I disabled, the question should be Am I able? Able to live, to love, to work, to feel, to think. That is what I need to look at, and it is what society needs to look at. Don't think about what is disabled. Think about what we are able to do, and how we go about that.


Elizabeth McClung said...

You have an impairment? But no, not disabled, or able to pass as abled bodied, except when you can't.

Sometimes, we simply pass what is possible for "able bodied" - as even a disability needs some sort of continuity, some assurance that it will act the same at noon as in the morn within limits. There is supposed to be a "new normal" - is the person taking the poison called Chemo "Able bodied" or even "Able" as the substance so dangerous it literally eats the body, takes then all the way down, often right to death. I dunno. I am not disagreeing, just giving another viewpoint.

Victor Kellar said...

Elizabeth, insightful as always. Several people in our combined families have danced the chemo dance recently, have been diminished by something that is making them "better". The chemo limited them; were they disabled? For those who came out on the good side of the cancer tunnel they are "healthy" but I still see the linger affects, some limitation of the thing that got them there. I guess that is my point,we are all abled and disabled to some degree, where we go with it is what makes the difference

Gaina said...

Firstly, thanks for reading and mentioning my blog, I'm glad you enjoy it.

Now to the question....

Some people see calling yourself a 'wheelchair user' or 'visually impared' rather than 'disabled' as political correctness but I see it as a more helpful and factual account of my capabilities. Some people who use wheelchairs take part in extreme sports and do everything that 'able bodied' people do, while others cannot work or go about their daily business without experiencing levels of pain and fatigue that make life extremely difficult. It's all about personal markers I think.

If you find that damaging your ankle makes you unable to indulge in some of the activities you enjoyed before your accident then, yes in that particular area you are 'dis-abled'.

I personally really do wish we could get rid of the 'disabled' tag because it's too general and extremely unhelpful (able bodied people tend to forget that two people can have the same condition but can manifest itself in extremely different and complex ways). If you say 'I am a wheelchair user, this is how it affects me' that leads to a far more constructive and helpful environment for all concerned.

That was a good question, very interesting :)

Top Blogs Pets

Add to Technorati Favorites