Alanna Higginson: Ability is not a right and disability is not a wrong

If you think that you have a tough time meeting new people, just imagine what your life would be like if you had the added challenge of a disability. Some of us already have that extra obstacle to overcome.

Lack of self-esteem can make disabled people exclude themselves
Lack of self-esteem can make disabled people exclude themselves

Whether the disability is 
visible or not can also be a factor when dating. The hurdles people face are both physical (a lack of access) and social (a lack of awareness and acceptance).

For the physically disabled, social options are extremely limited: first floor nightclubs, no disabled toilets, doors not wide enough and even non-admittance.

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For the mentally disabled the pain from public stigma may be excruciating.

A lack of self-esteem can lead to disabled people excluding themselves and leaves an entire section of the community ignored or marginalised.

Some of us have to conceal our impairments or risk rejection, whether it is from friends, family, school or even bullying in the workplace.

How do you deal with a public that still largely sees people with disability as lacking in sex drive? It has been said to me many times that as a disabled woman you are assumed not to be able – or have any desire – to have sex.

It is a continual struggle to find a place for ourselves, to break out of social isolation, to find intimate partners and even learn to accept our sexual orientation and bodies.

As a society we are obsessed with who’s wearing what or who’s lost and gained a few pounds. We are bombarded with picture-perfect images of young, able-bodied people, so the stigma of disability colours our lives.

Add to this the sad reality of trying to date an able-bodied individual and it can feel like a very lonely existence. Some people are afraid to get involved with a disabled woman, and even when a person is willing to be open-minded, testing the waters is often fraught and puts an added strain on the fledgling relationship.

In short, many of us feel alone because we don’t seem to fit the mainstream “ideal” – whatever that is.

So where do we go from here? While demanding equal justice on all levels, how do we learn about inclusion? How do we encourage the able bodied among us to understand the significance of seeing our disabled sisters and brothers, rather than feeling we are being overlooked?

Ability isn’t permanent or a right. It can be taken away in an instant. Your life as you know it can be altered 
dramatically by a terrible accident, mental breakdown, or even the onset of diabetes.

My own disability isn’t visible. I have a dark cloud that shadows me, threatening to engulf or drown me in a shadow of self doubt, at any given time. It has affected my life and past relationships so I empathise with the hardships that all disabled people face on a daily basis.

Everyone has a right to feel good about themselves: it’s even better when you can share that feeling with someone else.

Alanna Higginson is an event producer and writer based in Glasgow