Musings on ‘disability’

posted in: Life and things | 0

It’s Saturday again. Happens every seven days, regular as clockwork. And that means I write my weekly blog post. This week we had the Ides of March (et tu, Brut?), which conjures up Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, and Cassandra. We had St Patrick’s Day, which conjures up the myths of the Irish, four leaf clovers, and an island curiously devoid of snakes. We also had the death at the age of 76, of eminent physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking.

Hawking is a very famous scientist – which is a rare and wonderful thing. Most of them beaver away in their labs and classrooms, but Hawking was “out there” more than most because he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at 21 and given only a few years to live. But while his body atrophied, and he eventually was confined to a motorised wheelchair, and only able to speak through a computer, his mind carried on without him. He is best known for his book, A Brief History of Time, where he writes about space and time, black holes, and the big bang theory. But while people like Neil de Grasse Tyson and Prof Brian Cox get out there on the telly to tell people about science, Prof Hawking took a different approach. He appeared on numerous popular TV shows, including The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, and Star Trek. It wasn’t just about the science – Prof Hawking wanted to promote the cause of people with disabilities.

This little video from Little Britain illustrates. Be warned – it’s very funny, so be careful with your beverage. And watch to the end, okay?

And that gets me thinking about the concept of ‘disability’. Sure, some people are physically disfigured – missing limbs, burns, that sort of thing. But mental ‘disabilities’ are a whole nother kettle of vegetables. Nobel laureate John Nash (played by Russel Crowe in the Oscar-winning movie A Beautiful Mind) suffered from paranoid schizophrenia – yet he could still function at an intellectual level. Indeed, he said the medication he took for his condition blunted his mind (discussed in this article after his death) and he stopped taking it. Another example is savants. You’ve all heard of the movie Rain Man. It’s based on a real man with severe brain damage. Read about him and nine other extraordinary people in this article.

I ‘know’, through Facebook, several people with mental disorders like autism or Asperger’s syndrome. While they might be poor at social skills, some are highly accomplished in other areas. One lady struggled with her ‘mental illness’ for years before finally recognising, in her mid-forties that she was autistic.  Although she struggles with social skills, she writes beautifully, she plays the cello, runs marathons, and is generally a very smart woman. She has a blog (Finally Knowing Me) where she tells about her experience and struggles with autism and everyday life. It’s fascinating – especially if you start at the first post.

Although we humans are tribal and are very similar to each other, we’re not all the same. ‘Disability’ really means a particular individual can’t do some things as well as others. But it doesn’t define that person’s life.

That’s enough of that. I guess my mind went down that track for two reasons – Prof Hawking’s death – and the birth of my nephew’s baby son. Welcome to the world, little guy. May you live long and prosper.


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