Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Is a person with diabetes "disabled"?

Recent conversations have me thinking about something that honestly I have never really personalized.  For many years, I have been knee deep in the debate on whether diabetes is or is not a disability. In that debate, I was put in the position of stating that diabetes was not a disability. It was a disease that required Life Sustaining Therapy.  I knew that my son did not in any way shape or form see himself as disabled but what was my own feeling? Would I be okay with my son being labelled this way?

My first answer is an unequivocal no.  This is the gut talking so I decided to investigate the concept a little further. What was the actual definition of "disabled"? Did my son fit this definition if I was honest with myself? I went to the Webster's dictionary and looked up "disabled".  They defined it as "incapacitated by illness, injury, or wounds; broadly it is defined as "physically or mentally impaired".  I would not say that my son is incapacitated in any way but what what about the "physically impaired" part of the definition?

I looked up the word "impaired". It stated that to be impaired was "being in a less than perfect or whole condition:  as disabled or functionally defective."  So was my son physically in less than perfect or whole condition?  Technically yes.  He was born with a fully functioning pancreas but now he relies on technology to do that work for him and with him.  Is he functionally defective? Again, I guess so.  If you leave his body to its own devices...well he will die. Its sadly that simple. 

According to Websters dictionary, I would have to agree that my son is disabled.  Did you just see that tear roll down my cheek? My heart says my son is NOT disabled.  There is little that he cannot do but he is not the same as everyone else who is completely healthy.  My older son does not have to worry about being found dead in bed.  He does not have to count every carb that enters his mouth so that he can balance it with insulin, his body does this.  He does not need to make himself bleed multiple times during the day just to make sure that he is in optimal health.  He does not need to sit out physical activities because his blood glucose level is too high or too low to participate in an activity. My older son does not need to worry about how alcohol effects his glucose levels when he chooses to drink.  He does not need to test his blood glucose level before getting into a car.  Their lives, while similar, are also very different.

I still cannot call my son disabled. I will not fight for a special parking spot at the grocery store in case he is low.  I will fight for teachers to recognized that he is not always cognitively able to write tests or exams based on blood glucose levels. I will not however get in the way of his dreams.  People with diabetes have overcome the "disabled" or "diabetes" stigma to fly commercial aircraft, play professional sports, climb mountains, become police officers, and loving parents. 

For those who chose to allow their children to have this label...well I guess that they have valid reasons according to the dictionary for doing so.  Personally it still remains a very grey area and that I still cannot enter but I now have a new perspective on those who feel just as passionately that the label does apply.

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