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10 Things The World Can Learn From People With Disabilities

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No matter the type of person, there are lessons to be learned from them. People with disabilities are especially influential, as our hardships in life aren’t easily forgotten. We go through every day with determination and strength, which many people are bowled over by, with many secretly wondering if they could do the same thing.

People with a disabilities learn so much throughout their lives–life lessons that able-bodied people rarely get to experience.

Having a disability is definitely difficult, but it’s also one of the richest classrooms a human can experience, too. While these learning experiences are more profound experienced directly, there are some special tokens of wisdom we can pass along.

1) True happiness is really possible in a “broken” body.

Most say they would rather die than live with a disability, which makes me laugh. That’s because most able-bodied people can’t imagine being happy if their body was ever permanently broken. But the truth is that the human brain is very adept at transitioning into someone with a disability, if you let it, that is.

I thought I would never be happy again. But after a few years after becoming paralyzed, I was happy. I found happiness through simply being alive, family and friends. I still wish I could walk again but true happiness resides in me.

2) Patience can get you through almost anything.

You’re told as a little kid how important patience is and as an adult you come to see how true this really is. But when you have a disability, the patience required is at a whole new level. Very often we have to wait longer for all types of things and over time we become masters at honing in on it. Patience has even helped me emotionally get over my physical inabilities in certain occasions.

3) Accidents can and will happen.

When you hear about people becoming disabled through an accident, you always think it could never happen to you, and you almost look at it like TV show or movie–that could never be your reality. But the cold hard truth is that accidents that cause disabilities happen every day, and they could likely happen to you or someone you know.  The realness of this possibility is tangible in all lives, but when you have a disability you’re just a bit more aware of it.

4) Disability can happen to anyone.

Maybe no congenital disabilities run your family, but say your first baby had cerebral palsy. It’s shocking suddenly finding yourself in the camp of either being disabled or the family member of one. The wisdom here is to never forget we are all imperfect physical beings, and to never think you’re exempt. We will all die one day and we’re all human.

5) Don’t sweat the little things.

Since having a disability can be rather stressful – broken wheelchairs, health insurance cuts, caregivers suddenly quitting – we learn early on to not let our stress levels get too high. If we did, none of us would make it past 40. We are confronted with crazy things all the time, so we learn to prioritize what is really worth freaking out over. That is why so many of us seem so zen-like. The movie is sold out? The restaurant has a two hour wait? No biggie. It could always be worse.

6) Being different is an opportunity.

Most people don’t like being different or standing out.  You have the outgoing Venice Beach type people of the world, but generally most people don’t want to be noticed. However, it’s not as bad as you’d think. In fact, when you live the life as someone who’s different, you learn right away it has it’s cool moments. You get to meet amazing people and get in on special opportunities. When you’re vanilla, no one notices.

7) Fitting-in is overrated.

When you have a disability, you pretty much have a free-for-all card to be exactly who you want to be since fitting-in with the “in” crowd is impossible anyways and embracing this can be one of the most freeing feelings ever.  You don’t need to fit-in to feel good about yourself or to think you “belong.” You belong to yourself, we know this. And that feeling is amazing.

8) You can’t judge a person by their looks.

You hear it all the time, don’t judge a book by its cover. From Stephen hawking, a man in a wheelchair who can’t speak and is one of the smartest people in the world to Francesco Clark, a quadriplegic and CEO of a huge beauty product company, don’t ever think a disability equates to someone who is not impressive or successful. You never know what someone with a disability is capable of.

9) Life is short. Embrace everything.

Having a disability can also, unfortunately, have an impact on your lifespan. For many of us, living to 95 isn’t probably going to happen, which is why most people with disabilities have figured out the secret to life – enjoy each day as if it were our last. We all try to do this in our own way, but many of us fail. People with disabilities however, have gotten it down to an art form, from enjoying the sun rays to a warm cup of coffee, we know how hard life can be so we know how to embrace the good things when they present themselves.

10) Weakness isn’t always a negative.

Just like the notion “it takes a village,” being weak or disabled isn’t necessarily a negative thing.  When living with a disability, you learn to be ok with receiving help, and over time, many of us realize that we all need help in our own way, even athletes and the President of United States. It’s unavoidable and part of the human experience.

There’s no getting around it, having a disability is certainly a difficult ticket in life, but the life lessons to be had without question make it a near VIP experience. And hey, the free parking is a nice perk, too.

What wisdom have you learned from someone with a disability?

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About Tiffiny Carlson

Tiffiny Carlson is a writer and quadriplegic from Minneapolis. She has a C6 spinal cord injury from a diving accident when she was 14 years old. Writing and breaking stereotypes is her passion. She's been the SCI Life columnist for New Mobility magazine since 2003 and is the founder of the longtime disability site, Her work has also been featured in Penthouse, Playgirl and And when she's not writing, Tiffiny loves to cook and practice adaptive yoga.

11 Responses

    • avatar Linda Redfern says:

      I shared your “10 Things the World can Learn” with the members of our regional developmental disabilities council today. If it is alright with with, Tiffany, we would like to borrow your list and incorporate them into some public awareness ads we are planning for the coming year. We are thinking about using one a month for a year (if you can think of two more tips, we’d be happy to include them as well.) Thanks for the tips.

  1. This is a great list, and generally very positive in outlook. However, I hope nobody minds if I add a lesson I value, but will probably be seen as a bit negative. One thing I have learned from other people with disabilities is to believe what people tell me about themselves, even if what they are saying sounds strange, unfamiliar, or too awful to contemplate. For a long time, when I heard people with disabilities complain about discrimination, the persistence of poverty, or the many kinds of impairments a person can experience all at once … my first reaction would be disbelief. It can’t be that bad, surely? Well, yes it can be. And I really feel that recognizing this downside to disability is often an important first step in getting to the good stuff, the positivity that lifts us up.

  2. avatar Annae Jones says:

    Tiffiny, this was a great article. Even those with disabilities can lose sight of the things you mentioned in your article. What a great reminder to enjoy and treasure our lives regardless how difficult they may be.

  3. avatar James Michels says:

    thanks so much for this post, relinked it up on my Facebook wall and got a very powerful response from my peers with and without disabilities. I think, we all learned something. I only learned it as you chose to post this. I am truly grateful. For the record I am a 43 year CP spastic triparetic with mixed tone and a lifelong wheelchair/power chair user, the last 21 years in Permobil Chairmen!

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