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Definition of "Disabled"

NumbskullNNumbskull Posts: 1,526
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:48 AM in Chronic Pain
How do you define "disabled"?

To me, when I think of a disabled person, I picture someone in a wheelchair, or a person using a sight sensing cane or with a guide dog, or even someone using sign language to communicate.

I qualify for the disability tax credit, have a parking permit, receive a disability pension from Veteran's Affairs, will be receiving LTD when I'm released from the military, walking is painful, my leg or knees give out and because of that I should probably use a cane or another form of assistance, the thought of running is just laughable and I have strict weight lifting restrictions. But even with all of that, I don't define myself as being "disabled".

I've seen many people here say they are disabled, and just wondered, how do you define being disabled? Am I just looking at my reflection in some magic mirror through rose coloured glasses, is it a state of mind, is it just a convenient label for the government with regards to certain benefits, or is it just simply that we can no longer do certain things?
APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own


  • That is an excellent question. I too do not consider myself disabled, yet by many standards I would certainly qualify. For example without the aid of my SCS I would be unable to function. As long as my SCS is operational I can do many things. So on any given day I feel quite "normal".

    I feel that if I allow myself to be tagged with the label "disabled", that I will allow that to overrule the part of me that keeps me going every day. Don't know if it makes sense to anyone except for me, but that's the way I see things.

    I don't want to allow myself the luxury of surrendering to a "label".

  • Surrending to the fact that I am disabled has allowed me to go on with my life and to get closer to the point of acceptance. It doesn't mean I am not able to do or modify activities that I enjoy.

    I tried several different kinds of employment for over 2 years in order not to go on disability. I finally accepted the fact that I would not make a good employee. One day I am not feeling so bad, and the next I can barely walk. An employer wouldn't be able to count on me. This hasn't stopped me though by going out there and volunteering one or more times a week. I do some clerical work for a homeless shelter. This provides me with the feeling of being a bit more worthwile.

    If I wasn't on disability, I'd be very poor indeed. My main diagnosis for disability was rheumatoid arthritis which has affected my hands, feet, etc.

    I used to think of disabled people as you describe Kelly, but my perception has greatly changed now.

    Just my humble opinion.....

  • Being newly thrust into this situation (onoy 4 weeks ago) snd truly unable to do large part of what I was able to do back a month ago, yes, I would consider myself disabled. My job rewuires me to commute by train and subway for 2 hours each way and then sit for 8 hours. I could not even umagine myself doing either. Exploring job opportunities closer to home is an iption but I would still be sitting for 8 hours. I cannot sit more than 10 minutes before seering pain grips my buttock and thigh.

    I have not looked into a profession outside of what I have been trained in and maybe it will come to that but it is too early since I am not sure where my recovery will go, if anywhere. Right now I am only 4 weeks into this and not improving by the leaps and bounds I thought I would have been by now. Trying medical options for the pain so I can get back to work is my goal but yes, right now in this moment in time, I would consider myself totally disabled to perform my current job duties.

  • I have said for the past 5 years that I am definitely NOT disabled. I used to argue this point with my boss (in a previous job).

    However, since having a double fusion in July 2010, events have overtaken me and have now gone out of my control. It is my employer who is stating that I'm disabled. They have put me on disability leave until all the necessary assessments have been completed. I may need a special chair with sufficient lumbar support (which they don't have). I do need to get up to relieve back/leg pain as and when required. I do need to take pain medication to be able to physically move with more ease.

    There are many things I cannot do now that I used to be able to do without even thinking about years ago. Now, any physical task that may involve bending, lifting, pushing or pulling, needs to be carefully thought about by me. If I feel there is a risk of injury to my back, then I won't do it.

    I have had to sign forms at work to state that I consider myself to be disabled. I don't agree with it, but it's a legal requirement I have no choice about.

    When I look at other people in wheelchairs, for example, then I wouldn't consider myself to be 'disabled', but in my every day life I have to make adjustments, refrain from participating in certain activities (at home and at work) and am continuously aware (through pain and discomfort) that I am not the same physical specimen I used to be. I have also been told that my symptoms will probably get worse as I get older - and when I'm having a bad day pain-wise, all I can do is lay down until the pain medication kicks in.

    Everyone's perception of what it is to be disabled will be different of course. I still don't think I am a disabled person, although I accept now that I have certain restrictions on what I can/cannot do.

    Does all that make sense?
    2 x Microdiscectomy 2005 / PLIFusion 2-level 2010 / revision surgery 2011 / NEVRO Senza spinal cord stimulator implanted February 2013. I WILL NOT GIVE IN / UP !!
  • Kelly; I also don't want to consider myself disabled.
    I have worked since i was 13 y/o, doing a paper route,then worked in a restaurant, after that i served in the Marine Corps for a total of 6 years. After the Corps i tried to get on the State Police but they would'nt take my application, because of affirmitive action (i'm a white male). Then warehouse work for a couple of years, where i learned how to drive a 18 wheeler, and did that for 28 years.
    Point is i've always done physical work, and my pride wont let me admit i'm disabled.
    But the fact's are i cant do what i've been doing my whole life. My mind say's i can but my body say's i cant, so have to struggle with the realization, i have to accept my life style and the way i do things and the thing's i can do are forever changed.
    Am i happy about it, No am i accepting it, Slowly.
    Maybe it's God's way of telling all of us something, but that is a personel choice people have to decide for them selves.
    I'm 55 y/o, and i just got my approval letter from SSD, and i'm happy about that, but i still struggle with accepting it. I too have a handicap placard for my vehicle, but i seldom use it, because i feel there will always be someone going to the store who is worse off then me, and needs that close parking spot more then i do.
    So we just play the hand we're dealt and accept the outcome. Just do the best i can, with what i got.
  • Is having to change what and how we do things, equivalent to being disabled? In my mind it isn't so, but that's just me. For example I used to be a mechanic crawling inside, on top of and under different aircraft. There's no way I could do that these days. So I found employment that suits what I can do today and it is a far cry from working on aircraft. Does it mean I'm disabled because I had to change what I do? For as long as history has been recorded, one can see a pattern where as we age, we tend to take on different jobs, activities and interests. Is aging equivalent to being disabled? I just wonder if we have lowered the bar too far for when a person is considered disabled versus needing to adapt to the onset of age. Don't we all fight getting older in one manner or another?

    I am just throwing out some thoughts here, not trying to tell anyone they are or aren't disabled. I think that is a personal choice. What gets me, are those who have to battle so hard in order to get SSD and get turned down yet are home-bound due to their physical inabilities. Then someone who could easily make a few adaptations gets approved on the first go. So does that also come down to the evaluators own personal views on disability?

    This is a subject that can really lead to some interesting debate!

  • I like to think it isn't disabled but differently abled. Although I am on disability and will have to submit an application for SSD within the month I know that my "work life" is not over. Once I can get the medications adjusted I will be able to find a new career that will work with my limitations.
  • We tend to think of disabilities as a person being incapable of doing something, rather than having to make choices to balance chronic pain.

    Right now I could do a load of laundry, walk a mile, or ride a horse. However, I have learned that the consequences of doing those things in terms of chronic pain are not something I can live with- and I have tried to accommodate the more necessary activities through medication and haven't found it possible.

    So functionally, the result is the same (in ed psych, that's how disabilities are always assessed, in terms of function- why would it be different for adults?)
  • These are all excellent insights, I appreciate all of them, from accepting the term in order to accept this "new life", and even the opposite of not accepting it, to using the term "differently abled" (I love that one Kris!)

    Marianne, it's great that you're accepting the term, in order to accept your new life. That's what it's all about, right? acceptance.

    Phurr, sorry you're so new to this. You and I are the same in our jobs, sitting all the time. I can barely make it through working only 2 hrs a day, and I couldn't imagine doing the commute you have to. Just have patience, and hopefully you won't end up where a lot of us are.

    Jim, that darned thing called pride... I hear you! I think that's the same with me, but, having the label of disabled does not make us any less of a person, something pride doesn't understand. I got my permit mostly for work, as it's a long walk to my office, more than a couple hundred yards, and worse if I end up having to park on the opposite side of the lot. We actually have no designated parking spots, but there are a couple of "Visitor" parking spaces, so that's where I park, and to cover my butt to not get ticketed or towed, have the permit.

    Sue, you made perfect sense! I hope that everything at work gets sorted out for you soon, so you can return. And HappyHBmom, you have very valid points as well.

    And you're right C, it does seem like the people who need the assistance most, either have to fight so hard for it and get denied, and others who may not need it as badly seem to get it right off the bat.

    All very insightful input, I'm looking forward to reading some more!
    APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own
  • Interesting topic Kelly! :?

    Due to my medical "status" coupled with the fact they found I could no longer or better stated became "unable" to do the essential elements of my job, the federal government deemed me "disabled", and as such I retired under those terms.

    Up until my upper lumbar disks went, and that dreaded neuropathy took over, I felt "different-abled" as Kris stated. Without a cane, I now get searing pain in the front of my thighs, then they go weak and if nothing there to support, down I go! (growl and sniff). If I am sitting such that I can wiggle around, and curve my back out, and lean forward, I can sit for a while. If in a small chair (like say airline seats), I am done in like 10 minutes! I sadly have accepted the "disabled" status, and like another poster, it allows me to redirect my thinking into a more positive and healthy way.

    Age... I did some digging on "disabilities" and the short and skinny of it is we (people) are compared to the majority of their age group. What is considered "normal" verses what our limitations are, and too if they are deemed to be permanent. Another way to look at it is until you near your 40's "most" people don't need glasses to read that newspaper. Now for those persons, once they have a prescription that works for them, they are 100% again, but if their eyes degenerate that they are deemed "legally blind", and as such labeled disabled.

    We get surgery that "fixes" things, and as such we can do what "normal" expectations are given our age, then we aren't disabled anymore. Flip the coin, said surgery doesn't work, the limitations continue or worsen, you might be moved into the "disabled" box again. Just my thoughts there.... :)

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • for me i do see that point ther c about some do seem to get easier that others...i for example applied last feb..i got a letter stating i can'tget ssdi due to not enough credits....in last 10 yrs due to having my last son and back surgery i was on and off different jobs...
    so i wait and i'm ask daily from ppl why aren't you on disbility....
    I have worked alot all my life and at very very physical jobs and tried to get a job sitting desk but the sittings the worst for me..
    I am doing independant rep (cant say what co.) and i sell stuff on ebay to get food for family..hubbies laid off so if i could find a job online of something i would be glad to take it.... my meds make my brain mush well along with fibro fog is very hard to spell or keep thoughts straight....
    as you can see oh yes c i do know of a lady who got disability so fast she had a problem with her wrist...and i really just say her and she's doing great joins great gyms and gets free schooling also due to docs saying shes depressed....and i do know this person i dont know how she lives with herself collecting ssdi...she makes jokes about how easy she got it and all the pills all diff docs give her...
    makes my heart sad that so many house bound ppl cant get ssd or food stamps things just to survive...

    i pray someday i can get it but till then i will sell everything i got to make it thru...
    i still have not asked the doc for the car parking thing because i know i just feel bad someones always worse off than me...
    good thread to bring up
    neck,bone spurs pain started 04, back issues and fusion l4,l5 06~hardware removed.
    good few yrs. 09 pain sharp, numbness feet,legs, diagnosed fibro, neurop. legs.lung issues.
    daily goal do good thing for someone.
  • Forgot one, After the Marine Corps, i was a Correctional Officer at a state maximunm security prision for about 9 month's.
  • I was first given the "disabled" label as a kid due to my back problems. Unfortunately (or fortunately as I looked at it) I wouldn't sit for that label... I went out and did what I wanted, or at least what I could. Sure, I got worse as I got older, but as long as I was ABLE to do what I wanted to do, I was "abled".

    I used to walk/hike up to 20 miles at a time.... I was able to lift AND carry 140 lbs. regularly (my dogs weight, when he got sick). I could go camping, I could run around with my dogs,I could HAVE dogs... :( I could be hugged tightly with only an inkling of pain. I never gave parking a second thought. I never had to think...will there be a place to sit or lean if I go there. I didn't have to worry about whether I could make the 2 minute walk/elevator ride from my truck to my desk at work.

    I am No Longer ABLE to do those things, so obviously I am NOT "abled" If others need to put a label on it, then sure, I'm disabled. My doctors have been saying so for years. It just took me a bit longer to come around to accepting it myself.

    C, it is great that you feel the way you do and I hope you continue to do so. My only question would be... what happens if you are too long or too far away from your charger? What if you get stuck... somewhere, without a charger or without your meds? Maybe you're well prepared for any of the possibilities that "could" happen... what happens if it's days, not hours?

    See, I understand what you mean about having to change anyway as we age... I just never accepted that until my body made the decision for me.
    I was... not blind to it, nor oblivious... I just always felt that IF I gave in, I'd give up so I fought giving in.

    I'm a big believer in making your own destiny, that we ourselves decide how and what our life will be, the real world can always intrude and slap you silly and there goes your view... but for the most part, you get to choose how you will live your life.

    I believed in being able to change things because of the way you think. It was how I lived. I walked when they said I wouldn't, I ran when they said I might walk. And I laughed at them.

    The day I cried because I couldn't walk any further but I had to and then fell when my back and legs gave out....I gave in...and, good or bad, up when I'm feeling ornery.
    I guess that was it for me. I can tell myself anything I want, but if I can never do what I did then I'm not "able".

    Where once I lived a life where I did what I wanted, now I try to do what I can. I do try to plan outings with my nephew... both so he will remember us DOING things and so that we can spend time together. I hate that he knows when I'm in pain because it upset him so I try to make sure he doesn't see it.

    I think sometimes we focus too much on the "labels"..... but then, that's an old thought for me these days...

  • Interesting perspective. Thanks for taking the time to write it out for us.

    In answer to your question about being unable to charge or losing meds. Of course that would throw me into a huge tailspin and life as I know it today would come to a screeching halt.

    What I do though is try as best I can to live each day as it comes and although I plan for the days ahead, I try not to plan the outcome or set expectations. I always keep my battery charged and never let it go below 25%. I keep my charger battery charged so with a full IPG and a full charger, I can go about 3 weeks, maybe 4 (if I turn down a few settings} before requiring electrical power to recharge everything.

    If I were to lose the meds I take (Neurontin, Celebrex, Baclofen) I would definitely not feel well at all and would hate to venture a guess as to what I would be able to accomplish without them.

    However, today I have everything working in unison and today I am able to do most anything I want. Sitting here right now, I feel perfectly capable, especially since it is not difficult to remember how badly I can hurt with just a few simple changes to my pain management. I feel the SCS humming away and the Neurontin working on the ache in my leg and foot and the Baclofen keeping my neck and shoulders from knotting up with the slightest movement. The Celebrex is working to keep the inflammation down around my SCS components and the ache in my neck to a tolerable level. Right now I am very capable of doing most things.

    I guess when you break it down, a huge part of the able or disabled equation, is our pain management team or doc. As long as that is working for us, then look out world because here we come! Instead of avoiding life because it may cause me more pain, discomfort or physical limitation, I chase after it so I can enjoy it for as many days as I can. Right now all I have is today, so I intend to enjoy it.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  • It's kind of like where I stated the guy needs glasses. You need the SCS to work, and too like many of us, the meds to work for us - take them away, and the SCS, and it's like the person with 'coke bottle' glasses, and they shatter - can't see, can't function!

    In basics, if we have aids to help us "be normal" or near to it, than the disability part can be pushed aside, but when the issues don't have something to fix or control them = can move us to disabled? Just my thoughts there....

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Kelly,
    The notion of disability is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, knowing you are not disabled is when you have to choice to use this description or not, the perception of the word disability does have connotations of wanting or stigma from those who have no experience or knowledge of restriction.

    Melzack and Wall describe living in the pain, rather than with it and we have to do everything in our power to be proactive and empowered in what we can do, it may be that we are in part only limited in the belief of what we can do, while acknowledging our daily reality.

    Although my son may be ascribed the term disabled, we should not use that epithet to define his capability, clearly he has physical tasks that may be difficult and impaired to use a descriptive term, his performance in certain areas does surpass those who would see his disability as restrictive and he has that enhanced duality of capability.

    As Clandy mentions, it is only a word and others feel aggrieved in that they cannot place us in that spectrum of position that a label infers. We can all deny the reality of restriction and carry on as if nothing had changed, I only accept that element of disability persona that allows me to move to the next stage, it was a defining moment to see my own status in the written form as disabled, it was not a seismic shift in what I thought of my capability rather the opposite, I could do more in spite and irrespective of my limitations.

    We can be both versions simultaneously I try not to live down to the limitations, but up to the able aspect, it is what we believe as individuals that matters, my own status as disabled has been empowering I have made it so and opened more doors than I ever imagined, I have pushed at more, with greater force and tenacity.

    As Kelly alluded, we all have that decision to make and feel that push to conform to a label on the basis of eligibility to provision, even if we decide not to see ourselves as disabled, that in itself will not change our physical capability, In not initially wanting to divulge the difficulties I was having, I tried to act able, in perhaps some acceptance I acknowledged reality, voicing my new status had limited impact on seeking recognition for my inner need or practical help.

    Chronic pain is only part of who we are, we can radiate that knowledge to a distance of our making, it has enhanced who we are and what we become, others would benefit from some of the gifts it has brought us.

    It is not us that have a problem with the term rather others who would judge us I am proud of my achievement irrespective of my disability and more so because of it, it is who I think I am, that is important to me.

    Take care John.

    My son has gone for two new lower prosthesis today.

  • Something you wrote really stuck out to me

    not living down to our limitations but living up to our capabilities.

    I love that!! It's something we should all strive to achieve in our daily lives!!

    Good luck to your son today! I hope he finds the perfect set suited just for him!

    APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own
  • Thank you for responding. I had hoped it would not come across as poking but genuine interest.

    I think, reading what you've said, that you really are prepared for most anything. And not only prepared, but know that you must do certain things to be able to do those other things and let the able/dis thing be in the background (if present at all).

    My problem, and I sense the problem of others new to the party is that we have not yet admitted to ourselves that we MUST do A, B, C, in order to be ABLE to do D, E, F.

    I know I have meds and patches that I can take/use which will help with the pain. In good times, they might even give me a few more minutes standing. I just haven't gotten to the point where I will TAKE them as prescribed instead of Taking them when it's really bad and I need them to continue to function.

    Your post gives me hope that eventually my feelings about it all will catch up with my brain (which does understand it) and I'll be better able to face the day. It may mean the difference between me biting the head off of someone at home (so I don't do it at work :( ) and leaving the house relatively prepared for the day to come.

    Thank you
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