Disability is in the Eye of the Beholder

One of my favorite quotes is “There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more” (Robert M. Hensel). This is pretty powerful when you think about it. Are people truly disabled if we don’t tell them they are? And is their differently-abled life just as happy as a typically-abled life? We are all pre-conditioned to think of someone, or some animal, that is differently-abled as flawed in some way. We often do this without ever having had a personal interaction with a differently-abled person or pet. Many people and animals with impairments have had them since birth and known no other way. To them, this is normal, the way it has always been. In many cases it is only when someone else tells them or treats them differently that they feel lesser as a result of their impairment. It is when they are told they won’t be able to do certain things that they become a disabled person. I have seen firsthand from my two-decade involvement with Canine Companions for Independence that disabled people are really just differently-abled people. It is the perceptions of others that put limitations on their abilities.

On the other hand, animals are not concerned about your preconceptions of them. They don’t care what you think. Animals do not have the psychological awareness of being impaired or differently-abled. It is what it is. You can try to tell them they can’t do it, and they will prove you wrong and just do it. Their disability is what it is, and they don’t know any better. In practice, we see dogs that suddenly lose their eyesight from a condition called Sudden Acute Retinal Degeneration. They just wake up blind one day. Their retinas look normal on exam but they no longer see. It is devastating for the owners because they think “how can my dog survive?” Well, these dogs thrive, as long as you don’t move the furniture. If they run into something, it’s just “oh well, let’s go this way instead.” It doesn’t bother them. Their other senses take over and they move on. We see animals born without one or more legs. Don’t feel sorry or judge them. They are happy. Don’t tell them they are different, because they don’t see it that way. Look at these videos of amazing animals and you will see:

These are just a few examples of what most people would see as disabilities in animals, but I can think of many more. My hope is this blog will make the reader think about the idea of “disabled” versus “differently-abled” the next time you get to meet a disabled person or animal. They are living life the way they know, and often very well.

Other posts by Dr. Riggs

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

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