“There are things I never thought I would do again. But there are lots of things I can do, so I don’t want people to think of me as a kid with arthritis. I want to be the same as everybody else,” she said.
This is a powerful little story about a girl with a condition unknown to most that, left untreated and unaccommodated, would destroy her life. She is lucky to have the unwavering support of her parents and access to excellent medical care and practitioners at Sick Children. I've taken my own kids there - they're the best.
Today I talked to a friend of mine who is profoundly deaf but, through assistive technology, is able to hear, speak and contribute her maximum potential to society. Like Aaliyah, though, there's a great deal of personal bravery to this story, too. My friend was sexually abused during her student years - she was the deaf kid, so an easy target. She faces daily the stigma of a hearing world that sees her as abnormal. If you doubt that, then answer this - would you want a profoundly deaf woman to be the mother of your grandkids?
Someone I haven't been able to reach recently is another young woman, a friend with co-morbid mental health conditions, including Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Depression. I wonder how many people are proactively trying to reach out to her - and if her feelings of perpetual loneliness are simply being reinforced by the cone of stigma she lives within in a world that shuns the abnormal.
These are three individuals who know what their restrictions are and have, at least to some degree, access to supports that help them function as normal people. Still, it's tough. What about the countless sufferers of chronic pain, physical impairment that's just not quite obvious or worse, a mental illness that gets interpreted by most as behaviour issues?
“Over 4.6 million Canadians live with arthritis. But how many would guess that so many of those are under the age of 16, or that arthritis is among the most common of childhood chronic conditions,” Arthritis Society president Janet Yale said.
People are busy. They don't have time for things that aren't essential. The more important people are, the busier they get - and the more aggressive they need to be to get through their day, achieving whatever goals they have set out. If you can't help them, you're either irrelevant or a hindrance.
The kid who won't play certain sports in class because they say it's ouchy? They're the class-problem.
The exasperating employee who's always stuttering or avoiding their manager? Can 'em, they have no value.
The senior who's not quite all there? Well, that's a sales opportunity waiting to happen. It's a tough world, the strong survive and besides, if you don't hook the sale first, someone else will. Some people, after all, are just marks.
Like my deaf friend who, funny enough, now works in HR. A generation previous - and in most places, in her generation - she'd have never been seen as more than a target or a failed person. With some technology and support, she's now making an organization work better. Like I said, funny.
We are, each of us, flawed human beings - the would-be prey and predator both. These inclusions of the body and mind give us each different challenges, differing opportunities that can never be fully mastered individually. Why, even the predator is fruitless in the absence of prey.
When we're transparent, though, we can reflect together and become conduits for a light the likes none of us can produce individually. The telephone was created as an accommodation for deafness - now, we all benefit. Challenges create opportunity that innovation solves and a good marketing mind will sell. As for the disability itself - if you're too busy to delve deeper than an easy label, you never know what you could be missing.
Remember, though, that the reverse will also be true.