More than a disability

By Matthew Dotson

If you were to talk to a certain user on called WhenPigsMayFly, or the same person Grey154 on, you wouldn’t notice anything too obscure about him. He seems fairly well spoken though on first impression he seems like he can’t spell worth anything, and the weirdest part about him is that he doesn’t follow some of Hollywood’s fads.

Take away the computer screen and the anonymity. Grey is a young man. He’s dark haired with blue eyes, he appears to be in his late teens to early 20s. You’ll never see him run a five-mile or jump to score the winning dunk during a basketball game. You’ll never even see him walk from class to class. This is because he can’t walk. He is in a wheelchair.

This is me. I am that man.

On Aug. 5, 1995, my mother nearly died giving birth to me. She suffered internal bleeding and delivered me via C-section. The doctors didn’t know how I would turn out. When I was 2 years old I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. To put bluntly, I have brain damage. It’s left me unable to walk without aid, 16 years of therapy and several surgeries. Yet despite all of these hardships, my parents would not change a thing. Now I’m working to be a journalist, I’m in the honors program at Baylor and my classmates and professors appear to think very highly of me.

I went to therapy one to two times a week for 16 years. I was a representative of my local rehabilitation center for several years. In that time, your perspective tends to open up. You learn what people can live without, and what they can’t. Being surrounded by those who are disabled makes you do a bit of soul searching. It brings up questions about what it means to live. And what it means to be human.

Anonymity on the Internet has its perks. You can talk to people from anywhere around the world with a click of a button. There is also a dark side to this Internet. People speak without thinking and make comments without truly empathizing with others. In a way this anonymity leaves them trapped in a very small world.

I run into those people a lot. They make jokes about handicapped people. Say people who are handicapped have no quality of life because they can’t see, walk or speak. They claim to be speaking in our self-interest about how much we suffer.

In the 16 years I was at Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, I made a lot of friends. Many had physical deformities, others had a hard time functioning from day to day. Some were blind, others could not eat or use the bathroom by themselves and had to rely on machines.

Despite the handicaps, there was one thing I saw in all of them. I saw a smile. I saw a determination to live and to bring to the world what they could. Some live long lives, while others lives are taken too soon because of complications.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that life and suffering is not so readily defined. It’s subjective. Just ask my mom when she gave birth to me. Just ask those who wake up every morning with a smile on their face. If you were to meet someone who has a physical or mental disability, I think they would surprise you about just what kind of life they have.

Matthew Dotson is a sophomore journalism major from Waco and a reporter for the Lariat.