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Hindsight: A Post-Paralysis Examination of Able-Bodied Privilege

Updated: Mar 13

By Cassandra Brandt


Before I became disabled there was very little in life that I didn’t take for granted. Of course you don’t see your privilege when you are born with it and I was born with working arms and legs. That able body afforded me a life of privilege. I felt entitled to it because I worked so hard. I was in the trades, and the sweat off my back put food on my daughter’s table and I took pride in that.


I was 32-years-old when I was the passenger in a car accident. I sustained a spinal cord injury and became paralyzed from the shoulders down. In one instant my entire world was ripped out from under me. Everything I had ever taken for granted in my able body stared me in the face. What had I taken for granted?


 

"In one instant my entire world was ripped out from under me. Everything I had ever taken for granted in my able body stared me in the face."

 

Motor function


Most people are probably guilty of taking our agile, active bodies for granted in youth. As we get older and our bodies start failing us we often fail to focus on the myriad ways they do still function. Seeking satisfaction with our physical state can be a series of moving goal posts. Those of us who lack lower body function lament the loss rather than appreciate the preservation of upper body function, for example. My level of injury is C3-4. I’d be grateful if I could scratch my nose.


Sensory function


Another function my body once enjoyed which I experienced loss over after injury and subsequent disability is sensory function. Truly we do take for granted the ability to receive and return a bear hug, experience intimacy with our partners, and enjoy a long, hot shower.


Economic opportunities


Then there’s the financial factor. Finding work was easy when I had physical skilled labor to offer. People who don’t experience disability are afforded more economic opportunities. Although I was afforded the opportunity to continue my education in order to be perceived as more employable, I’ve still struggled to find work.


Society’s attitudes


Prior to paralysis I had enjoyed the privilege of pretty. I took the accepting attitudes of others for granted without realizing it. Now I must face the stereotypes that come with my wheelchair and sedentary body.


Accessible resources


At times during life on legs I needed help. I needed Medicaid for help with medical bills and transportation to medical appointments. Medical bills are outrageous and accessible transportation is scarce and unreliable. Having a mobility disability only exacerbates the challenge. I can’t just hop in a car or even transfer into a seat. Vehicles that can accommodate my power wheelchair are pricey to buy and public transit capable of accommodating those who utilize mobility aids like mine can be hard to find, especially in rural communities. 


Appreciation for the present


People with disabilities learn to live with the limits and challenges specific to their disability, but often society fails to see our struggle and accommodate us accordingly. That’s because most people in it are still innocently but ignorantly taking for granted the privileges and opportunities afforded to them as able-bodied members of the community. Throughout my journey toward acceptance of my disability I’ve found some peace in letting go of some things I took for granted before losing them, and in reminding myself not to take for granted everything have: relationships with my incredible daughter, my precious new grandbabies, my loving parents, my big brother, and many amazing caregivers, friends, and peers in the disability community. I’ve been able to cultivate a career for myself without hands. I am also involved in advocacy which gives me a great sense of meaning.


Stoic philosophy helped a lot. I even wrote a little self help book about everything I learned. Check it out on Amazon: Seven Secrets of a Sedentary Stoic: Pursuing a Path to Post Paralysis Peace

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