Monday, August 19, 2013

The Importance of Perception

Those of who who read disability blogs a lot may know where I'm going with this.  For those who don't, enjoy the ride.

Meet two women - Liz and Melody.  Both these women have cerebral palsy and anxiety.

Liz recently graduated college summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree.  She is a fierce activist and has presented at many national and local conferences.  She is able to ambulate independently and gets around her neighborhood using paratransit services.  She's also working on getting her driver's license.  Liz lives close to Manhattan and often takes the train in to see friends and attend events.  Her anxiety is controlled by medication and she has spoken out often about the benefits of psychiatric medication.  Recently, Liz flew to Pittsburgh alone for a conference and then took the bus with a friend to Baltimore.  Liz received a score of 2060 out of 2400 on her SATs and was in Advanced Placement classes alongside her nondisabled peers throughout high school.  She is a voracious reader who has a large vocabulary and has been described by many school personnel as "smart". She also writes and is working on her first novel.  Liz hopes to pursue a master's degree in Disability Studies starting in the spring.

Melody uses a wheelchair, walker or crutches when out of the house.  Her speech is often stuttered, especially when tired.  Her inability to stand for long periods of time or walk distances caused problems during her field experience and contributed to her decision not to pursue teaching certification.  She does not make eye contact with people when talking.  Melody was not able to shower or brush her teeth independently until her mid teens and still has trouble putting on clothes with small buttons or fasteners, which led to her wearing solely sports bras until her mother insisted that she wear a proper bra.  She cannot tie her shoes tightly enough for them to stay on and wears shoes with Velcro or slip ons.   Her voice is often inappropriately loud because of problems with respiratory muscle control.  She has limited depth perception and often cannot distinguish a step from the ground below it, which has caused scary falls and near-falls.  In addition, she cannot reliably tell left from right, especially when stressed.  Her anxiety is complex and includes general and specific anxieties.  Her anxieties often interfere with sleep.  Recently, she had a panic attack at a conference that manifested itself in sobbing and shaking - what could look like a tantrum to an outside observer.  The trigger?  Having a random roommate.

What are your perceptions of these two women?  Tell me your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for part 2!


Margot said...

Very interesting Cara. My friend with moderate athetoid CP just visited me and I found out she's kind of a mixture between these 2. She can walk. Her speech is slurred and she has severe anxiety issues. She had a bunch of crying outbursts in my house and I wonder why she didn't tell me before sleeping over. Ironic that I would read this post after seeing her. So true that perception is everything. Do a lot of people with CP have anxiety issues??

Anonymous said...

*grin* I saw Yes, That Too's post first, so I can guess where you're going with this.

I notice that both of you pulled off your misdirection by focusing on different areas-- sometimes irrelevant areas, in fact. E.g., one talks about a fierce activist; the other talks about not being able to tell left from right. In fact, the second paragraph has no corresponding mention of activism, and nor does the first paragraph mention being able to tell left from right. In several cases, then, it's merely that people tend to assume one person's skills will be at about the same level, which they have no reason to assume.

There are places where Liz and Melody seem to directly contrast. Specifically, that Liz is working on getting a driver's license while Melody can't consistently tell left from right and has trouble with depth perception. (I assume Lizelodara is working on compensating well enough to drive safely.) Otherwise, the paragraphs mainly discuss different aspects of Lizelodara's abilities, so there's no particular reason to assume either couldn't coexist with the other, except ableism.

Yes, That Too did something similar. Hillary's paragraph mainly discusses daily living skills and looking weird, while Rose's paragraph mainly discusses academic and activist life. Of course, in Hillarossa's case, it's a fairly transparent trick, because as of the post time, she had already blogged about most of those traits. Now that I think about it, you've talked about several of these before, too, but some were news to me.