My Recent Firsthand Lesson: Understanding Challenges of People with Disabilities

My Recent Firsthand Lesson: Understanding Challenges of People with Disabilities

I’ve had lots of minor scrapes and bumps in my 73 years, but nothing of consequence in the way of health-related problems, certainly nothing that needed surgery – excluding having tonsils taken out at the tender age of 5 and a few skin cancer excisions later in life. I was fortunate.

Then it happened.

Two hips decided to go south on me about the same time, and for the first time in my life I experienced what I’d only read about and seen from a distance: being disabled.

In November my left hip was replaced and 4½ months later I had the right hip done. The technical term is “arthroplasty.” During that time, plus an additional month of recovery after the second procedure, my mobility was severely affected.

Jumping to the end of the story, both surgeries were successful and what before was a painful and difficult experience just to walk and an inability to climb steps, left me skipping down the sunny side of the street, thanks to the wonder and miracle of modern medicine.

And I learned a valuable lesson.

In the weeks after each surgery I was tied at first to a walker, and then a cane. White compression stockings peaked out from the bottom of my pants.

I had seen many older and disabled individuals using a walker, tennis balls on the bottom of the equipment to make it easier to proceed. And now I was one.

My steps were slow. Curbs were like Mount Everest to me. And I began to gain an understanding for the challenges of people who have disabilities.

I really appreciated the curb breaks that slope to accommodate a wheelchair or walker. I learned the kindness of strangers who would hold a door for me, hold an elevator so I could make the trip, offer to help when I struggled to juggle an arm full of stuff and propel the walker at the same time. Orlando is “The City Helpful” as well as “The City Beautiful.”

When I “graduated” from the walker to using a cane it affirmed the fact that I’m right-handed. A cane is used on the opposite side from an injured leg. So when recovering from left hip surgery I was able to maneuver the cane fairly well using my right hand. But when I switched to using the cane with my left hand after having the right hip replaced, it was shaky to say the least. I would step on the tip of the cane or my hand would wobble, such that I started to tip a bit. It was uncomfortable.

All in all, through each step of recovery, my understanding of being disabled grew. And as I looked around I saw so many instances of others. There was the woman in a wheelchair boarding a “kneeling bus.” There were myriad individuals moving forward with the aid of a cane or walker. There were those who were proceeding with the use of an artificial limb or prosthetic.

Please understand what I’ve discussed here relates only to physical disabilities. Challenges including other types of disabilities extend to cognitive or learning disabilities, psychological disorders, unseen disabilities, and a broad spectrum of additional classifications and subcategories.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 19 percent of the population has a disability, with about half of them reporting the disability as severe.

The University of Central Florida – along with many other universities and colleges – thankfully offers abundant opportunities that address the challenges of disabilities of all types.

From course work and degree studies that prepare teachers and clinicians, to institutes, clinics and counseling programs that welcome those with disabilities and their families and support circles, I’m grateful the university stands at the forefront of institutions committed to expanded educational opportunities, compassionate and professional care, and intensified research designed to serve those with disabilities.

I know from firsthand experience the need exists.

Rich Sloane is director of community relations for the University of Central Florida’s College of Education and Human Performance. He can be reached at Rich.Sloane@ucf.edu.