Nancy Mairs’ short essay titled “On Being a Cripple” is a confrontational, inspirational, and emotional story. It talks about a mother struggling with the challenges of multiple sclerosis. The story is confrontational because Nancy has an issue with people who invent friendly terms to describe their disability status (Bunkers and Cynthia 66). It is inspirational because despite suffering from chronic and incurable disease that has the capacity of limiting all senses, she managed to obtain a bachelor and postgraduate degree. She continues to work as a teacher and writer even after losing one hand to the disease. Nancy emotionally narrates the physical and emotional problems she has undergone since she was diagnosed with sclerosis. She says, “I no longer have much use of my left hand. Now my right side is weakening as well.” She prefers to be called cripple because she considers the term as the most straightforward and precise description of herself. A cripple is a person with defective limbs (Turner, 23). Nancy has the same challenge. However, the term may be taken in broader sense to mean any physical, mental, or emotional limitation. The modern society should be aware of the fact that being crippled has acted as a channel to success and recognition for some individuals. In certain regions of the world, the crippled enjoy myriads of privileges, such as good salaries and wages. The crippled also attract the attention of the society, and the joy comes when they are cared for and loved.
Every person has his or her physical, emotional, and mental shortcomings that are referred to in general term as disabilities. In contrast to the past generations, the modern generation has evolved and this is evident when people appreciate and applaud colleagues with disabilities. The terms cripple and disabled have at times been used interchangeably. The term cripple as used by Nancy can be taken to mean any form of disability. Cripple in Nancy’s mind is not an imaginary notion but a phenomenon that exist in the society. Nancy believes that being crippled is part of life and is unavoidable. It is part of one’s identity, and people should not strive to describe it in terms that attempt to deny the existence of the physical differentiation between the affected and normal individuals. Nancy accepts to be called cripple because she believes it was due to fate and not her liking. She says, “I want them to see me as a tough customer, one whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind to but who can face brutal truth of her existence squarely” (Mairs 206).
I partly share Nancy’s belief about human limitations or disabilities, and believe that the crippled also have a role to play in the larger community. Like others, people with disabilities need to be given equal opportunities in employment sectors, sport competitions, as well as in learning institutions. I too had a cripple, or physical limitation that I cannot deny, and although I suffered from the humiliation of my colleagues, I was obliged to accept and appreciate my condition. I was among the shortest students in my class in an elementary school. Consequently, my classmates nicknamed me “shorty” to mean a person who is smaller in stature. Being short was part of my identity, and there was no way I could deny because it differentiated me from the rest of my classmates. Identity is the unique characteristics that distinguish a person from the others. Identity is also known to enhance people’s confidence on various platforms such as learning institutions and sports competitions. The unique qualities in focus include the physical characteristics such as height, appearance, body physique and others (Ownsworth 13).
Irrefutably, being short comes with all manner of challenges that I have faced throughout my life, especially while going through elementary school. Apart from being placed on the front row in class to answer most of the teachers’ questions, I was also a victim of a lot of teasing directed by fellow students who saw my stature as an amusement topic. In most schools, students with small stature are the most teased and subject of bullying because of their perceived inability to counter the aggressors. Students with small stature are also regularly subjected to unpleasant and unpleasant abuses. Although I accepted my shortness, I did not like being called “shorty” because I thought it was a demeaning term that was meant to make look lesser than other classmates. So every time, I was called “shorty” I became very angry and furious. To my dismay, my classmates enjoyed my anger and always used that word to make me angry. If for example a teacher needed clarification on any issue, I could hear my fellow classmates shout my nickname at the back. These murmurs caused me a lot of emotional stress because sometimes, I was not aware of what the teacher was referring to yet the students often insisted on me answering the teachers’ questions. On the other hand, if I did not respond to the questions asked then teachers would look at me from a different dimension. On one occasion, one of the teachers came up with a conclusion that I was rude and arrogant yet I honestly had no response to the question asked. I was not only subjected to emotional stress but also physical abuse, bullying by taller classmates. I particular remember one student who formed a habit of carrying and walking with me like a baby around the class during breaks. The physical and emotional problems I encountered compelled me to transfer to a different school. Moreover, I almost became an introvert who found a lot of happiness being alone than playing with classmates.
Although I do not deny that my physical shortcoming was real, I had a problem with people that associated it with a form of inherent human weakness. Disability does not deprive a person of his or her dignity (Newell and Andy 73). As a short person, I expected my classmates to treat with respect knowing that I had feelings just like them. On the contrary, some ascribed to the notion of weakness in my identity and used it as basis for treating me badly. For example, some of my classmates thought that a short person was physically weak and perhaps unhealthy. To them, only the able bodied had their way in class. I was short and smaller not because of my liking or choice but by virtue of many other factors that I had no control over.
I do not support the notion that people with physical limitations are weaker human beings. If this notion were true, Nancy would not have studied and achieved the academic milestones she managed. One may be physically challenged but still very resourceful in the society. Nancy is a lecturer and freelance editor despite the fact that one of her hands is not functional. Inability to teach is not part of her identity. I too was short but performed equally well in academics. I was among the best students in Mathematics, defeating many taller students who considered me as incapacitated. Nonetheless, my height did not significantly increase in that year, and I accepted my situation. Just like in the case of Nancy, during these challenges there are people who supported me like my parents. I remember telling the teasing cases to my mother but she never stopped me from attending school the next day. Rather, she encouraged me to get good grades and prove to the detractors that I was equally capable.
Knowing one’s identity is a critical component of knowing self. Identity consists of both internal and external qualities. People with physical, emotional and psychological limitations ought to be aware of their disabilities as part of their identity. They should not shy away from their conditions but strive to foster better understanding of their limitations as Nancy did. Limitations should not prevent them from using their other abilities to achieve whatever they want in life. The normal people on the other hand, should not think that the crippled are weak in all realms. They should not associate these people with other qualities that are not part of their identity nor discriminate them on the basis on those qualities. Instead, they should treat them as human beings who are at liberty to pursue their interests in a free and non-discriminative environment (Glas 9).
Bunkers, Suzanne L, and Cynthia A. Huff. Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women’s Diaries. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996. Print.
Glas, Gerrit. “Person, personality, self, and identity: a philosophically informed conceptual analysis.” Journal of personality disorders 20.2 (2006): 126-138.
Mairs, Nancy. “On being a cripple.” NYU School of Medicine, 2005. Internet Resource
Newell, Christopher, and Andy Calder. Voices in Disability and Spirituality from the Land Down Under: Outback to Outfront. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014. Print.
Ownsworth, Tamara. Self-identity after Brain Injury. , 2014. Print.
Turner, David M. Disability in Eighteenth-Century England: Imagining Physical Impairment. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.