Meg Casey
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"Most Able Disabled"

Meg Casey's handicapped issues column

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wheelchair obstacle course
photo by Daniel Ortoleva

In Other People's Wheelchair

Physical Me

Excerpts from Meg's memoirs (written at age 22 - before she went public )

I am twenty-two years old and I am handicapped. My handicap is not of the normal variety. Let's just say that it is – unique – as in "one and only". I am not confined to a wheelchair or by crutches or braces of any kind. I have all my limbs, 10 fingers and 10 toes. I am not mentally deficient although there' are times when some think that I have lost a few of my marbles. I am not deaf, dumb, or blind. I'm 4 feet tall – well, three feet eleven and three-quarters inches, but let me "stretch" the truth a little bit. I weigh forty pounds. I wear a children's size 10 shoe and get all my clothes in the children's department. However, I am a "fusspot" for fashion and only wear clothes styled suitably for my age. I have some facial deformity with my jaw, which means my mouth is small and I don't enjoy the dentist. I don't know who dreads my cavities more, he or I. I have fragile bones. Not brittle, but fragile, so I'm cautious when I do things and I do things I want to do one way or the other. It just means that I'll go around the obstacles instead of over or through it and that it may take me a little longer to get there, but get there I will. I'm not about to give you my medical history … I have a little bit of this … and of them … and of those … and when they're all put together, I'm none of them. I'm not a square, round, oval or triangle peg so I don't fit into any ready–made slot. I'm a different shape, the horse of a different color, the freak of genetics. I'm a puzzle, I'm medical history. I'm – unique!

Handicapped Mentality

December 8 1982

There's no such thing as a "handicapped mentality." That is too broad a statement to make about a classification including such a huge and varied group of individuals. Handicapped people are just people with a handicap and are subject to the same differences in intelligence and personality as anyone else.

Not every disabled person has a chip on their shoulder. Not every white person belongs to the KKK.

I think what you are really referring to is an attitude of the handicapped. Then, I would have to say "maybe."

Some people suffer from a self-consciousness that comes across as hostility instead of a protective shield against hurt or embarrassment. Some are shy and others have a very vocal "poor me" complex.

As a curt word spoken can set your whole day off badly, to be an object of discrimination in some form can set your whole life off badly. Perhaps the people simply haven't had a positive relationship with anyone before you came along. Be patient with them. You'll both learn something.

You're only as handicapped as you allow yourself to be. I truly believe that the human spirit is indomitable when seen through the eyes of an optimist.

This entire country was built by people who didn't fit in some where else in the world. People had dreams for their lives that they refused to give up, so they came here and made them happen.

They didn't wait for the gods to bridge the gaps for them. Some things you have to do for yourself.

The Word Handicapped

December 15 1982

If someone were to ask my preference of terms, the word "handicapped" in relation to "human beings probably wouldn't be it.

Not that it is a bad word in itself. I mean I could take it or leave it. It is the soured connotations that society lends to the word "handicapped" as it at has so many other words in the English language which might be found objectionable.

This was a fun question to research. I've enjoyed checking different dictionaries and listening to various people's theories and subject. (Let me tell you, there're a lot of weird people on this planet and a good portion of them live in this town!)

One theory that made sense was that this choice was made in the same spirit as some object to the use of now. "Handicapped" sounded better than the word "crippled" which was its forerunner. I checked both Webster's and Funk and Wagnall's for clues to this mystery but only came up with "sporting" answers and no definitive leads to the application we're seeking.

Funk and Wagnall

  1. A race or contest in which disadvantages are imposed on superior contestants or advantages given to those of inferior ability, so that each may have a chance of winning.
  2. Once of the conditions stipulated; esp. a disadvantage.
  3. Any disadvantage - v.t., capped, -cap.ping
  4. to serve as a hindrance or disadvantage to
  5. to assign handicaps in a race (horse race)

Webster

  1. Figuratively any disadvantage that renders success more difficult.

To some people life is like a game so perhaps so perhaps that is why a gaming term is used for person who must play out his or her life with some physical disadvantage. No insult initially intended, Just points given.

I next checked Roget's Thesaurus to see what other options are available to us. Here's what I found:

  1. Handicap – Penalize, encumber, inconvenience, burden, hamper, see hindrance.

Which I did, and read through a list of a few hundred like works before coming to the words handicapped and cripple. Personally I don't think much of the above either.

It could be worse. In England they used to refer to the disabled as the "Spastics society!"

Other said "Ahh. What's in a name? Sticks and stones …"

The trouble is you never please everyone. There will always be those who will be thinking "cripple" or is what they are mouthing. Now my, father used to say "Call me anything except late for dinner!"

Attitude As Important As Access

February 13 1985

Connecticut was visited by Ted Kennedy Jr. traveling the nation in order to see firsthand the concerns and needs of the people dealing with disabilities in our country.

Although proud of his illustrious family and their accomplishments, the young Kennedy made it clear that he was not sent on a family mission. This is a campaign which is of great personal importance to Ted Jr. as an individual because he has been physically challenged since early adolescence when cancer caused the loss of one leg.

Ted Jr. stated strongly his dislike for the use of the terms "disabled" and "handicapped" because they labeled the person as "unable" in the context which society that uses them. He prefers to use the expression physically and mentally "challenged" when talking on the subject. That is how he sees himself and how everyone he has met on the tour saw themselves. "Challenged" by physical or mental setbacks but not unwilling or unworthy to meet every educational and vocational opportunity available. He defends the civil rights of these people to the equal opportunity and accessibility in every walk of life.

He says the assumptions made about your abilities based on preconceived falsehoods and myths about disabilities can be the biggest obstacle of all. Attitudinally accessibility is as important as architectural accessibility. (But which comes first, the chicken or the egg?) In order to be out mingling with society to educate the public of living life to the fullest., the world has to be architecturally easy to get in, and get around!

10 years later in 1995 Ted Kennedy helped bring and chaired the Special Olympics Summer Games in New Haven. Part of the reluctance of using the phrase "person with disabilities" over "handicapped" are from limitations of English. Some languages can have variations of a base word to refer to oneself, the singular form of you, or you as a group of people. One word is easier to say or write. Shorter fits better in article headlines. The 2 word phrase "physically challenged" is reminiscent of the hyphenated Freedonian-American monikers many ethnic groups are often use to be referred to as.

Book Of Someone's Thoughts

July 18 1984

A book was taken out of the library and given to me to read. Inside I found the pages to be filled with a collection of short swatches of someone's thoughts! Thoughts which showed the thinker to have such incredible insight to the rhyme and reason of various things and situations within a lifetime. It is hard for me to fathom how this person - who was born with severe multi-disabilities that would hamper all communication processes - could possibly have been the original "thinker" here as well as the author of this book.

The book is entitled "The Open Door" and the author is none other than Helen Keller.

The story of her learning to speak is a famous one. Yet no matter how many times I watch the "Miracle Worker" on television it still seems incredible to how, as a child, it was ever gotten through to her just what a "word" actually was, or what it meant, and how to use it as a sentence to put it together with other words to mean something else.

There is a saying. "There is a none so blind as those who will not see …" It is apparent when someone like Miss Keller helps us to find answers that have been right before our eyes all along. Things that she understood, grasped, and used in life - the cadence of words - she did it better than most people. And all I can find left to say is - Wow …

"The Open Door" was a compilation. Pennsylvania celebrates her birthday of June 27, 1880 as Helen Keller Day. she died June 1, 1968, 2 months after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.

Religious Beliefs And The Disabled

July 25 1984

Religious judgments can be as dangerously controversial as any political declaration might be when made publicly. I believe that such judgments – or religious beliefs as you're asking me for, are very personal and that each individual is entitled to his or her beliefs in the Lord and his ways. On that final day we'll be shown whose way was the closest to being the right one meant for us to follow. In the meantime, we must just have faith, believe in it strongly enough to keep it flowering, and practice it.

Yes personally I am religious. I am a baptized Roman Catholic believing strongly in Jesus Christ and in practicing the caring of humanity that he displayed.

The powers of the faith and determination can do wondrous things to human spirit. Incredible weights have been lifted both literally and figuratively by a person with a strong enough desire or desperation to have it done.

To believe that God was there to help me in my moments of crisis is a great comfort to my mind and keeps a warmth of sincerity in my own mind even though my stomach may be knotted with fright.

It's funny but I'm not quite sure in which part of my body my mind is located – my head or abdomen – but I definitely get a distinct sensation of guilt or contentment radiating from somewhere within in situations where one of these emotions is applicable.

Have I ever had the desire to experience a miracle cure – personally – at the holy shrine of Lourdes? No, I haven't. Quite honestly whenever I yearn for France it is Paris that I am excited about – visiting museums. art galleries, cathedrals. Perhaps this is because I have never been filled with the burning insecurity that would make me feel I need to be cured. I don't feel that there is not there's anything wrong with the way I was made. I was never made to feel that there was anything "wrong" with me as in bad, or defective.

And since I have never been ill with my rare physical condition, I haven't had to search or experience the suffering of the kind of pain that would make a person desperate for a way out of it all.

I have heard of the charismatic healings (where people suddenly and miraculously are cured of their physical problems). I have never witnessed a service but understand they're quite interesting.

I believe we all I believe we all pray to the same God, only in our own way, using our own recipe so to speak, but that the Lord enjoys the sweetness of it all from the many bouquet assortments he is served. When He isn't – we'll know!

Having grown up with the beautiful stories of the children of Fatima, the Miracle of Lourdes, and Sister Bernadette, of course, I was touched deeply and impressed by the messages in them and the suggestions that with true faith everything is possible. It is pretty hard to imagine anyone being able to deny the wonder of the world and universe around us and not credit the creation of it all out to some Greater Artist. Naturally, that is the way I envision Him, creating beauty in our lives.

I have faith that we humans at greater on misery. Mind over matter, faith in the ultimate future and determination to get yourself to that end you desire. God has put it all in you, and out there for all of us to use as tools, or for enjoyment. It is faith in yourself that is needed in order to reach even the simplest goals. Did you ever think that He has faith in you?

People That Are Different

June 1 1983

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© 2015 to 2017 site design by Daniel Ortoleva
photographs and other content courtesy of the Casey family unless noted
blog posts and art by Meg Casey
originally published 1982 to 1985 in the Milford Citizen newspaper