Every year on 3rd December, we celebrate International Day of People with Disabilities, or as some of us with less time on our hands prefer to call it – ‘International Disabled People’s Day’. Every year, I spend the entire day waiting for my post-person to arrive with a bag full of cards and presents. And yet, somehow, they never seem to find me, so I end up going and buying myself a cake. Last year I splashed out on a candle as well, but I’ve got to admit, singing “Happy-International-Day-Of-People-With-Disabilities-Day-To-Me…” isn’t as catchy as I’d hoped, and in fact verges on the tragic.
I know that it feels like every day of the year seems to be a formalised ‘day’ now – some days celebrate multiple things at once, which is just greedy – but this one is important. The World Health Organisation Report on Disability states that 15% of the world’s population, (that’s more than one billion people), are living with disability. That’s a lot of us to be celebrating, and I’m very glad I didn’t buy a candle for each of us.
This year’s theme is ‘Not all Disabilities are Visible’. Now, for many of us, particularly those of us who use wheelchairs, our disabilities are generally pretty unmissable – particularly when I get distracted and roll over your toes. But when I first became disabled, I appeared to everyone to be an entirely ‘healthy’ and ‘able-bodied’ young woman. A year before my diagnosis, I’d run a half marathon. And yet, I was struggling with the most basic things; standing, walking, running was totally out, and training as a doctor whilst experiencing constant pain and my joints regularly deciding to party was proving a nightmare. But no one could see the challenges I faced. No one would think to stand up and offer their seat on the bus to me, because why would they?
As a GP trainee, I see a lot of patients with invisible disabilities and having been there myself, I know how hard and frustrating it can be, as well as the stigma they often face. I’m pleased, as a visibly disabled person, that this theme has been picked, because I know how hard it is to constantly feel judged or questioned when people can’t ‘see’ what’s going on with you, and I know how reluctant people are to seek medical attention with invisible disabilities for fear of not being taken seriously, or worse.
It’s been a horrendous year for everyone, but particularly the disabled community. It’s important we come together to celebrate, regroup and take on 2021 anew.
(And if you’ve missed this year’s opportunity to send me cake, it’s ok, I’ll wait until International Wheelchair Day on 1st March!).