September 5 – 11 is Spinal Cord Injuries Awareness Week, and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA) is choosing to celebrate it by emphasising that broader representation of people with spinal cord injuries matters.

Disability inclusion isn’t by any means a new discussion, but it’s important. It helps change how our able-bodied counterparts perceive disability.

Our Resource Hub production team have lived experience of spinal cord injury share their experiences with how societal expectations of people with disabilities have led to incorrect assumptions:

Chloe Kennedy – Contractor, Writer

Am I a miracle mum?

Yes I have a spinal cord injury.
Yes I’m a quadriplegic.
Yes I conceived, carried and had my daughter AFTER my injury.

But was it a miracle? No, I had sex!

Omg, a quadriplegic can have sex? As a woman with SCI, you should learn that my fertility is not affected. I can conceive and carry a child just like any other woman.

I will say that as a mother in a wheelchair with limited hand function things can be a little harder and take more time. I’m an amazing mum, just like every other mum out there who loves their child unconditionally.

I’m not the miracle because I’m in a chair. Motherhood is the miracle in itself. You grow this tiny human it your body, you nourish her with everything inside of you, you created life!

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Susan Wood – Community Engagement Lead

For a very long time there was always one question that people would ask me out of nowhere: Do you live alone?

When I said, “Yes”, as I did at the time, people would instantly start to feel sorry for me. Asking me why I wasn’t already married to someone who could “help me”, and how it’s important that someone looks after me. There were times when people would openly weep in front of me because my wheelchair and my “situation” was so traumatising… for them.

It was exhausting to keep trying to educate people that my disability didn’t mean I needed to be dependent on someone all the time and I actually drive myself everywhere.

The older I get, the more I can see that the issue that lies behind that question and those reactions is that we, as a society, haven’t done enough to include people with disabilities. Sure we have awareness days, weeks, months but it’s not enough. We need our able bodied peers to step up and help be our voices too. Include us in their workspaces, include us when thinking about access to venues and provide us with some decent parking!

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Nathan Mikhael – Project Manager

I’ve had many awkward first impressions, I’ve met neighbours in the lift on my way to work who have been surprised that I, a person in a wheelchair, had a job.

There have been times where complete strangers open up to me about troubling times in their lives followed by “my problems are nothing compared to yours.”

The problem is that they are making assumptions about me just because I’m in a wheelchair. I use it to get from A to B. Apart from that, it doesn’t define anything else about me.

I wish people would put their assumptions aside and get to know me. People are people. Everybody has their circumstances and we need to encourage others to look beyond a person’s disability. That will lead to equal opportunities for all.

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Jess Pellow – Peer & Family Support Team, Video editor

I’ve had people approach me and ask if they can pray for me to “heal my legs” or have just come up to me and began praying.

It’s irritating and insulting. What are you praying for? To make me better? To make me less disabled?

I’ve had more opportunities and been able to accomplish more feats in my short life as a person with a disability than I think I ever would have as an able-bodied person.

Ableism and lack of representation goes hand in hand. It’s disappointing to think that you would preference legs that work instead of acknowledging and celebrating someone’s achievements in the here and now.

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We want to see more people with disabilities represented in our teachers, managers, politics and lawmakers. We want our able bodied peers to give us chances in the workplace, fair and equal access and include us in mainstream media. We want to see a movement for a more inclusive world.

SCIA wants to emphasise Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week as a way of celebrating the diversity of disability. One way to highlight the campaign #WeThe15 – the biggest human rights movement to end discrimination. People with disabilities make up 15% of the world’s population, and yet face daily discrimination in all levels of society.

Over the next decade, the WeThe15 movement will be pushing for more representation so people with disabilities don’t feel like they are left out of the conversation.

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