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Living with a disability

disability; disabled; intellectual disability; youth; young people; young; people; physical disability;

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Having a disability means that a person is not able to do something that other people of their age and community can do because of something about their body. For example someone who has asthma may not be able to play a full game of basketball, or someone who has a vision problem cannot read the magazines that her friends are reading.

Someone can have a disability because of something to do with their legs or arms, or brain, or ears, or any other part of their body.  Having a disability can mean extra challenges and sometimes difficulties to overcome, but people who have a disability can also have as many joys and achievements like other people.

Your rights

Many countries have special laws to protect people with a disability and to make sure that they can take part in the life of the community as equal members of society. Check what the law is where you live to see what it can do for you.

For example The Australian Disability Discrimination Act was based on the Disabilities Act that was developed in the USA in 1990. To develop that Act, many people who had disabilities got together and told their stories of what it was like to have a disability and how they were treated unfairly because of their disability. This was very new, because up until then most decisions about what people with a disability 'needed' were made by 'experts' or parents. It was very different for people with disabilities to be listened to.

Being treated unfairly is called discrimination. If you have a disability and feel that you are being treated unfairly, it could be discrimination.

If you have a disability your rights include:

  • the right be respected, to be treated as a human being
  • to have the same basic rights as other members of the community
  • to have opportunities to learn and grow to your potential (what you are able to be)
  • to have a reasonable quality of life similar to other people in the community
  • to be involved in making decisions that affect your life
  • to receive support when needed but not to the extent that it takes away someone else's freedom
  • a right to complain about services.

Living with your family

Sometimes family members, especially parents, try (or feel they need to) make all the decisions for a person with a disability. You may feel that your parents are over-protective and worry too much when you want to try something new. They may worry that if you try something new, there may be a risk for you, you might get hurt, or someone may treat you badly.

People with disabilities have the right to be involved in decisions that will affect their lives, but as with any young people, it takes time for young people and their parents to work out who decides what. Before they hand over this responsibility you may have to show them that you are able to take care of yourself by giving things a go. (See our topic Relationships with parents - working it out for more ideas about this).

Family members may think that they are helping you by doing things for you that you think you could do by yourself. Most young people want very much to be independent, but often people who have a disability find that others will not let them be independent. This is usually because people really care about you, and want to help, but sometimes this will get really annoying. Let them know you appreciate what they're trying to do but that you want to do certain things yourself.  Make a plan with your parents for the things you can gradually take over for yourself. If parents or family don't seem to listen try talking to a friend or teacher or relative or carer who may be able to talk to your parents.

Hanging out with friends

Many people find it hard to make good friends, even if they do not have a disability. People who have a disability can find it even harder to make close friends. That does not mean it's impossible. It may mean looking for the right groups and working harder at it than others have to. It's important to keep on trying if the first group doesn't work for you.

The skills of making friends are important for everyone so if you are having trouble with friendships have a look at our topic Relationships and health for some good strategies.

Friend with disability - blind If you know someone you think could be your friend, but she has a disability, she may have been hurt by the comments of others, and be 'shy', but she may want to be a friend. Give it a go, but remember that she is a person who has the right to try things, and do things for herself. If you want to help her, always ask her if she needs help first.

Friendships are a source of fun, emotional support, sharing common interests and are basically there to make your life enjoyable. People living with a disability may find it particularly hard to have high self esteem and to always feel good about themselves. Good friends will help with this.

Your physical health

People who have a disability often find that people only seem to think about what they cannot do or their 'problem', rather than what they can do. If you have a disability you still need to do all of the things that other people do to keep themselves as healthy as they can be. This includes exercise, eating well, resting and having fun! (See topics in the Healthy body section of this site for more ideas about this).

School and work

Being healthy and being a part of your community also includes having something meaningful to do, such as school work or a job. People with disabilities have a right to schooling and work, and there are often funds available to ensure that this can happen. If you feel that you, or someone with a disability is being treated unfairly because of the health problem, this may be discrimination. Special interest groups (such as a disability support group), or government agencies may be able to help you to work out how best to tackle the difficulty.

Sexual health

Couple in wheelchairs Some people find it surprising that people who have a disability can also be sexually active. Maybe they think that if you can't do all the same things as others, you also cannot feel love and be in love! They may need help to know that you are a person like everyone else, who has a disability, not a disabled person.

It often helps to share with others about yourself and how you feel about things so they can see you have the same sorts of feelings as they do. (Remember everyone has some things about them that don't work as well as others. There is no 'perfect' person.)

Having got over that hump, you will still need to deal with the health aspects of loving, and being sexually active. Look at some of the topics in Sexual Health in the Young Adult part of this site for more information.

Have a look at the topic 'Disability and sexual issues' on the Better Health Channel

For brothers and sisters

Brothers or sisters of young people with disabilities may find that they have some very strong feelings about their sibling, and about how they are treated.

  • If a brother or sister with a disability is taking a lot of your parent's time you may feel left out or even jealous at times.
  • You may get angry with others if they tease your brother or sister, or yourself.
  • You may feel worried about your brother or sister's health and what will happen to him or her.
  • You could feel guilty at times if you want to do something for yourself such as time alone or to go out with friends instead of helping out.
  • You could feel stressed at times if you have a lot of responsibility.

Talk to your parents about it. If you don't feel you can talk to your parents maybe try speaking to another relative or adult family friend who can talk to them for or with you.

If a sibling has a disability or illness they might need extra attention, this can be hard for other brothers and sisters. Siblings Australia is an organisation that can provide support when you are feeling stressed or finding it hard dealing with your brother or sister’s special needs. You can get online support by joining their Teensibchat at this address: http://www.siblingsaustralia.org.au

Your Shout is a place for brothers and sisters of siblings with a disability or chronic illness to have a say and get support.

All brothers and sisters, including those who have brothers and sisters with disabilities, sometimes want time out either on their own or to have their parents to themselves sometimes. Talk to your parents and see if you can arrange this, even if just at rare times. The topic Disability - living with someone who has a disability explores many of the issues.

Teasing and bullying

It often happens that a person with a disability is teased or bullied, or maybe their brother or sister is being teased or bullied. You may know that the people doing the teasing or bullying are trying to hide their own problems by making someone else feel upset, but it can still hurt. Here are some ideas of things you could do:

  • Tell someone about it (teacher, counsellor, parent), you should not have to put up with this. They need to know how serious their comments are.
  • Walk away and remind yourself that they are trying to get a reaction out of you, if you don't react they will get bored with this game fairly quickly.
  • Ask them if they understand what they are saying. For example, if they call your brother or sister a "spastic" ask them if they know what that means - they will probably become embarrassed in front of their friends because they didn't expect that response.

See our topic Harassment for more ideas.

Information for Australia

The Disability Discrimination Act (Australia) makes disability discrimination against the law in the following areas:

  • employment
  • education
  • access to premises used by the public
  • provision of goods, services and facilities
  • accommodation
  • buying land
  • clubs and associations
  • sport
  • administration of Commonwealth government laws and programs.

This can be for a disability you have now, had in the past, might have in the future or you are believed to have.

The definition for disability in this act is very wide and includes disabilities that are physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory and neurological (caused by brain injury). It also includes learning disabilities, physical disfigurement (eg scarring) and the presence of disease carrying organisms (eg HIV).

Resources

South Australia

General

References and further reading

Better Health Channel (Victoria) 'Disability and sexual issues'

Disability Information and Resource Centre
www.dircsa.org.au

Physical Disability Australia 
http://www.pda.org.au/

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) 
http://www.wwda.org.au/

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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