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Living with a disability

disability; disabled; handicap;

What is a disability?

    Living With a Disability 5The human body is like a very complicated machine. If a part of that machine is missing or not working properly the machine may not be able to do what it is designed to do.

Having a disability means that someone is not able to do some things that other people of their age can do because of something about their body, such as seeing clearly, hearing what others are talking about, concentrating on school work, learning or walking easily.

But a really important thing to remember is that the person can usually do most things ‘normally’. A person has a disability, but if we think the person is ‘disabled’ we might think the person is not able to most things. Someone who can’t hear well is only disabled when hearing well is needed. Usually that person will be able to play sport just like other people.

‘Handicap’ is something that is often talked about when someone has a disability. But the ‘handicap’ that the person experiences is due to something in their environment which makes it difficult for them to do something – such as steps or a really noisy classroom.

Your rights

Living With a Disability 4If you have a disability you have the same rights as every other person.

Everyone has the right to:

  • feel safe
  • have opinions and be able to express them freely
  • ask for what they want
  • have successes
  • make mistakes and have a chance to try again
  • be themselves
  • do things their own way
  • have private space and time
  • have a fair go
  • change their mind
  • choose whether they want others to help them and choose what sort of help they need
  • have their own ideas and dreams
  • make decisions and choices
  • say ‘no’ without feeling guilty or selfish.

Everyone also has to accept that everyone else has these same rights and no one is more important than anyone else. Some people get more than others or don’t have any major disabilities, but this is not because they deserve more. They are just luckier than another person.

People with a disability are unlucky to have that disability.

Some topics that might be interesting are Rights and responsibilities and Respect - a way of life.

Your family

If you have the type of disability where you need a lot of help it may be difficult at times for you and your family. You may need much more time and energy from your parents, which can make them tired, and sometimes other kids in the family may feel that you have more attention than they do.

Even if your disability does not affect you all the time – you may be able to play computer games even if you can’t walk - the difficulties that you do have can mean that your parents don’t have a lot of time for themselves.

Your family looks after you, helps you and loves you. But as you get older they may find it hard to accept that you want to become more independent and have your own ideas about how your disability is managed.

Sometimes you may feel that you would like a lot less attention and more time for yourself. You may have to try hard to show that you can do some things for yourself and want to be part of making decisions about your life.

Let them know that you appreciate what they do for you but that sometimes you want to do some things for yourself. E.g. if you can, you can still make sure that you eat healthy food, exercise, rest and have fun!

You might find this topic interesting Having a disabled child in the family.

At school

If you go to a regular school then your teachers will know about your disability. You may have a special learning plan, extra help or a carer who comes with you.

Maybe you go to a special school where there are many young people with disabilities?

Wherever you go, school is an opportunity to learn.

  • You learn different subjects.
  • You learn about the other kids.
  • You learn about rules and why you need to follow them.
  • You learn about getting along with others and making friends.

Your disability

Living With a Disability 3People who have a disability of any kind need to learn all about it and how to manage it.

When you were very young your parents made all the decisions and ‘did all the talking’ for you. As you grow up it is natural for you to want to take more control of yourself.

  • Someone in a wheelchair may need to take some responsibility for doing their special exercises and also doing their best at school.
  • Someone with a learning disability needs to follow their learning plan and do their homework.
  • Someone who cannot hear clearly needs to wear their hearing aids when it is important to be able to hear clearly. But they can also choose not to wear them when being able to hear clearly is not important.

When you visit a doctor or other health professional you have the right to ask and answer questions about yourself and make sure that you understand what the professional is saying.

It is natural for your family to want to help you but as you grow older you need to find ways to let them know that there are some things you can do and want to do for yourself. There are many topics in the ‘Related topics’ section on this page which may be helpful for you and your family.


Living With a Disability 1Some people seem to make friends easily while others find it very difficult. Making really close friends is hard for many people. Some people with a disability may find making friends more difficult.

Our topic on Making friends has some good tips, but be prepared to work at friendship.

You need to

  • look for someone who  has interests like yours.
  • make an effort to get to know her or him
  • be prepared to share your interests with her or him
  • ask for and accept help gracefully when you need it
  • let them know, in a nice way, when you can manage something yourself.

Teasing and bullying

Some people try to hide their own problems by teasing or bullying others. Sometimes they may think it’s ok to tease or bully anyone who is different in some way.

They may target people who look different, are from a different country, culture, religion or who have some kind of disability.

They may even ‘have a go’ at the sister or brother of someone who has a disability.

Teasing and bullying is never okay!

  • Tell someone about it, e.g. teacher, parent, school counsellor.
  • Ignore that person and move away if possible

Everyone has the right to feel safe so keep telling others if the bullying does not stop, or the bully is not dealt with and shown that bullying is the act of a coward and is unacceptable. Our topic “Dealing with bullies” might give you some useful ideas.

Maybe the bully should read our topics on “Teasing others and how to stop and Bullying - being unkind to others.

Kids say

“Having a disability may prevent you doing some things but you can still live a full life, if you know all about your disability.”

“Many disabilities can’t be easily seen, you should treat everyone with kindness.”

“Everyone can be the best they can be if they try.”

“My brother is in a wheelchair since his accident. It was very hard for everyone in the family at first but he is getting better at managing now and he is going to wheelchair basketball. All our family go to watch, sometimes dad plays too.”

Dr Kate says

doctor kateLiving with a disability can be hard for the person with the disability and for others in the family. Talking about your feelings with friends, others in the family, counsellors or trusted adults may be very helpful.

There are many organisations which can help young people who are living with a disability, whether it is themselves or someone in the family.

In South Australia this website will show you what kind of help is available for you and your family.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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