Able or Skilled?

I am able to use my right foot. Pretty cool, right?

I have never broken it or left it carelessly under your cow’s back hoof when she stamped it in the muck. I have not even spilled hot coffee on it. My right foot works just fine, thank you.

But see if I can kick a perfect 47-yard field goal with it at the Miami Dolphin’s Hard Rock Stadium with their whole defensive line charging at me, breathing fire and doom. It will do me no good there. I am unskilled in that use of my right foot.

And there’s my point for this week, I am not disabled, just unskilled in one thing.

The problem is that it is all too easy to look at a lack of certain skills and call that disability. It is a common mistake that paints some people into a corner where they are often looked down on or disregarded.

Consider this. Some people who are blind can use echolocation to find their way around in a room dark enough to make most of us stub all 10 toes and trip over the cat in the bargain. In echolocation a person taps something or makes a clicking sound with their tongue and then “sees” objects and obstructions by their echo.

In that case the word disabled is replaced by the words differently-abled.

That leaves one other dimension of the so-called disabled part of our population to consider… the dimension of skill alone.

Consider an individual whose ability for abstract learning – say mathematics or philosophy or economic theory – may be not be quite up to average. But the same individual may be blessed with extraordinary manual dexterity or with the patience to complete repetitive tasks with perfect accuracy or to create art with unique sensitivity to color and form, tone and texture.

A so-called disability, when nurtured to uncover a different-ability – a valuable skill – can enable a person to gain the dignity, productivity and self-esteem most of us take for granted. And a value we risk missing by simply not looking.

This week your Jamestown Gazette invites you to… not just see, but fully experience the exploration of different abilities at the Sprout Film Festival. The work and value you will experience there is mirrored right here in Jamestown in the work of the Resource Center. It is not only a resource for the individuals cared for and employed there, but for the entire community.

After all, by some standards we are all disabled in the most old fashioned meaning of the word.

We are all born almost entirely blind to the universe we were born into, for example. Space is filled with energies of a million kinds, energies that fuel stars and power TVs and boil soup to bubbling over in our microwave ovens. There are even the invisible, ultraviolet rays that burn you on the beach or the invisible infra-red signals that let your remote tell your TV what to do next.

Physicists will tell you every kind of energy in the universe is made of photons – unique particles of light – and we can’t see any of them, except the incredibly thin slice of the universe’s energy we call “light and color”. But look what we are enabled to do with the little bit we actually can see. Do you still think the word “disabled” says something useful?

One of the most skilled people in the world, tennis star Martina Navratilova, said it very simply to a reporter recently. “Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone.” So, who needs that word, anyway.

Enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut