The Simon Heng Column

A blind friend recently wrote a short piece about colour, and
the part it played in her life. “If you have never had sight, you
can’t really imagine colour at all…[but] I can’t
just ignore something which is so important to everyone around me.
I learned about colour at a basic level: pink is pretty and girly,
black is sombre, red can be good for making a statement about
yourself…I experience the world through my other senses.”

This reminded me of a statement from another writer with a
disability, Susan Wendell. In The Rejected Body: Feminist
Philosophical Reflections on Disability
, she wrote: “Not only
do physically disabled people have experiences which are not
available to the able-bodied, they are in a better position to
transcend cultural mythologies about the body, because they cannot
do things the able-bodied feel they must do in order to be happy,
‘normal’ and sane.”

I acquired my disability as an adult, so I have “normal” as well
as disabled experiences. It’s difficult to describe how much
my perceptions have changed in the past 10 years. For example, my
body image. From being 6ft tall and slim, I’m now at
wheelchair-height and fat. Although my body is high-maintenance, I
feel more comfortable with my perception of it than before. So,
whereas I used to make judgments about people (myself included)
based on their physical appearance, I can be more patient now. I
wouldn’t like to be judged on first impressions, so I
won’t do this to other people.

I don’t have the stamina to work full-time, so my criteria
for a successful life no longer include career advancement or a
high salary. Instead, when I think about what people do, I value
purposefulness, the possibility of fulfilment and attempting change
in the world around oneself.

There are many other ways in which I feel disabled
people’s perceptions are different – attitudes towards
sex or happiness, for example. I believe that this is one area
where we can contribute something unique and valuable, rather than
being seen as wholly dependent, non-contributors. Difference, not

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