Experiencing disability

Five days ago I had an attack of lower back pain, or ‘lumbago’. I get this about once a year, and on the whole it doesn’t hold me back too much. It comes very suddenly – sometimes apparently caused by something I have done, like lifting an excessive weight, but sometimes for no apparent reason at all; such was the case this time. The main effect of these episodes is that I have some pain when standing up from a sitting position, but after a few intakes of breath and a short wait the pain tends to go and I can go on normally. The whole thing goes on for maybe five days, and the gradually goes away. I have in the past sought treatment, but on the whole the message appears to be that there is nothing that can be done, and I should just accept that from time to time I’ll experience this relatively minor unpleasant condition.

But this time it was more extreme. At first everything was as I normally experience it, and I just got on with things. But on the following day I had to drive to various places over some distance, and in the evening (and some 200 miles later) my lower back didn’t feel good at all, and unlike other times the pain didn’t go away when I had been standing for a while, and I was only able to walk (or rather hobble) with some difficulty and in significant discomfort. The next morning I was unable to get out of bed unaided, and the pain had become severe. Later that day I received some physiotherapy, and this improved things, and at the time of writing  there are good signs of steady improvement, though not yet full recovery.

However unpleasant this has been, the signs are that it will soon be gone, and when this happens again I shall be more careful. But it has also made me think again about how we handle disability. I know that there are hundreds of thousands who suffer this sort of pain, but unlike me not intermittently: they experience it constantly. And pain has a very effective way of focusing you away from what you need to be doing – you cannot help focusing instead on the pain. And where it also disables you physically, you become dependent on others, so that the pain is accompanied by issues of independence and self-esteem. For two days I could not do simple tasks (such as putting on my socks) without help, and it infuriated me; how must it feel for those who cannot ever do this for themselves, and many other things.

Also, as I hobbled along my campus, all sorts of obstacles and hurdles and sheer impossibilities became clear to me – not because DCU is bad at accommodating the disabled (it’s actually rather good), but because the most benign environment can still be challenging when you don’t have the physical capacity of those without any disabilities.

It is worth asking whether higher education as a whole does enough for the disabled, and whether we really accept this as a priority, and whether we try enough to look at the world of higher education through the eyes of those with physical or other impairments. By next week, I shall probably be able to walk through my campus again with no pain and no disability. But I shall make a mental note to join with my colleagues to look again at what we can do better for those who will not be so lucky.

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One Comment on “Experiencing disability”

  1. Ultan Says:

    Ah, Dr Von Prondzynski, – but we are all “temporarily abled” – remember “age” in this regard too: http://www.multilingual.com/articleDetail.php?id=675

    Incidentally, those users of Web 2.0 sites and services, who have a visually-impairment, are invited to take my survey on the matter (part of my MSc research) at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=nitzRuA8WxT9r2NduiiHNA_3d_3d (before 16-June-2008). Data protection laws, confidentiality apply, and chance to win prizes.

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