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What is Independence

July 24th, 2015

Hello everyone!  It’s so good to be writing a blog for iDID again, and this time I want to tackle what I believe to be a massive misconception about many disabled people: that our disability limits our independence.  It’s really important that we overcome this misconception in the world of adventure sports because it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities and that’s exactly what iDID are doing.

To give you a little bit of context, I have cerebral palsy which affects all four limbs and means I use an electric wheelchair when out and about.  I consider myself to be extremely independent, and it is very important to me to remain that way.  Others don’t see it this way though, because I’m disabled.

So, what is independence?  Or maybe I should start by asking, what has independence meant to you in your lifetime?  Maybe it was when you passed your driving test, got your first job or moved into your first house.  Maybe it was going to university, leaving school or just moving out of your parents’ house.

Let’s look at the dictionary definition for the word ‘independence’.  According to an (admittedly old) Collins dictionary it primarily means to not be dependent or rely on others.  If we take this definition, then, independence is about doing everything for yourself. 

How realistic is this, though?  Can we really do everything for ourselves without any input whatsoever from anybody else?  Surely the nature of humanity is to do things with other people anyway?

I want to briefly illustrate a different concept of independence.  Nick Vujicic is a world-renowned motivational speaker.  Between 2007 and 2010 alone he delivered 1000 talks, took 600 flights, spoke in schools, churches, orphanages and made numerous public appearances.  Oh, and he reached five million people. Impressive?

Nick has no arms, and no legs. 

Then how can he possibly be so independent?  He relies on others to help him with the things he finds difficult so he can get on with living a life, in his words, without limits.  His independence is completely the opposite to the dictionary definition because his reliance on others is what makes him so independent.

It took me a long time to realise that this was true for me, too.  The penny finally dropped when I went to a residential college for disabled students at 16.  I had to get used to different people assisting me and up until then I’d been stubbornly independent, wanting to do everything I possibly could for myself, regardless of how difficult it might be.  Going to college, however, made me realise that it was OK to ask for help sometimes, and that doing this enabled me to do so much more.

Fast forward six years.  I left college and moved to Bristol for university and have stayed here since.  I’m still determined to be as independent as possible, but that no longer means doing everything myself.  I can’t drive, but I have a car and employ a driver so I can get where I want to go when I want to go.  I employ PA’s to help me around the flat.  I don’t need much, but the PA support I have is what has made me so independent. 

What’s important is that I can direct people to do what I need doing.  I may rely on others, but everything they do for me, they're doing because I've asked them to and I've given direction as to how I want it done and when I need their help. That's independence.

This view of independence is true for everyone, regardless of whether you have a disability or not.  Dependence isn’t necessarily the opposite of independence; in fact, by allowing yourself to rely on somebody else you can create your own independence. 

How does all of this relate to adventure sports?  Well, I’m a keen rock climber, and being disabled doesn’t stop me from climbing regularly.  I can’t belay others, which kind of defeats the object of going climbing with someone if they can’t climb too, so I arrange for one of my PA’s to drive and belay me.  I’ve arranged for them to be belay trained and we work as a team when I’m climbing because I’m not your average climber and do need the rope to remain tight at all times.  I can only climb outside attending sessions with iDID Bristol because I rely on my PA to come with me and that gives me the freedom to climb whenever I want to.  Being disabled hasn’t prevented me from doing it, I just have to do it a slightly different way.

Think back to those moments in your life when you felt you became more independent.  Wasn’t there always at least one other person helping you make that transition?  After all, I’m sure you didn’t just hop in a car for the first time and start driving down the motorway having had no lessons (at least I hope not…). 

If you are involved in sports, think about how you take part.  If it’s a team game, you’re always relying on your teammates and if it’s something like climbing you may still have to rely on others to take part.  Even if it’s not a necessity, input from others is what helps you progress, especially in adventure sports.  Does that take away from your independence in your particular sport?  No, it enhances it.

So let me suggest that we redefine independence.  For me, it means knowing what you want, making your own decisions and living life the way you want to.

Categories:   Jennie Goodrum  

Posted By:  Jennie Goodrum

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