How to reframe our view of disabilities through Wholistic Wellbeing
Whenever I turn on the television, go online, or walk past advertising billboards, I engage with a world that tries to sell me on the idea of perfection: the perfect body, smile, hair, home, and clothes – a homogenized, sanitized ideal that bears no resemblance to our real world.
My vision of Wholistic Wellbeing is about democratizing it. And that entails a deep shift in our mindset, to view and accept the world as it truly is. Indeed, when we turn our attention to the real world, what we actually witness is something richer and far more interesting: a world of inclusive diversity that spans across race, age, gender, and ability.
To wit: what do a brilliant composer, the founder of a global software company, and a famous soprano have in common? Mozart is said to have been on the autism spectrum; Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is rumored to have Asperger’s Syndrome, and Andrea Bocelli of the magnificent voice is blind. Even a society as prejudiced as ours has accepted these amazing talents and rewarded them.
We need to continue to widen our notion of perfection beyond the confines of what mass media considers “right.” Although we all aspire to live in the present, we wear our past on our bodies in the wrinkles of our skin; in how we cut our hair; how we smile; and, yes, in our (dis)abilities. I use these parentheses as I want to express caution about the very notion of disability. To me, we are all differently abled, and to view the world in such binary terms as “abled” and “disabled” glosses over the vast spectrum of humanity.
To be sure, there have been concerted efforts in the past couple of decades in the Western world to create a more inclusive society: wheelchair access (though still lacking) continues to improve, while public awareness of the breathtaking abilities displayed by disabled athletes during the Paralympic Games has increased through mass dissemination on television and social media. But for all the progress we have witnessed, we still continue to view the world in binary terms. I want to posit that Wholistic Wellbeing can enact a shift in mindset on a global scale, transcending these hindering dichotomies.
The compassion and self-awareness promoted by Wholistic Wellbeing are two essential qualities needed to enact a shift in mindset on a global scale. Compassion allows us to be sensitive to the plight of others whose limitations may prevent them from performing tasks which, to people labelled ‘able’, seem basic (like walking). Self-awareness is also needed, however, as it balances out the compassion to ensure it doesn’t slip into belittlement. Indeed, self-awareness invites us to introspect and look within ourselves to recognize our own limitations – traumas, losses, wounds – and convert them into sources of strength. With such a mindset, we could grow into a society where we not only stop making assumptions for those who identify as disabled, but also where we all feel empowered to reclaim our limitations and embrace our different abilities as part of our unique identities.
By its very definition, Wholistic Wellbeing is about access: it’s wholistic both in the way it covers all aspects of our health and in the way it extends across the boundaries of class, culture, and indeed ability. Wholistic Wellbeing is about creating a kinder and more caring world that includes everyone regardless of their abilities, and that encourages people who have been labelled ‘disabled’ by society to reclaim their narrative and find power in their difference.