How the Non-Disabled View the Disabled

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

When I was four or five in the 1930s, my 20-year-old cousin came to Dallas and lived with us while he was looking for work. As a young man, he liked to play with me, tossing me in the air etc. I was fascinated since my father had a crippled leg and used a crutch and many of his friends used a wheelchair. When my cousin finally got a job, I cried bitter tears. I knew girls grew up and that I could see women still had two legs, but I got the idea that when men went to work their legs were broken or cut off. My mother assured me that my cousin would not lose his leg or legs because he had a job.

Paul Hubbard, a deaf player at Gallaudet University, invented the huddle in 1894.

When I became a teenager and learned some misconceptions about sex, teenaged bullies began to call me a bastard. My mother was an attractive woman, and they could not conceive of her having sex with my crippled father. They knew even less about sex than I did. I had read about the Monroe Doctrine of carrying a big stick and walking softly. I took a small baseball bat and threatened the biggest bully, which stopped me from being called a bastard and enhanced my reputation.

There is the myth that a deaf person can read the lips of people half a block away. Speech reading is difficult under any circumstances and requires good lighting. However, the football huddle was created when Harvard football players learned sign language to read plays from Gallaudet players. Before this happened players lined up and faced the quarterback and he spoke or signed the next plays. Gallaudet heard about Harvard’s learning sign language and developed the huddle to hide their football signal signs. Everyone else adopted the huddle.

Visitors to mathematics classes for the blind are always amazed that the blind students can do complex math problems in their heads and that their auditory memory is so excellent.

At one time society questioned whether disabled people should be allowed to have children and, if they did, to keep and raise them. In general disabled people often make excellent parents. They have the same sex drives and needs as the non-disabled. Just as able-bodied students need good sex education programs, so do disabled young people.

In the average family, parents are the buffer between society and the child. In the past, the normal child of handicapped parents might be the go between with the rest of society and the parents. We need to guide both parents and children in these circumstances. A sighted child may in part be the eyes for blind parents, and a hearing child may be the ears and voice for deaf parents. We must be careful to always maintain the parent role with the child. We see comparable issues with immigrant parents who do not learn the language of their new country while their children become, at early ages, very fluent in the new language.

When you make the effort to know a disabled person, you find they are just like you. They have the same dreams and ambitions. They often bring great insight into their jobs and families. The disabled person who dares to be great most often will become great. My father was an insurance company executive with a penthouse office  in the tallest building in town. A man with a comparable disability sold pencils on the skyscraper’s door step. When the man died, he left an unclaimed fortune. He lived alone in a river shanty and had no known relatives. He was a wise investor who took the small amount of money from selling pencils and invested it.

I often wondered why one man had a family and participated in life and the other became a recluse living alone in a shanty. As a teenager, I talked with the man and learned he was well read. He always read the daily paper. To say the least, I am pleased with my father;s choice.

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