March is National Development Disabilities Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all areas of community life, as well as awareness to the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live.
Having a developmental disability can be a hard thing for me. For example, I can get tired pretty easily, which sometimes makes me feel upset because I don’t want to be tired so often. When I’m working or in the middle of something and I start to get tired, people around me sometimes urge me to keep going, saying something like, “let’s keep working, we’re almost finished.” It can be upsetting. I don’t want to work right now, I just want to rest.
Sometimes I get anxious and have to pace back and forth like I have ants in my pants. And when I’m anxious, I’m more likely to make mistakes, so sometimes I have to deal with the anxiety and on top of that deal with fixing some mistake I just made. I wrote a song about this once. It goes, “Sometimes I make mistakes. I’m only human. I’m one of the Jakes.”
Sometimes the challenge of having a disability is dealing with other people. People don’t always recognize that I have a disability and instead they just think something is wrong with me. Take the way I walk for example. When I was younger, I underwent a procedure to lengthen my Achilles tendons. It has affected the way that I walk. And sometimes people see the way that I walk and think that I need a cane or need their help. But I don’t need a cane, and I don’t need your help! This is just how I walk.
Even though all of these things can make my life more difficult, at the same time I am really proud of being a person with a disability because it has taught me so many things that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I have learned how to be a self-advocate and speak up for myself—to make sure that my voice is being heard. And my self-advocacy doesn’t just affect me. I have known people with disabilities who didn’t have those same self-advocacy skills, and I know that by seeing me model those skills, some of those people have learned a little about speaking up for themselves.
I also know that some people without disabilities have learned from my example. Maybe they learned how to think a little more inclusively, or maybe they’ve developed a better understanding of disabilities and the role it can play in a person’s life. The culture we live in doesn’t always teach respect for disabilities, and some people need to personally know a few folks from our community before they have the empathy and experience to truly recognize the full humanity of people with disabilities.
Maybe what I’m proudest of are the relationships I’ve built, both in the disability community and in the broader world around me. I’m proud to have connections with people in the disability community that have taught me so much and really enriched my life. At the same time, I’m very proud to live a life that is integrated into the broader community of New York City. I love socializing with people in general and developing these relationships. In some ways our relationships are the most import things we have, and it’s through our relationships that we learn about and shape the world around us. I think that is one of the things this Disability Awareness Month is really all about: working together to build an inclusive New York that recognizes everyone as full human beings.
Jacob Ross has supported the 14Y Membership and Marketing Departments at the 14th Street Y, and is involved in employment support programs through JobPath.