Disabled or Handicapped

What is the difference between being disabled and being handicapped? ¬† Many years ago a blind physician named Stanley Wainapel explained the difference to me. ¬†Examples of disabilities include stuttering, blindness, deafness, paralysis, hyperactivity, and depression. My disability is paralysis of the upper and lower extremities. However, this disability does not equal handicapped. If I were to be asked to perform open-heart surgery on a patient my disability would be a major handicap. I can’t move my fingers. However, in my specialty of kidney diseases, I’m able to use my observation and analytical skills to accurately diagnose and treat patients with a variety of issues related to kidney disease. My disability is not a handicap in this capacity. Similarly, if you asked Itzhak Perlman to climb up to the concert stage to perform, he would have a major handicap because of his lower limb paralysis. However, once on stage is a virtuoso. Being handicapped is created through environment and the particular social and professional role that you are taking. I’m sure you can think of several other examples.

With the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the explosion of technological advances, there are multiple opportunities for those with disabilities to have a successful and rewarding life in their chosen profession. Neurosurgeons use highly sophisticated glasses to dissect sections of the brain and a fiber-optic headlight to enhance their abilities in the operating room. Cardiologists and internists use newly advanced stethoscopes with amplifiers that allow for easy detection of very subtle murmurs an extra heart sounds. Cardiac surgeons use robots to perform bypass surgery allowing patients to leave the hospital within a few days. Before these advances, I guess you can say that physicians were handicapped in many ways.

Therefore, I encourage anyone with any type of disability to be creative and to utilize the latest technologies in order to become the best person you can be and to pursue your dreams.

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