Special needs

Transability: A mom tries to understand why people would want to be disabled

"The idea of transability was new to me. It took me a few days to actually read through the article and carefully consider my reaction."

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Anchel’s four-year-old daughter Syona.

An article popped up in my Facebook newsfeed last week. It explored something called “transability”—a term for able-bodied individuals who desire a physical impairment. The type of disability they seek to obtain can vary from blindness, to limb amputation or paralysis, to using equipment like leg braces or wheelchairs. Known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder, the condition was added to the appendix of the DSM-5—a diagnostic manual for mental disorders—in 2013. According to the National Post, researchers in Canada hope to better understand people who identify as transabled.

The idea of transability was new to me. It took me a few days to actually read through the article and carefully consider my reaction. I figured I’d have a strong opinion. But as it turns out, I don’t. I don’t understand transability. I don’t know what it’s like to feel like I’m in the wrong body. When I look in the mirror or go about my daily routine, what people see on the outside matches how I identify on the inside.

Many online comments expressed outrage and frustration, stating that people living with disabilities didn’t have the choice. I’ve even heard the same sentiments echoed by parents of kids with special needs. What troubles me about these comments, however, is the implication that having a disability is quite possibly the worst thing in the world. I don’t hold that same opinion.

I’m the parent of a child with a disability—my four-year-old daughter Syona has cerebral palsy. I am not an individual living with a disability. I share my family’s story and speak about my experiences parenting a child with a disability. But I don’t write about what it’s like to have a disability because I don’t have one. And while I may have some ideas or preconceived notions of what it feels like to use a wheelchair, I’ve put many of those thoughts out of my head simply because I don’t have any desire to impart those thoughts on my child. Her experiences are hers alone, and as she gets older I’m certain she will tell me how it makes her feel.

What I can tell you for sure is that Syona does not complain about having to use a wheelchair or having cerebral palsy (she does, however, complain about not being able to eat cake for dinner). And while I know that her disability plays a major part in our lives, I also know that Syona is defined by so much more than the fact that she uses a wheelchair for mobility.

I’m not sure what Syona’s reaction to the concept of transability would be if she were older. I would like to think she would be accepting. Syona didn’t choose to use a wheelchair, but the fact that someone else voluntarily chooses to doesn’t really impact her experience, does it?

What I do know for sure is that Syona’s diagnosis of cerebral palsy has opened up a whole new world for me. Sure, that world includes a Rolodex of 20 specialists, expensive medical equipment and paperwork that piles up quickly. But it also includes a perspective that I think has made me more accepting and inclusive. And don’t you think that acceptance and inclusivity make the world a better (and more interesting) place?

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.