By now I am sure you have heard of Shaquem Griffin. If not, you should look him up. Shaquem is an American football linebacker recently drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, but interestingly, he is an amputee. If you are a person with a limb difference, you understand how big this is; if not, I’ll help explain.
Looking around in professional sports, you don’t see people with disabilities. Look beyond that to highly publicized professional careers—in any field—and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a visible disability there either. But why?
It can’t be that there aren’t people with disabilities out there; we know that one in five people has a disability. My personal belief is that there have been two major things at play over the last 100 years:
Society has perpetuated stigma and stereotypes for so long that the masses began to BELIEVE people with disabilities were somehow inferior.
People with disabilities bought into this belief as well.
Why the change and what is the importance of Shaquem Griffin? Most recently, within the last five to ten years there has been a shift in belief for both the masses and the individuals. We have seen models with varying disabilities grace catwalks and appear in widely successful print campaigns. We’ve watched our favorite celebrities playing roles depicting people with disabilities, and the Paralympics has come out of the darkness and into the light. And you know what? It’s FANTASTIC!
Each one of these steps is a milestone for people with disabilities. With more coverage, the more “visual proof” we are providing to the public. The more we educate the masses about our abilities, the more we chip away society’s construct of the disabled community.
That said, Shaquem Griffin’s success as an NFL linebacker is all of our success. His skill will pave the road for more people with disabilities to be included in other fields because he is proving that his limb difference is merely that—a difference. Not bad, not incapable or un-talented, but different.
I encourage you all to continue to chase your dreams and go after what you love! We need as many Shaquem Griffins as we can get!