By Inês Mália Sarmento
Dynamic disability is a relatively new concept that means that a disability oscillates in severity (normally tied to what is called a “flare”), where all or one of the symptoms of a chronic illness are more active or worsen for a period of time, whether it’s for a matter of weeks or months.
An individual that identifies as being dynamically disabled, is someone that is able to perform tasks or do activities, for example, in a day, more than once a day, or as sporadically or as often as they can, but the individual may not be able to complete those same tasks or do them at all in the next moment or the next day (week, etc.).
The term dynamic disability was introduced to me by Sarah Grace (Instagram @im_still_here_sgb). I also discovered the term by reading Joanna’s post (published on September 12, 2020 on her Instagram account (@joannanobanana) On the post, Joanna attributed the term to Brianne Benness, who originally came up with it.
On December 8 of 2019, on Age Of Awareness, in Medium,
In a Medium publication titled Age of Awareness, Brianne Benness wrote: “When I talk to people with chronic illness, lots and lots of people tell me that they aren’t sure if they’re allowed to call themselves disabled.” That’s exactly how I felt; I felt like I wasn’t disabled enough to be able to identify myself as a disabled person. Similarly, by reflecting on this herself, Benness came up with the term dynamically disabled. Benness’ reflections and her article helped me to firm that I am disabled; Just because my disability and needs vary from day to day, or even on the same day, it does not invalidate my disabled experience. We need to keep pushing forward so that others too can affirm their disabled identity.
Benness does a remarkable job in explaining how this term was born from her own personal experiences, and in how the poor representation of disabled people in the media contributed to the word “disabled” to be only associated with visible disabilities. She linked this perception to being a huge factor in how accommodations are offered, including how disabled people need to fulfill a certain criterion to receive them, and the numerous requirements companies necessitate their workers to meet.
Visibility is still what the majority of people use to determine if someone is disabled or not. Being dynamically disabled and having invisible chronic illnesses, I experienced and still experience this first hand. The students in my school didn’t understand why I would wear a knee brace one day and the next I wouldn’t; (or even put it on my other knee); They also didn’t understand why I would use a wheelchair after lunch, but not in the morning. Benness clearly states that accommodations should be as dynamic as the disabilities and needs of the ones who require it. I wholeheartedly support her argument; If I have a low -symptom day, I should be able to go to my neighborhood’s convenience store without being looked at in a funny way, just because the week before I used my wheelchair on a high- symptom day.
Every person has a unique perspective, but I believe not being born disabled and being dynamically disabled gives me a different perspective of a non-dynamically disabled individual; I can appreciate the small things even more, because I may not be able to enjoy them tomorrow in the same way, or at all in the future. Having the experience of not being previously disabled, made me see how inaccessible the world is and made me realize; how privileged I was to have had better motility before.
Age of Awareness is a large medium of publication, it is dedicated to education, especially of the re-thinking and re-learning type. It has a large number of daily visits and people can submit their work to contribute to Age of Awareness (AOA).
Brianne Benness (she/her) is the” host of No End in Sight, a podcast about life with chronic illness.” She is also the co-founder (and former co-producer) of Stories We Don’t Tell in Toronto.
Podcast website link https://noendinsight.co/
Sarah Grace @im_still_here_sgb
[Image description: Inês is a Portuguese white woman. She is stinging in her bed in front of two mirrors. The blanket covering the bed is purple. Her wheelchair is in front of her, in a sideway position. She has her left leg over the closest arm rest of her wheelchair. She has a smirk on her face and is looking into the mirrors. Her short curly hair hangs near her shoulders. She is wearing a black hoodie, grey leggings and white socks with greyish polka dots. There is a strong light behind her coming from a window.]