Re-examining Independence

The other day, someone asked me for my thoughts regarding disability and independence. My first impulse was to say that while I can’t speak for anyone else, I myself have managed to live independently despite experiencing sometimes debilitating anxiety.

But then my train of thought veered off on a tangent, laying fresh tracks down in front of it as it went, like in Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers.

As social animals, almost all human beings are dependent on one another on some level. An adult who lives alone and supports themselves financially, for example, is still dependent on the farmers who grow their food, the workers who maintain the pipes that supply their water, etcetera. Independence isn’t a binary thing that we either are or are not, but a matter of degree.

Disability is a similarly nuanced concept. All individuals have their own challenges, some are simply more pronounced than others. There are many people who face far more hardship than I do, and others who face far less.

“Dependent” is often treated as a dirty word, as something to be ashamed of. Personally, I don’t think it should be. While those who face great difficulties in life may sometimes need more support, this can be seen as a natural extension of the mutual dependency we all share.

Many disabled people manage to live with a degree of independence close or equal to their more able peers. But for those who cannot, I don’t think there need be any shame in dependence on others, any more than we need feel ashamed that somebody else bakes our bread or works at the power station that generates our electricity.

Our dependence on each other is part of what makes us a community, a society, and above all, human.