The lasting effects of a temporary disability

By Margo Milne

Imagine you were born perfectly fit and able-bodied. As a teenager, you suddenly became severely physically disabled, but then you became able-bodied again. How would that affect your attitudes to disability and disabled people once you were an adult?

When writer and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli was 13, he came down with Guillain–Barré syndrome, a usually temporary condition that causes sudden paralysis, often triggered by infection. He was in hospital for 10 weeks, and it took him a year to learn to walk again.

Lucy Pask, who runs the website Great Aunt, also had Guillain–Barré syndrome, in her case at 14. After 2 weeks in a wheelchair, she recovered sufficiently to walk with a frame, and was back at school within 12 weeks.

Hardeep didn’t see himself as disabled and wasn’t aware of any discrimination. Lucy felt that, if anything, discrimination operated in her favour. She got lots of attention, long extensions on coursework deadlines, and was offered money by charities. People who had previously bullied her now protected her: “It seemed like in their minds; it was fine to bully me whilst I was ‘able bodied’ but whilst I was ‘disabled’ I was totally out of bounds, a person to [...] continue the story