Saturday, February 18, 2017
Survival of the Fittest
I had a realization recently that has helped me reaffirm the strength of disability. As much as I feel confident navigating the world as a disabled person, I also occasionally question the evolutionary forces on disability.
Natural selection assumes survival of the fittest; only the most able survive. Inherently, this means people with disabilities are less fit for the environment.
When I reflect on the challenges of living with a disability, I feel gratitude for the civil rights and technological advancements that I rely on so heavily. At the same time, I often consider the increased difficulties I would have faced in a different error. If I were born one hundred, one thousand, or even ten thousand years earlier, I would have been stifled by the environment – killed by a bear or deemed an invalid by society.
This train of thought has often led me to a dark conclusion: evolution is based on survival of the fittest. I am not the fittest. I have to rely on others to survive.
But what does it mean to be “the fittest,” anyway? The natural answer would be that the fittest are the strongest, healthiest, smartest, most sociable, and most able to meet the demands of the environment. This last piece – meeting the demands of the environment – is especially important. Regardless of the task, I would always prefer to assign it to someone who has persisted in the face of difficulty, flexibly and creatively adapted, and developed novel strategies to best suit their strengths and abilities.
And here comes my empowering realization: those who strive in the face of adversity are the fittest.
People with disabilities develop creative strategies to adapt to their environment. I listen to books rather than read them. I use bump dots to feel buttons on the microwave. I test and tweak and repeat until I come up with workable solutions to my changing vision. Because my needs, vision, and technology are always changing, this process will continue indefinitely.
Survival of the fittest means those who are able to best navigate their environment are the most likely to succeed. Those who have encountered adversity – in the form of disability or otherwise – have had to adaptively learn to fit the needs of the environment. The innovation, resilience, and tenacity required to flourish despite barriers indicate that we are the fittest.
So, if only the fittest survive, I no longer worry if I’ll make the cut.
Posted by Jen Pearlstein at 10:34 AM