In my grade 12 English class, I sat across the room from Ahren Belisle: he hobbled with a cane and never spoke.
I didn’t know his type of disability. Was it rude to ask? Would it make him feel awkward—or even insecure?
Not long after reconnecting on Facebook, Belisle, now 19, jokingly suggested a blog post topic.
“Awesome cripple boys,” he typed.
Typing is Belisle’s main form of communication because he has cerebral palsy: a disorder that affects movement and muscle tone and is caused by brain damage while the brain is still developing.
Although the effects of the disorder greatly vary, 90 per cent of cases, according to the Society for Cerebral Palsy in Europe, are classified as Spastic CP—including Belisle’s. He has full intellectual capability, but has no muscular control over the left side of his body and can only speak about five words.
Most people don’t know sign language, so he types on his phone or uses a speech app; it’s how he orders coffee and shares witty jokes with friends.
While there isn’t a cure for CP, it can be managed through treatment. Belisle had physical therapy until the end of high school and has undergone two reconstructive surgeries.
“I probably wouldn’t be able to take another one,” he said.
The last surgery took nine months of rehabilitation and he still hasn’t gained back the strength.
However, Belisle doesn’t let it bring him down.
“I think a lot of people would be bitter…that’s not what I’m about,” he said. “I’m simply hilarious and I get joy out of comedy and helping others.”
Belisle’s positive attitude is surprising considering the misunderstandings he encounters from strangers who think he’s deaf, helpless and mentally challenged.
He recalls paying at Tim Horton’s and the cashier telling him to, “Make sure I give my mommy her credit card and receipt back.”
In other settings, such as bars, girls make condescending remarks.
“As if I can’t hear them, and I’m a wounded puppy,” Belisle said. “Most women aren’t interested in a guy like me.”
Even some friends who understand his disability can’t look past it and he feels they are too intimidated to invite him out.
“I’m comfortable with myself and I’m happy with who I am,” Belisle said. “I have to work on other things, like my career, while I wait for the right people.”
The computer networking student hopes to get into the field of information technology and doesn’t see his disorder as a deal-breaking barrier. He says more companies are becoming socially aware and that there are even laws, such as the Employment Equity Act, that require employers to take unique measures to accept differences.
Apart from being a full-time student and a part-time comedian to friends, he’s also a budding philanthropist. In high school he raised over $6000 for charities in efforts to provide food for children in Africa.
“If we don’t help others, why are we here?”
Helping others can even be as simple as having an open mind, as Belisle encourages.
“Next time you see a person that’s different, don’t judge them.”