Gabrielle Giffords will never be the same. But this fact and the difficulty of her life today does not mean she cannot return to Congress.

All it means for certain is that Giffords' life will be different from how it was - and different from how she expected it to be. She will live with some level of disability, and this is where we must expand our thinking beyond the all-or-nothing yardstick. A person living with disabilities can be as productive, purposeful and integral as anyone else.

The undercurrent to some of the talk about Giffords' recovery, and her future in politics, is, essentially, that if she's not able to speak as she did before, if she can't write as she did before, if she can't walk as she did before, then she's unfit for her job. These are all false assumptions.

It's been five short months since Giffords was shot point-blank through the brain. She has made an astonishing recovery so far, and the fact that she is alive is, in the words of her doctors and many others, miraculous. That blessing, for lack of a better word, should not be lost in the quest to discover exactly how she is doing, what skills she has regained, how much progress she has made and what she can and can't do.

In a recent interview in the Arizona Republic, Giffords' chief of staff, Pia Carusone, stated that her boss has a hard time finding words to articulate her thoughts and that, at this point, she communicates through a combination of words, facial gestures and hand signals. Giffords' comprehension - and this is important - however, is "close to normal, if not normal."

Carusone also said that it's not known, right now, if Giffords will be able to return to her active work in Congress.

This is no surprise. It's wishful thinking to expect, even given all the encouraging turns along the way, that Giffords is in the rehabilitation hospital in Houston working on getting back that last little bit of where she used to be.

She has a long way to go. And it's far too soon to know where she will be tomorrow or in a week or a month or six months. She may communicate differently from the way she did, she may no longer have abilities she possessed before the shooting, or at least not at the same functional level.

Yet, even if that turns out to be true, it doesn't mean she cannot serve in Congress. It's too soon to know.

We need to adjust our expectations - not to lower them, but to allow some room for difference and flexibility in the Giffords so many know.

The only constant in Giffords' condition, from how we understand what the doctors have said all along, is that her condition is constantly changing.

Calls for Giffords to resign are premature. We need to remember, too, that disability does not mean inability.

It is frustrating, no doubt most of all to Giffords herself, to not know precisely what the future holds. But that is the nature of her injury, and, as we learned on Jan. 8, of life.

Arizona Daily Star