One of the best things about relaunching a blog (and pulling down another one) is the ability to not only look back on previous material but also edit it if it feels right. The post I’m sharing is one of the 1st I wrote and kept (there are countless others that hopefully will never be found again). I was planning on editing it so it would make more sense for here and now. After reading it fully, I decided not to. This was one of the first (and at the time few) posts I wrote about disability.
Last year I got my first wheelchair. It wasn’t my first first but it was the first one built specifically for me. I was so excited the day my rep brought it to my house I practically knocked him over at the door.
As excited as I was to have a wheelchair I could call mine I needed to learn how to use a piece of equipment that was meant for me. Not only did I need to learn how to use something that was meant for me. I needed to learn how to use it correctly, and in the manner, that it was meant to be used. All of this is more involved than you would think. My chair is smaller than any chair I’ve had before, even though I’m bigger. Aerodynamics is a great thing but it can also bite you in the butt.
To help my chair and I become more of a team I went back to P.T. for mobility training. After all, the main purpose of ordering a wheelchair for me was to increase mobility. I couldn’t very well accomplish that without knowing how to get around in a non-wheelchair accessible world in a wheelchair. I spent hours learning how to go up and down curbs (safely), how to propel myself up steep ramps, if you can think of it we probably at least discussed whether I should learn another skill set or not.
Another important thing I had to do was strength training. If you’ve seen a full picture of me, or know me in person, you can see that my upper body is more than twice as strong as my lower body so you wouldn’t think strength training would be something I’d have to be concerned with, as far as my upper body is in question. The truth is the muscles you need to get yourself up a curb are the very ones that are underdeveloped in my body. I don’t know about you, but I found it to be kind of funny.
Not only did I learn proper wheelchair mobility. I learned to hate a completely new set of gym equipment; the arm bike can bite me.
The extra P.T. sessions weren’t enough. It’s one thing to maneuver a P.T. curb. The real world provides extra challenges that P.T. can’t prepare you for (sorry to all the recent spinal cord injury people out there who might be reading this). So I had to enlist someone else to help me out, so I wouldn’t flip myself over into the street.
I’m getting to my actual point now, I promise.
I went on a “walk” with my mom down the street. We live in a quiet neighborhood, at least now it is, so worrying about running into someone I knew was going to be extremely rare. It’s mainly why I agreed to go on a walk in the first place, until that day I had just practiced around the rehab where things wouldn’t seem so out of place. Shallow, yes, but everyone has a shallow moment now and then, even if I had been waiting to have my own wheelchair for who knows how long. It’s an adjustment. I still have moments these days.
Not too long into our walk I see someone I think I know, but she ran right past us without a second glance, so I let it go. Not too much longer after that the same person comes back down the street, walking this time. I quickly decide not to say anything. My mom doesn’t either because she doesn’t remember who’s walking toward us, thank God because she has a knack for calling attention to situations when I’d rather just ignore everything going on, like most mothers.
Unfortunately, the person walking towards us realizes she knows me and by the end of our interaction I’m very angry and wishing either she or I were dead so the whole thing would never have a chance of happening again.
This person I ran into happens to be the mother of one of my best friends in grade school. My weekends were either spent at her house or her daughter, my friend, was at my dad’s house. Therefore, my mother does not know her well. They rarely crossed paths, almost never.
What shocked me about our short reconnect was that she talked to my mother rather than me. My mother. She doesn’t even know my mother’s name! Yet she talked exclusively to my mother and she doesn’t even know my mother’s name. So, that last statement isn’t exactly true.
She did talk to me. Like I was a toddler!
Just because I’m lower than your eye level doesn’t mean my IQ has gotten any lower. If you know me talk to ME, not the person I’m with because you think I’m somehow damaged and will interpret your clearly lacking social skills as acceptable.
She then goes on to tell me that her daughter, my former friend, graduated from a very prestigious school with a very high paying degree and how she’s living in New York doing paralegal work, not her field of study, because she’s “trying to find herself.” She then adds that my former friend is also living in one of the best areas of New York City in penthouse with a friend, for free, because this friend is so filthy rich her parents pay for everything. She never thought about asking me, or my mother for that matter, what I’d been up to. She never even asked the customary “How are you?” anywhere in the conversation.
This was when I finally got why my mom was, and still is, against playgroups. Or at least I finally understood her theory on playgroups and why she doesn’t like them. Who the hell wants to deal with all that bragging from people who think you’re less than they are?
Normally this wouldn’t bother me so much. I’m use to people treating me differently when I’m using a wheelchair and when I’m walking around. It’s become water off a duck to me. I just let it roll of my back. People are too ignorant to make the effort worth much. Although rolling over their foot is always an option.
What made this time different was that this was the same person that treated me like I was an adult when I was 9. Now that I’m 23, at the time of the event, she treats me like I’m 2. She knows I have a brain in my head and that I’m capable of expressing myself. She was even the one who pointed out to my father that I needed more structure and stimulation in my life because of my critical thinking skills. She also made sure my dad got me interested in activities higher than my grade level because I needed it to feel good about myself. But on this one day she forgot everything she ever told my dad, and me. She completely made me think twice about who I thought she was, and under minded my respect for her.
I still have a bug in my underwear about it, as you can probably tell.
I was so offended that I had to go home and be alone. If I had talked to anybody after this conversation I would’ve taken out my frustrations on someone who had nothing to do with why I was so mad and didn’t deserve to have to deal with my wrath because of it.
Is it society’s perception about people with disabilities that makes almost everyone act this way? What’s it going to take for people to see that people with disabilities are just as much individuals as people without disabilities?
I am not my disability.
I am not your idea of my disability.
I am a person.
See me as a person.
Treat me like a person
*A similar version of this post was written on November 2, 2008
I’m participating in WEGO Health’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. If you want to find out more about Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge visit their blog, Facebook, Twitter. You can find more posts by searching #HAWMC.