There isn’t much that bothers me about having a disability; I know that might sound weird to some of you, but it’s the truth. Being disabled has never been all that terrible; my wheelchair is comfier than most people’s office chairs, and I might walk slowly, but I’m fine with that. What about falling you ask? Well, when you do it as often as I do, you not only get used to it, you get good at it; I rarely get hurt from a fall. I hardly ever feel disabled at all. I just feel like your average women, with an average life, making her way in the world. That is until I run into other people.
I find there are three types people I interact with on a regular basis: Those that completely ignore disabilities, those that accept disabilities as just another part of the human experience, and then there are those who see a disability as something that is sad or in need of being fixed. The second group of people is rare, they usually start out as a member of the first or third group, but are then converted after meeting someone with a disability. The first group can be really irritating, but it is the third group that offends me the most.
The people in the third group mostly mean well, they are nice, they would never purposely be rude or discriminate, yet they are rude and they do discriminate; and I run into them almost daily. They are the teachers that told me “one day we will be healed in heaven”, the street preacher that thrusts a bible at me and offers a prayer, the hairstylist that says I am “too pretty to be in a wheelchair”, the barista that tells me how nice it is to see me out, the boss that calls my husband a saint, and the bus driver who tells me how smart I am given my situation. On the surface, these would seem like compliments, right?
The reason I find these interactions so offensive is that they come from a place of pity, of lowered expectations. The problem with those statements is that if someone continually hears them, it usually leads to one of two things: either an inflated the ego, making them feel entitled to special treatment, or a feeling of shame. I recently read this article where statements like this caused a woman to stay in an abusive relationship because “she was so lucky to have someone”.
Of course, the intent is never to hurt the disabled person. I do believe that, in general, when I hear these things that they come from a place of good intent. People want to encourage me and make me feel proud for what I have accomplished in spite of Cerebral Palsy; but these statements do not make me feel good. Instead they make me feel incapable, broken, wrong and limited. The truth is I don’t have this life in spite of my Cerebral Palsy, I have this life because I embraced it.