The 4 Types of Stares I Experience Most as a Woman With a Disability

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As my two friends and I stroll through the mall on a hot summer day, one of them asks, “What if I stared at other people like there was something wrong with them?”

You may need some more information in this situation. The three of us don’t exactly look like a “normal” group of teenagers. My one friend is pushing me in my wheelchair carrying my backpack, which holds my tube feedings, IV nutrition and drain bag. I have braces on my knees and a mask on my face.

You could say I stand out a bit.

You’d think people would use their common sense and not look at me like i’m some robot-alien out of a sci-fi movie, but most people ignore their common sense and stare. The amount of people who stare at me on a daily basis used to bother me, and it still does sometimes. But now, I ignore it and stare right back at them. Or I identify and organize them into categories for my entertainment. Now, these stares I get aren’t just the occasional “I think I’m being discreet and innocent glancing” stare. More often, they’re the “blatantly obvious, straight on, what is that?!?” stare.

There are so many different types of stares used in different places and in different situations, so lets take a look at a few of the most common ones.

1. The “I think I’m being discreet and innocent, glancing” stare.

Ah, one of the classics. You’re all guilty of it. This stare occurs when an individual, let’s refer to them as person A, spots another individual, person B, who, for various reasons, stands out from society’s “normal” appearance. Person A tries to fulfill their curiosity in a way they believe is appropriate by slightly rotating their head by a few degrees at a time when they think person B is not looking. Then, they move their head slowly back to its original position when thought to be socially acceptable. This process is often repeated multiple times until person B has left person A’s line of sight.

Here’s a little secret from somebody who is often person B in this situation: I can see you staring at me. When there are 20 people in a room all trying to perform the “I think I’m being discreet and innocent glancing” stare, it’s likely that more than one person will be looking at me at one time.

2. The “Blatantly obvious, straight on, what is that???” stare.

The most common misconception about this stare is that it is mostly done by children. I’ve found this stare is actually most commonly executed by grown men and women who I’m sure have acquired the proper social skills to know not to do this but do it anyway. Stare #2 usually happens when person A swiftly detects diversity on their radar and decides to ignore their instinct to be polite. Person A then rotates their head, and sometimes even their entire body, and fixes their point of origin on person B. Person A may continue the stare anywhere from 30 seconds to minutes.

Stare #2 can be the most angering (and the most amusing) of them all — for me, anyway. I find it so ridiculous that people stare like this that I can’t help but want to go hand them a brochure entitled “Manners for the Common Idiot” and walk away like Beyoncé.

3. The “Oh my gosh, I feel so bad for you” stare.

Sigh. My experience is that Person A in this situation is often a teenage girl, couples with young children or an elderly person, but usually a teenage girl. Accompanied by a look of pity, this stare happens when person A is overcome with emotion after seeing someone they believe needs to be pitied. Person A then proceeds to stare, maybe tilts their head slightly and continues to feel bad for me until something new and maybe shiny catches their eye. Just thinking about this stare makes me want to puke. Person A in this situation is probably the type of person who is guilty of using people with disabilities as objects of inspiration.

4. The “What is that, whats wrong with them?!!?” stare.

With a mix of curiosity and horror, person A stares without trying to hide their emotions. This stare is a more obvious one and may end with person A whispering to the people around them, causing a ripple effect of many types of stares. I really don’t appreciate this stare, but I do enjoy watching people trying to figure out what is wrong with me. I get this stare the most when I’m at the beach and people are trying to figure out what the tubes coming out of me are. It’s great.

Thinking back to that day in the mall, most of the people we passed by are guilty of staring. I understand people don’t always know how to react when they see someone different from themselves, but it’s not polite to stare. Ever. I joke about this because it’s not going to stop anytime soon and I’d rather laugh than cry about it, but it needs to change. People need to realize that when you stare, other people also stare to try and figure out what the first person was staring at. Then, it’s like I have bright red letters painted on my back reading, “PLEASE STARE AT ME.” Soon, the whole room is looking at me. It’s not OK to stare at someone of a different race, age, height or weight than you, so why would it be OK to stare at someone with a disability or illness who looks different than you? Nobody should feel self-conscious about how they look, whether they have a disability or not.

So here’s a tip for everyone out there who is guilty of staring: Just don’t do it. Ever.

Follow this journey on Climbing Rivers.

The Mighty is asking the following: “Staring” is a topic that comes up so much in our community. Tell us about one unforgettable “staring” experience you or someone you love had that’s related to disability, disease or illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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How Police Responded When a Play Set Was Stolen From Kids With Disabilities

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On August 10, employees at United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), an organization that supports children and adults with disabilities, arrived at the center in Hanford, California, to find the organization’s play set had been stolen, ABC News reported.

Children who attend the UCP center relied heavily on the outdoor play equipment for occupational and physical therapy as well as for building social skills, Jennifer Thornberg, the organization’s family coordinator, told the outlet.

However, the discouraging news quickly turned positive thanks to the Hanford community. Once local police officers heard about the burglary, they stepped in to help. The Hanford police department began taking donations to purchase new play equipment for the center. Together, the community raised enough money to purchase new play sets, UCP of Central California wrote on its Facebook page.

The Hanford police department did more than just fundraise for the new playground. On August 28, the officers arrived at UCP and assembled the equipment themselves.

police officers gather to re-assemble play set
Photo from the UCP of Central California Facebook page

You see a lot of bad things on a daily basis,” Hanford police officer Mark Carrillo told ABC News in the video below. “You can’t fix them all, but this one needed to be fixed.”

Learn more about the officers’ heartwarming show of support in the video below.

 

Feature photo via the UCP of Central California Facebook page.

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U.K. Man Becomes First Tetraplegic to Complete Tough Mudder Challenge

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Rob Camm always wanted to compete in the grueling Tough Mudder race, and after training for the last few months he was able to do just that. The only difference between Camm and the rest of the athletes is a C3 spinal injury that’s left him paralyzed from the neck down.

rob camm at start line of tough mudder challenge
facebook.com/cammpaign4rob

Camm spent nine months recuperating in the hospital following a horrific car crash, and though he uses a ventilator to assist with breathing, he’s able to get around on a motorized wheelchair controlled by his chin movements. Once he mastered his mobility in urban settings, the 21-year-old University of Bristol student wanted to experiment with the machine off-road. Camm tackled a number of steep trails in the woods and then he came up with an idea.

“I’ve got a wheelchair that’s capable of doing [the Tough Mudder], so I thought why not?” he told the Gazette Series. “It’s a wheelchair set on top of a quad bike and I’ve not found anything that can stop it yet.”

Every year there are over 50 Tough Mudder races all over the world, and the 10-12 mile outdoor obstacle courses are designed to “test physical strength and mental grit,” according to the event’s website.  Participants run up and down difficult trails, climb ladders and wade through muddy pits of water, among other activities.

Camm also chatted with the Gazette about how he’s raising money for SpecialEffect, the charity that provided him with the necessary technology following his accident. As of Aug. 25, the donations on his Just Giving page have reached over £6,000 (approximately $10,000).

“SpecialEffect undoubtedly had a huge impact on me and by raising money for them I hope to enable them to help more people,” Camm says on the fundraiser profile.

rob camm with teammates and supporters at tough mudder challenge
facebook.com/cammpaign4rob

Camm’s Tough Mudder team included his father Ian Camm, cousin Simon Camm, Tomos Wyn-Jones, Rob Telford, Ian Telford, Liam Kearns, Chris Wright, Simon James and Helen James. He wasn’t able to pass through every obstacle on the course, but the rest of his supporters were more than happy to cover for him.

John Fidoe, vice president of Tough Mudder, also accompanied Camm on the challenge.

“We were thrilled to have Rob join us this past weekend and watch him become the first tetraplegic in the world to complete a Tough Mudder course,” Fidoe told The Independent. “His strength, determination and courage have inspired all of us at Tough Mudder and Mudders around the world.”

Camm has posted a number of videos on his Facebook page, including the one below, where he participated in the “Hero Carry” portion of the Tough Mudder.

Rob Camm and team Special Effect take on Hero Carry as part of their epic journey round Tough Mudder South West this weekend #overcomeallobstacles #neverseenthatbefore

Posted by Tough Mudder UK on Monday, August 24, 2015
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What This Sex-Positive Party’s Success Means for People With Disabilities

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On Friday, August 14, “Deliciously Disabled,” the masquerade ball and sex-positive party for people with and without disabilities, was held in Toronto. But “Deliciously Disabled” was about much more than sex. As one of the first events of its kind, it garnered significant press over the summer for drawing necessary attention to disability and sexuality — a topic often overlooked.

“This whole thing was about giving people the opportunity to be a part of something that they’re so often denied,” Andrew Morrison-Gurza, one of the event’s organizers, told The Mighty. “When I was there on Friday and I was walking through the venue before the show, the most common response I got from people was, ‘Thank you. We needed something like this.’” 

The sold-out event received glowing reviews from organizers and attendees alike.

“Being that I’m also someone with a disability [cerebral palsy], it was awesome to see a mix of the disabled and sex-positive community come together in one place like that,” Chandler Borland, a volunteer at the event, told VICE. “Everybody had a good time.”

For Morrison-Gurza, the party was about much more than a great time — it was about starting a necessary conversation.

“I am so goddamn honored and proud that this event brought together such amazing people who helped turn my little hashtag into something that could change perceptions of sex and disability,” Morrison-Gurza posted on Facebook on August 15. “#DeliciouslyDisabled will be back, will grow and will continue to make disability accessible.”

Take a look at some photos and feedback from people who attended the event.

woman and man dancing at the sex party
Photo from the performance artist Brent Ray Fraser’s Instagram page

two men dancing at the sex party
Photo from Andrew Morrison-Gurza’s Facebook page

For more information about Deliciously Disabled, visit Morrison-Gurza’s website and Facebook page or search the hashtag #DeliciouslyDisabled.

Related: This Sex Party Is About So Much More Than Sex

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96-Year-Old War Veteran Gets Awesome Wheelchair Designed Like a Tank

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Eddie Shaw, 96, is reliving his glory days with a new custom-built mobility scooter his son designed.

Shaw is a World War II veteran and his son recently built him a special all-terrain wheelchair based on the design of a tank, The Mirror reported.

Peter Shaw, from Shropshire, England, created the “tank” using parts from a motorized wheelbarrow so that he could take his father on trips to the beach and the Welsh countryside without having to worry about his wheelchair getting stuck, according to Express. It took him and three friends 30 hours to build and he says his father absolutely loves it.

man in wheelchair designed like a tank

Some local companies donated materials to the project, which helped to lower the cost of the chair and made its creation a community effort, the Mirror reported.

Eddie Shaw, who uses a wheelchair because of arthritis in his hip and knee problems, served as a Sergeant with 918 General Transport Company in the 8th British Army division during World War II, according to Express.

My dad was attacked by tanks during the Second World War,” Peter Shaw told the outlet. “He never got chance to ride them but managed to fight one off with anti-tank missiles. Now this is his chance to have his own little tank.”

Check out Eddie Shaw’s new ride in the video below: 

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This Woman Designed Jeans to Help People in Wheelchairs Look and Feel Good

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On August 4, 2007, Heidi McKenzie was in a car accident that changed her life forever. She sustained a T4 spinal cord injury, which caused her to become a paraplegic. Paralyzed from the chest down, McKenzie can move her arms and hands but is unable to stand up or get around without using a wheelchair.

Heidi McKenzie sitting outside in her wheelchair
Photo from the Alter UR Ego blog

But it didn’t take long for McKenzie, now 29, to embrace her new lifestyle. She was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky in 2012 and became an advocate for people who use wheelchairs by traveling around the country and sharing her story. Later that same year, McKenzie, who lives in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, went on to the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant. While there, she and more than 20 other women in wheelchairs competed together for weeks.

McKenzie didn’t win, but something she noticed throughout the competition stuck with her long after the final prize was handed out.

“I realized we all had a common struggle when it came to fashionable and functional clothing,” McKenzie told The Mighty.

Inspired, McKenzie, who had always been interested in fashion, set out to help fill that void. She recently founded Alter UR Ego, a clothing company predicated on creating comfortable, fashionable clothing for people in wheelchairs to help them look good and, in turn, feel good, too.

“I want to make it possible for those with disabilities to be able to express their ‘alter-ego’ through fashion while breaking down social barriers,” McKenzie wrote on the company’s website.

ad for Alter Ur Ego jeans featuring three people in wheelchairs wearing the jeans
Photo courtesy of Heidi McKenzie

McKenzie teamed up with designer Kristin Alexandra Tidwell to create her company’s first clothing design — an adaptable pair of blue jeans. The jeans include accessible pockets, a high waistline in the back, an elastic waistband, straps on the inside of the pants to make them easier to pull up and an opening for catheter use.

diagram of all the useful features of the jeans
Photo of jeans design courtesy of Heidi McKenzie
woman in a wheelchair wearing the jeans
Model wearing the jeans prototype. Photo courtesy of Heidi McKenzie

When she initially came up with the idea to design clothes specifically for people in wheelchairs, McKenzie became aware of two existing companies with the same mission as hers — ABL Denim and IZ Adaptive. These companies differ from Alter UR Ego in a few ways — McKenzie’s design is the only one created by a person in a wheelchair. The second is that her jeans have different pocket placement and an opening for catheter use. But McKenzie says it was those two companies’ successes that prompted her to move forward with her project.

McKenzie has tested the jeans prototype herself and with several of her friends who are in wheelchairs. She’s now working to raise enough funds for the company to go into production and sell the jeans online. So far, her Kickstarter campaign has raised just over $4,300. She hopes to hit $20,000 by August 29.

After successfully funding the jeans, McKenzie wants to expand Alter UR Ego into a fully accessible clothing line.

“The adaptable jeans are just the beginning,” McKenzie told The Mighty. “People with disabilities should have just as many clothing options.”

woman in a wheelchair wearing the jeans
Heidi McKenzie

To learn more about McKenzie’s story and contribute to the Alter UR Ego brand to help get these jeans on the market, visit the project’s Kickstarter page

Related: Fantastic Clothing Line Fills a Major Void in the Fashion Industry

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