Please Don't Tip-Toe Around Me Because I'm Disabled
Hi. I love horses, photography, cooking, reading books, drinking hot chocolate on cold winter days, and writing. I have hopes, dreams, aspirations, and beliefs. I can fall in love. I have opinions on the latest drama in the news, political changes, and would love to have in-depth, intellectual conversations. I read the news. I watch funny animal fail videos. I love snuggling and playing with my dog at the end of a long day.
I am just like you. Except for one thing. I am disabled. But does that really make me so different? Does that make me so foreign, so alien that you can’t treat me the same way you would anyone else?
It’s funny the things you only notice once you’re involved with them. See before, I probably heard people express concerns on TV shows or movies, maybe even in real life, about how they couldn’t say one thing or another to someone with a disability for fear of them misunderstanding their words or being deeply offended at the slightest comment. Now that I am disabled, I see it all around me. And I want to challenge this notion.
How do we get treated differently? If you listen carefully, the skewed perspective is all around us. Maybe you’ve heard it in phrases such as, “Ugh, that was a terrible date! But I don’t want to break up because she’ll think it’s because she’s in a wheelchair.”
Or perhaps you’ve seen it happen, when a healthy person leaves the disabled party out of a conversation, even if talking about that person, as if being disabled equates to being incompetent. The worst is when people just start doing things for you, without asking or offering help first. They just assume you can’t function without help.
I believe people treat us with kid gloves because we may have limitations that make us different. The thing is, though, everyone has limitations. Why should our limitations be so much more earth-shattering than yours?
An elderly person asks for a wheelchair at the zoo, often without question, but how many times has a young person with an invisible illness been harassed for the same request? Their reason might be because their they can’t walk far distances, but that’s probably the elderly person’s reasoning for needing the wheelchair too.
I have limits. But I bet you do too. Some of your limits probably affect your life in big ways. Maybe your complete ineptitude in chemistry meant you couldn’t make the big bucks by being a doctor. People probably don’t treat you like you’re incompetent just because you couldn’t be a doctor though.
I can’t work anymore because my chronic pain condition is so severe that I can’t do any one activity for more than an hour at a time. I’m still functional though. Here’s just an ounce of what I can do:
- I can adapt to changes and find new, innovative ways to solve everyday problems.
- I can read, write, count, do complicated algebra, and carry on in-depth, intellectual conversations.
- I can train a dog to be a service dog, which is not an easy task.
- When my loved one is sick, I can take on both of our responsibilities around the house to take excellent care of us both without faltering.
- I can be a friend and an advocate to people I barely know.
I can see the way people stare at me when I walk into a store with my service dog.
I can hear the slight edge in people’s voices when they ask “what’s wrong” with me.
I can tell based on body language, each time someone purposefully leaves me out of a conversation because they think a disabled person can’t possibly contribute or have anything important to say.
I have limits. I have topics that trigger anxiety. I can’t watch graphic movies because I feel the pain from watching others in pain, even if theirs is stage pain. I tell people outright to ask me anything about my condition. I try to teach and speak up when I need help, but it doesn’t seem to help most times. Often, when I share about my condition, people just shut down instead of engaging me. When I say I’m disabled, I’m suddenly handled with kid gloves. When I turn down plans on one occasion, I’m never invited anywhere again. I deal with immense pain, frustration, and guilt. I do my best to be calm and patient with people, but some days I just don’t have the energy. When I do express myself, whether in a moment of frustration or calmly with a smile, I am pushed aside, silenced, berated, or laughed off. I am not alone.
We are all made different. If we were all the same, there’d be no challenge in life, and let’s be honest, things would be pretty boring. We may be different, but we are all equal. I think people miss that point when they interact with someone who is disabled.
“Disabled” is a weird word with an immensely powerful effect. Unfortunately, it often carries negative connotation in media and bears years of stigma that seem to be difficult to shed. Some people I know who are disabled prefer “differently abled.” Apt term, in my opinion. I can’t throw a ball. But I can feel storms coming up to 30 miles away, detect faint vibrations, and I can absorb pain flares like Deadpool, and continue to keep functioning.
Accept that we are different. Acknowledge it, and embrace that we are still people with feelings and rights, just like you. Please don’t tip-toe around us. Please don’t shut down when we ask you to be more tactful. Please don’t treat us like a bomb just waiting to go off. Please don’t ignore us or treat us like a pet to be groomed and then passed on to someone else. We don’t shatter as easily as you believe.
We are not contagious. We are not background ornaments. We have limits, hopes, dreams, and fears – just like you. Just as you may have certain topics you don’t want to get into with people, such as politics, science, religion, or personal drama, we have topics we’d rather you didn’t delve into. But that doesn’t mean you should treat us like aliens or lifeless blobs. We have feelings. We have opinions. We are important. We are people. Just like you.
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Thinkstock photo by Voyagerix