Why I'm Never 'Sitting Alone' as a Person With a Disability
I was seated at a circular table in a banquet hall — clad in a dress and a pair of heels, resting my throbbing leg. My gaze was transfixed behind me, on the throng of partygoers darting around the room, eagerly snapping pictures, clamoring for the best shot of the guest of honor and calling out instructions to various family members. As I waited to be called up for a picture with the guest of honor, my own eagerness manifested not in my movements, but in my twinkling eyes, my smile and my laugh.
I glanced back at the table — the immaculately-placed floral centerpiece, the cups of nuts and candies adorning each place setting, the smattering of soda cans and pale pink cloth napkins strewn across the off-white tablecloth.
Suddenly, my eyes fell on the seven empty chairs surrounding me. In that moment, it occurred to me that an outsider’s perception of the situation would likely be flawed. A stranger would see a slightly aloof, able-bodied young woman sitting alone, and a large family excitedly preoccupied with taking the perfect picture, not a tired, physically disabled young woman with a family who not only understands and respects her, but also never questions her need to rest.
It was then that a stark realization struck me: In appearance, I was sitting alone, but as a person with a disability, I am never sitting alone.
I am the only person with a physical disability in my family, but I have been blessed with a family that takes the time to understand and respond to my physical limitations. My family does not sweep my disability under the rug, denying its existence. They do not insist on weaving my disability into every conversation, relating it to anything I cannot do well. My family has developed a firm “middle ground” — acknowledging my disability in a subtle, unobtrusive manner, then helping me if assistance is warranted.
This particular instance was no exception. My family’s perceived indifference not only demonstrated an understanding of my needs, but it also illustrated the utmost respect for my personhood. By proceeding with their vigorous photography and allowing me to rest in the interim, my family quietly acknowledged my disability without allowing it to consume my identity and impede the celebration at hand.
My eyes wandered to the neighboring tables. A few guests, all at least 50 years my senior, sat scattered around the room, quietly chatting among themselves. I felt a strange sense of kinship with them; in that moment, my body felt far older than its 21 years of age, and I, like many of them, could not expend any extra energy.
Upon scanning the room, I was immediately reminded of all of the writers and bloggers with cerebral palsy who have candidly expressed that their bodies feel far older than their chronological ages. I smiled, thankful for the connections I have forged with others in similar situations. In that moment, I knew that so many others — in my town, in the nation, and throughout the world — would see the absurdity of the situation and laugh with me over the nuances of living with a disability. Prior to discovering the vast reach of the disability
community, I felt a profound sense of isolation, but in engaging with others in the disability community, I have found an unceasing sense of connection and belonging — a lifeline.
As a person with a disability, I am never sitting alone.
Living with a disability can often feel lonely and isolating. It is easy to wonder if there is anyone in the world who can truly understand the distinct worldview it provides. However, by developing a strong support system of people who understand the disability experience and those who are willing to learn about the challenges people in the disability community face, I have come to believe none of us is ever sitting alone. There is always someone sitting with us — listening to us, validating our experiences and working to understand our perspective. Even when we appear to be sitting alone, there is invariably someone who is silently helping us, guiding us and providing us unconditional support and undying love.
I am never sitting alone.
You are never sitting alone.
We are never sitting alone.
We are all at this table together.
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Thinkstock photo by maroznc.