I Am So Much More Than 'the Disabled Girl'

I am a girl with a disability. I cannot deny that. But I should not be defined as “the disabled girl,” because I am so much more. My muscular dystrophy requires me to use a power wheelchair to get around. I can walk, but only for short distances. I always like observing people’s reactions when they see me walk for the first time without knowing that I can. It’s not the result of a miracle; it’s a result of my hard work. Yes, I do ask for help for certain things. Yes, I do accept offers of help, but those offers shouldn’t come from people who believe I’m not capable of doing things for myself.

I’m lucky to have grown up in a community that’s so accepting of people who are different, but I do still encounter overt discrimination towards people with disabilities. Earlier this year, I was at a school assembly, talking to a friend and a teacher. My auditorium does not have designated wheelchair seating, so I park in a little alcove in the back. A photographer approached us, and without addressing me at all, asked my friend and my AP English teacher, “Can she move her chair?” assuming that I couldn’t speak for myself. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last.

When things like this happen, I feel like a non-person — just a chair and not a human being. I have thoughts, feelings, ideas, and dreams, and I have the cognitive ability to respond to a simple question. Luckily, my teacher was as outraged as I was. She responded, “She can answer for herself,” and gave the photographer a talking-to about how to address people with disabilities.

I don’t know if I would be different if I didn’t have a disability, but I do know I like the person I am today. Ultimately, I’ve been able to accomplish great things, both in spite of and because of my disability. My disability hasn’t stopped me from excelling in school, making incredible friends, and living a happy life. I consider myself to be a teenage girl who just happens to use a wheelchair, and that’s how you should see me as well. I do face challenges, but these challenges have shaped me into the strong, positive person I am today.

Don’t feel bad for me because I have a disability. Instead, appreciate me for my abilities and talents, and treat me like any other person. Everybody who has a disability deserves the chance to be treated with respect and equality.

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