What It's Like to Fall a Lot Because of My Disability
Kids fall all the time. Most 30-something adults… don’t.
Or if they do, it’s in a perfectly choreographed, loveably adorable, romantic-comedy meet-cute kinda way. Or an “I’ve clearly had too much to drink and now must be escorted home before I ruin someone’s shoes” kinda way.
That is not how I fall. I fall spectacularly. And the other adults around me don’t know what to do.
I’m the person who tumbles down two flights of (thankfully, carpeted) stairs on a first date. I fall when I’m proctoring an elementary school test and it’s been completely silent for two hours. I fall as I’m literally saying to someone that the arm they are offering me will actually make me more likely to fall. I fall with so much drama that most people in the immediate vicinity just stand there horrified for a few seconds.
I have actually tried to come up with a clever analogy to tell people that, due to my cerebral palsy and my general propensity for clumsiness, falling down is such a common occurrence in my life that it’s actually not that big of a deal. “Really, I probably fall as often as you get Starbucks.”
I probably come off as not very confident because I am constantly looking at the floor for that one thing that will bring me down. Is it a pencil? A carpet fiber that’s started to unravel? A tiny curb? An errant pebble? A friggin’ single flashcard? These are my Kryptonite.
Life with kids is a never-ending obstacle course through the random stuff they’ve left on the floor. That wayward shoe my one-way ticket to Faceplant City. The walk from the kids’ bedroom door to the bed means dodging the pile of Legos, skirting around the pile of books, and hugging the wall to avoid the Pokémon cards, only to be brought down by the backpack strap that was hiding under the bed.
Oh, and that “non-slip” flooring they love to put in hospitals and schools because it’s so easy to clean? I’ve fallen there more times than I can count.
Fortunately, I don’t usually get hurt, beyond the occasional skinned knee and the ever-present bruise to my knee and ego. Sometimes I even find the missing remote or my lost earring under the couch. Some days I walk away with tears in my eyes because I had been feeling confident and whoosh. Some days I don’t even spill my coffee. Most of the time, it’s OK. It’s part of the whole “walking with CP” gig.
If you have a #friendwhofalls, here are a few ways to make life a little easier on them. First, to help avoid falling:
- Adjust your pace. If they’re working harder to keep up with you, they’re more likely to fall.
- Solid objects are often easier to deal with than people. Trying to be perfectly in step with someone so you can walk together is often harder than say, a walking stick, a stroller, or a handrail.
- Keep tripping hazards out of their path. Looking at you, recently discarded shoes.
- Beware of stairs, steps, curbs, flooring changes, slight changes in elevation, etc.
- Let them lead when it comes to footwear. Realize that your no-shoes house rule may not be a good fit for them. On the flip side, they may feel steadier if they’re barefoot, so don’t make it weird. And if you’re in a shoe-matching situation (like a wedding), discuss preferences for color and let the rest go. It’s damn near impossible to find dress shoes I can walk comfortably in. Ditto for your ableist heels-at-work thing.
And when the inevitable minor fall happens:
- First, check if they’re OK. Just one person asking in a matter-of-fact tone does the trick. If they say yes, believe them.
- Deal with any urgent issues. Are they flashing an entire room? Did they attract 17 bystanders? Fix that stuff.
- Let them direct how and when they get up. Their body may not be quite ready for the struggle of getting up right away. I have a super inelegant push myself off the floor that works, and is 10x times easier than trying to plant my feet and be yanked up. Others may need a hand. Some people just need a minute.
- Get their stuff. The bigger the fall, the bigger the radius of dropped stuff. Here’s your iPhone, your keys, and the 7 lip-glosses that just fell out of your purse.
- Let them save face. Having a bunch of people make a really big deal out of a minor fall can be pretty embarrassing. Sometimes I crack a joke, sometimes they crack a joke, sometimes I let my vulnerability show, and sometimes we blow the whole thing off.
- Avoid saying the following: Don’t do that again! (I would if I could, buddy).
For a lot of us, minor falls are part of our experience with disability, and it doesn’t have to be something to fuss over. With a little consideration, we can get through life most days relatively unscathed.
OOF! Brought down by the dog toy. Guess I’m finishing this coffee from the floor.