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My New Answer When Someone Asks 'What Happened to You?'

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I was at the grocery store recently, and someone asked a question I am quite familiar with, being that I have utilized mobility aids for all 22 years of my life: “What happened to you?” My response: “Oh, um… I was born early.”

While interacting with others, even strangers at the store, this simplified answer never sits well with me. The person continued: “Oh I see, so that’s why you use a chair… you’re still as beautiful as ever though. God Bless.” I then said, “Well, thank you. God bless you too. Have a nice day.”

I know the person meant well when they said, “You’re still as beautiful as ever.” But when people make comments like this, I wish they understood that mobility devices do not change someone’s appearance.  And I’ve come to realize that the question of “What happened?” does not deserve an answer focused on the negative. So when I only respond with, “I was born early,” I wish time and courage allowed for me to respond with the full truth: that I miraculously survived a complicated delivery, where almost every doctor doubted my survival, but my determined, faithful and hopeful mom refused to give up on me.

With that being said, I’ve also come to realize this question doesn’t even require an answer relating to my disability. Therefore, instead of putting the focus on it right away , I could first tell those who abruptly ask, “What happened?” that I recently started graduate school — and I’m working towards getting my degree in Rehabilitation Counseling to help give others hope and direction in their lives. Another answer could be, more simply, “I’ve had a tiring, but fulfilling day at work today, and I too am just buying my groceries.”

It can sometimes seem as though the only thing people want to know about me is why I use a power wheelchair. Curiosity is natural, and my chair can be something to notice. But it is just the way I’m used to living. I do not wish to deny my disability. However, I do wish for society as a whole to see me, and not just my power chair. There is so much more to a person than the way they navigate their surroundings.

I know positive changes in perceptions and attitudes can begin to take place with even the smallest interactions. So I hope the next time I am abruptly asked: “What happened to you?” I remember to take my own advice — even when I’m just buying my groceries.

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Originally published: October 23, 2017
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