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When I Overheard a Stranger Say 'Let's Pretend I'm Disabled'

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To the woman next to me in line,

First, I want to apologize to you, only a little bit, for my mother bluntly asking you if you had been rude to me. She saw my face of shock and anger, so “Mama Bear” came out. No, you weren’t rude to me directly. In fact you didn’t say a word to me, but what you said to your husband has bugged me all day.

As I stood outside the disabled-accessible restroom waiting for my mum to come out in her wheelchair, I looked around me and felt happy. I felt lucky to live in a country where people would willingly wait for 30 minutes to use the toilets instead of sneaking into the empty disabled cubicle. With all the awful things in the world, it felt nice to know that some people are respectful. Then you came along.

I saw you make your way through the very long line to the ladies’ toilet and stand next to the disabled cubicle by me. I smiled at you as I waited for my mum to come out, and you smiled back. As someone who knows first hand the effects of invisible disabilities, I am the last person to judge someone who may “look” healthy. For all I knew you had every right to be using that toilet. It’s not my place to judge at all. In fact it  hadn’t even slightly crossed my mind that you weren’t someone with a disability, and quite frankly it was none of my business. If you had kept your mouth closed, I would never have known.

But then you said it. As you stood by the door you told your husband, “Stand next to me and let’s pretend I’m disabled.” My heart skipped a beat, and I could feel my face going red. What kind of person stands outside a disabled toilet and jokes about pretending to have a disability? Just to skip a line? Maybe you thought that’s what I was doing. I don’t care.

I wanted to say something to you, but I couldn’t believe what I had heard. I know people pretend all the time; I know in the scheme of things it’s trivial, but really, what kind of person has the audacity to joke about it out loud? In earshot of actual people with disabilities! Were you trying to mock them? Like “Oh look at me, I’m able-bodied and you’re not, but I’m going to use your condition to my advantage?” Because that’s what it seemed like to me.

If you’d said nothing, I wouldn’t be writing this. I don’t care what you look like; disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. But come on, you’re an adult. Learn to respect people.

I feel a little bad for saying this, but I hope you felt ashamed when my mum came out in  her wheelchair and I walked away with her. I hope you felt embarrassed for what you said. And I’m glad my mum confronted you. I know she  was a little confused as to why she was doing it, but yes, you were rude. Not to my face, but you were.

You should feel lucky to not need to use the disabled bathroom, lucky that you can stop “being disabled” anytime it suits you. Some people don’t have that luxury.

Follow this journey on The Mind Escape.

Originally published: August 8, 2016
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