Despite the efforts of many disability advocates and organizations over the years, there remains persistent and very stubborn misconceptions about the nature of disabilities and those of us that live with them. Try as we might persons with disabilities (pwd) are fighting a seemingly never ending battle of education versus ignorant public perception/attitudes. It’s an uphill battle. While most of us have grown used to the inconveniences of disabled life and shortcomings of modern technology to eradicate the necessity of adaptive devices and medications that a lot of us depend on, none of us should ever get used to the disrespect sometimes dished on us by our able bodied counterparts.
Most often this disrespect is not intentional. Most people are unaware of the harm that they’re doing because there is none intended. And then there are those that are acutely aware of their actions but are unconcerned about the resultant harm they do. Nevertheless we must be ever vigilant in our efforts to educate the populace about how we want and expect to be treated. It is with this in mind that I have taken time create the following article. Some of the things on this list may seem trivial but I assure you that to those of us who have been on the receiving end of such acts they are not.
1. Never Grab My Wheelchair From Behind- Okay, so there’s something you forgot to tell me and you want to catch me before I wheel off. Or, maybe we were having a heated argument that I decided to “walk” away from and you decided that I had to stay because you weren’t done talking. No matter the reason, please refrain from impeding my progress by grabbing my wheelchair from behind. Just as attempting to stop an SUV by grabbing it’s bumper is a risky proposition for you, grabbing my chair from behind puts me at risk of tipping backwards and sustaining serious injuries. So don’t do it.
2. Don’t Assume That I’m Obligated To Satisfy Your Curiosity- Simply put; just because you ask doesn’t mean that I have to tell you. Now, for those of us that are a decade or so post injury, recounting the life changing events that led to our subsequent disability may cause less of an emotional episode than for some newbies. But please bear in mind that sustaining a disability is a traumatic and severely, life altering event that invariably changes not only your body but summarily transmogrifies every relationship in your life, be they personal, social or environmental. It may be difficult for some to recall the events leading to their disability without becoming very emotional and even crying. Who wants to be thrust into a sobbing session in the presence of complete strangers? Who wants to relive the most tragic events of their lives everyday simply to satisfy the curiosity of a complete stranger? So next time you ask a disabled person…”can I ask what happened to you?”, don’t get angry if the answer is a polite no you may not.
3. Don’t Pinch Me To See If I Can Feel- Yes, it happens. I remember shortly after my injury, while attending college, I was sitting in the window right outside of the office that house the disabled students organization at my university. I could see a group of girls sitting together at the table nearby and could overhear faint whispers of their conversation. When I glanced over at them I could tell that I was at least partially the importance of their discussion but paid it no mind. Eventually one of them walked out of the room over to me and introduced herself. She then pinched my thigh and asked with a seemingly devilish grin; “can you feel that?” I was astounded! It was a violation which I was not prepared for at the time but one which I would eventually find myself fighting off several times more over the years.
4. Don’t Make Me Your Coat Rack- Sitting in a wheelchair doesn’t make me furniture. This just happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves. It happens at least three times weekly. Someone who’s company I’m sharing decides that my lap is a great resting place for something that they are tired of carrying. It’s usually an article of clothing like a coat, jacket or sweater which has grown to uncomfortable for them to wear any longer. Please try to remember that though I completely understand, I’m not a coat rack.
5. Don’t Ask Me How I Pee- It’s none of your business how I or anyone else for that matter evacuates their bladder. Ask yourself, why does this intrigue me? There are those that have gone so far as to follow me into a public restroom hoping to catch a glance of bladder expulsion. STOP IT!!! And stop using your kids to ask us the same question because you’re too afraid to. The answer will be the same for them. It’s NONE of your business! So, stop it for all of you restroom, recon guerrillas.