I can do something most people can’t. I can be part of a magic trick. Many might think that is kind of cool, but I hate it. Well, that isn’t exactly accurate. I will paint a clearer picture. If Take my aversion to lima beans and black olives. and then throw in how I feel whenever anybody patronizes me and pats me on the head. Next multiply that by how many times I have been talked to in a loud, slow voice with people enunciating every syllable since my 21st birthday, you might get an inkling of about one percent of the rage I experience when the phenomenon I am about to describe takes place.
There are no special lights or smoke to add to the drama. No, nobody can saw me in half. I can’t even pull a rabbit out of a hat. I am talking about a magic trick of a different kind.
It doesn’t happen all the time, just more often than I would like. The settings vary, although I am getting better at predicting where the most likely places are. Airports and hospitals are notorious. Retail stores and banks are a pretty safe bet. Restaurants are hit or miss.
Since I don’t drive, whenever I go out in public I have somebody with me. That situation sets up the perfect scenario. If the people we interact with are uncomfortable around those with disabilities, sometimes they just start talking to my companion like I am not in the room.
“Can she stand at all or does she need an aisle chair to get on the plane?”
“How would she like her change back?
“When did her symptoms start?
“Do you need a children’s menu for her? That one is my personal favorite.
Maybe I should be used to it by now, but I am not. And because I work very hard at respecting myself, I don’t think I ever will be. When people ignore me and pretend I am not there, the hope that I have in my soul that I will one day truly be treated like an equal dies a bit. I feel like a puppy whose food is just out of reach. The world can widen all the doorways it wants, but as long as there are some people that can easily dismiss me all in a day’s work, society will never be the place I wish it was.
I know I am not the only one. A few weeks ago, while I was sitting in the hospital waiting for a routine test, I saw a volunteer go over to an older gentleman in a wheelchair, unlock his brakes and push him across the room without a word to him. When another patient came in and asked for directions to a particular doctor’s office, another volunteer called for an escort without asking the woman if that is what she wanted. The patient said she would ask someone else for directions and left the area.
About a month ago, I went to my gym and found out they had hired a new manager. He was quick to introduce himself to the two people I had with me. He kindly offered his assistance to them and said he was available for whatever they needed. That was after he knew that the two of them were there for the sole purpose of helping me to work out.
Half an hour later when I introduced myself and stuck out my hand, he couldn’t even look me in the eye. A certain sadness stayed with me for the rest of the day. It’s doubtful he gave the interaction a second thought. There are just some times when people treat my power like chewing gum. Something I don’t have to have so it won’t make a difference when they take it away. They are wrong.
I wonder how they would feel if the situation was reversed.
I am aware that because I have a disability my life will be different than the norm. I even understand that some people might be nervous around me because they have limited experience interacting with people with disabilities.
I can deal with that. That is why I want people to talk to me so that I can help put them at ease.
It is not okay for anyone to make me disappear.
The people who ignore me instead of empowering me take away my humanity. They send a message to me that the person I am interacting with doesn’t think I am smart enough or capable enough to let them know what I need. I have lots of education, but I don’t have a clue how to dispel that myth.
My voice is what can make me an equal. If someone can take the time ask me what I need, then they won’t be nervous and I won’t be angry. We can be two people having a conversation on common ground. Isn’t that what we both want?
I find it ironic that children treat me differently. In the eyes of some children, I am the only thing to focus on, no matter what else is going on. I have heard many small voices from across a crowded room say “Look mom! There is a lady in a wheelchair over there! What is wrong with her?”
I welcome that curiosity. Let me tell you why. If I can answer those questions in a way that makes sense, and prove to a child that disability is nothing to be afraid of, then it is more likely that they might grow up to be someone who treats me like I have always been there.
And that would be pure magic!