I was able to pass as non-disabled (not abled – for reasons explained here) for the first 20 or so years of my life.
While I say that, I walked with a noticeable gait through my childhood and teenage years, and being outed as disabled by a Gym teacher gave me the experience of feeling marginalised and being subjected to constant ableist abuse at an early age. Thanks Mr Kelly!
I was only able to stop this abuse by standing up to the one guy who was the source of the bullying. It wasn’t a grand gesture filled with quips and the trading of blows in the playground whilst my peers chanted Fight Fight! Fight!
It was one punch, and silence, followed by the understanding that I was not going to put up with this shit any more. I’m not saying violence is the solution, this action resolved my situation but I was fortunate there was no retaliation to make things worse.
I’ve gone through a somewhat postmodern evolution of man. From walking unaided to walking with a cane to requiring the use of a wheelchair.
I’m an ambulant wheelchair user – a concept that people seem to struggle with for some damn reason. As though the moment my arse touched the chair I renounced my right to walk.
This is no more apparent than when I’m in the supermarket and need to retrieve an item that’s higher than chest height. I put on my breaks, stabilise myself with the chair, stand up, collect what I need, and sit back down.
And feel the eyes.
We’ve all had that, you know, that sensation that you’re being watched where you physically feel the glare of others bearing down on you.
As though they’ve witnessed a faith healer at work in the baked goods section, like the meal deal I’ve eaten on my way around the supermarket consisted of a sweet chilli wrap, a pack of communion wafers and the blood of Christ in a Ribena bottle.
Then you wonder, what are they actually thinking? This guy’s at it? This guy isn’t disabled? Why’s he in a wheelchair if he can walk? All possible.
Wheeling around past anyone who hasn’t seen THE MIRACLE, I find I get a fair bit of sympathy. Usually in the form of OH MY GOD I’M SO SORRY, when someone walks in front of me, like they put me in the chair.
It also comes with regular offers of assistance – which I appreciate and reject politely, because you never know when you might actually need help, and I’d much rather not inconvenience myself if that day comes.
In that same supermarket on another day, when I’m feeling a little more mobile, I use my walking stick and nobody gives a shit. So we can establish that wheelchairs get more sympathy than walking sticks.
What about days where I attempt the trip without the stick? Also known as days when I’m being stupid, because I actually do need the thing to walk!
My limp is apparent, I’m unstable on my feet, and people do stare. I’m not sure if it’s out of pity for the fact I’m struggling, or out of the assumption that I’m abusing substances and have somehow done this to myself.
People also speak to me differently depending on the mobility aid I’m using.
When I’m in the wheelchair, people are either cool or speak to me like I’m a child, patronising as hell as they ask about my about my plans for the day, because it must be nice for me to be out.
This is no more visible than when I visit the hospital for my annual check ups and I meet THE RECEPTIONIST who speaks to me in her sing-song voice. practically placing her hands on her thighs to crane over me and ask, “And what will you be doing after this?“
“I’ll be going back to work, because I need to work this bloody time back, so I can pay my mortgage and feed my family! Despite what Channel 5 would have you believe, we do have jobs, bills and shit to do.”
At least, that’s what I want to say, but I’m too polite.
This post is far from an exposé, simply an observation. BMD is a weird condition, with a gradual loss of ability and days that are inconsistent to say the least.
You know what would make this easier though? Being treated the same, regardless of what mobility aid I’m using that day, or the social situation in which you encounter me.