“What is her birthday?” The woman working at the bank asked my mom right in front of me.
“What is her dog’s name?” The man on the street asked my boyfriend right in front of me.
“Would she like to check out with you?” The man working the cash register at TJ Maxx asked my mom right in front of me.
On July 11th, 2017 I was in a hammock when a chimney collapsed on me. This left me with a C5/C6 spinal cord injury. This is and continues to be the hardest challenge I have ever faced in my entire life. However, it is shaping me into the person that I am today and I have learned so much in such a short amount of time. I could write all about my accident and the things I’ve been through, but I wanted to focus on something more important. I wanted to focus on how most people treat you once you’re in a wheelchair.
When I first left Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and finally went home, I left in a power chair with a headrest. Now, this is important, because people treat you much differently when you have your headrest on and when you do not. Anywhere that I went in my power chair, people were constantly staring at me. This didn’t really bother me as I was aware that I stuck out. What bothered me was people that looked right through me. It was the people that acted as if I was invisible. People would go out of their way to talk to who I was with but ignore me completely. It’s possible that they may have felt uncomfortable, but this was and is a very hurtful thing to do. Six months after being home I went back to college to finish my senior year. I was finally strong enough to remove the headrest from my chair. I noticed that when I did this that more people talked to me. It wasn’t only people that I knew, it was even strangers. It was a weird and very noticeable change.
Fast forward two years. Now I am in a manual wheelchair. I do not notice people staring at me anymore. My friends tell me that people still stare, but maybe I just don’t notice it as much because I am not as tall in my manual chair so I don’t really see people at eye level. What is important is that I noticed that people were treating me more like a person. They talked to me like they did when I was an able body. Now, people go out of their way to say hi and make conversation. I don’t feel invisible anymore. Why is this the case?
People that I know or people that work in the medical field will constantly say “Wow, you look so great in that manual chair!” I do take this as a compliment but why does society believe that people look better in a manual chair versus a power chair? In many cases, it is easier and more comfortable to be in a power chair. But it is truly not worth the way that you are treated. However, this is not the reason that I use a manual chair. I use a manual chair because I do not have a vehicle with a ramp and I need to be able to get into a regular car and my manual chair comes apart. Power chairs are 400 to 500 pounds. As hurtful as it may be, I would not let society choose which mobility device I use.
In retrospect, before I was in a wheelchair, I never noticed power chairs or manual chairs. I hate admitting this, but it’s true. I’m not sure if I would have treated someone different based on which kind of chair they were in. Society needs to understand that it is a misconception that all wheelchair users have mental impairments. It is true that some do, however, many do not. You cannot judge someone by what kind of wheelchair or mobility device they are using.
A person should not have to explain their values. My wheelchair does not dictate my personality, my beliefs, or my life in general. My wheelchair does not define me. This is what is so wrong about stereotyping, especially towards those with disabilities. The devaluing of a human happens before we even speak. We can become our stereotype. Instead, see US before you see the wheelchair.
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