If I never wrote another blog and shared another article on this page, I would be happy the last would be this one. As I was getting ready to doze off to sleep, I came upon this article via my Facebook News Feed. Julia, even as someone who was just temporarily disabled, had the most profoundly accurate experience and understanding of what it’s like not just to be disabled, but to be disabled in the way I am. To not be in a wheelchair or use a cane or crutches. This particular paragraph summed up just about my entire experience with various able-bodied people (not all, just some) in my life to a tee:
Like most able-bodied people, I didn’t think about my privilege a great deal before it was taken from me. I’ve passive-aggressively lapped slow walkers more times than I can count. I’ve overlooked the existence of invisible disabilities, assuming that all people with physical disabilities needed a wheelchair or crutches to get around. I have definitely called a person with a disability “inspiring” for no other reason than that they had a disability, and I’ve rolled my eyes when a person took the elevator only one floor.
This list of course doesn’t include the slew of ridiculous comments people have made when they see me walk or limp, the glares or knocks on my car window that I get when I park in a handicapped spot, or the times when those people who passive-aggressively walk past or around you (including cutting in front of you in the airport security line) then turn around and stare at you as you limp behind them. But I was so unbelievably excited to read that a complete stranger just totally got it. Someone who wasn’t even born with a disability and only experienced what it was like to have one for a short time.
I can admittedly be judgmental and harsh myself, even as someone with MD who should know better. When I see someone in a giant SUV or truck parked in a handicapped spot, I wonder how in the world they could possibly be disabled yet get into such a big and high-off-the-ground car. When I go places (especially in Southern California) and see everyone with their running gear or yoga pants on after a morning workout, I get irritated because I assume those people have never even thought that there might be people in the world who can’t do what they do so easily every day. Of course I don’t know a thing about these people and I’m judging them on appearance just as I’ve been judged which is completely unfair. I’m sure in reality many of them are very aware that disabled people exist or may even have a family member or friend who is.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of things that some able-bodied people just don’t think about. At work for example, we have a bathroom on our floor with two stalls. One is regular and one has the high toilet and handrail bar for someone disabled. The regular stall has a toilet that is low and therefore is extremely difficult for me to get off of so I always use the other stall. Unfortunately my able-bodied coworkers don’t often realize that’s what the stall is meant for, so a lot of them who don’t need to use it, so when I go in and that stall is taken, I’m forced to either go to another floor, wait, or risk going in the other stall. I explained this to a coworker one day and she admitted she had never even realized that’s what that stall was intended for or that it would be a problem for me to use the other stall. She thanked me for enlightening her on that.
I get it. When you don’t have something (aka a disability), it’s just not something that’s in your mindset. It’s not a personal thing most of the time. It’s usually just ignorance or a lack of awareness. Our culture is only just now starting to really expose people to the life of someone with a disability to begin with. And we’re all guilty of being self-focused sometimes, myself included. But what Julia explained in her blog is one of the main reasons I blog and share my story. Yes it’s therapeutic for me but more importantly, it helps to raise awareness of what people with MD and people who have a disability that doesn’t “look” like what most disabilities look like go through, even if it’s just on a minute level.
I thanked her via a comment on her post but I wanted to extend another thank you. For being so open about her own struggles and the missteps she might have made in judging people with disabilities before she was confronted with her own. I know it certainly opened my eyes too, even as a disabled person, to not judging other people just based on appearances. You never know what someone might be going through or what struggles they’ve had, even if it didn’t come in the form of a physical disability.