I want to preface this post by saying that I know people with disabilities that use a wheelchair have an entirely additional set of circumstances and frustrations in the ways people interact or behave. What I speak to below is based only on my own personal experience.
When you’re living with a disability there are a lot of things that can happen regularly that most people wouldn’t think anything of, but have a bigger or more pronounced impact on us.
One of those things for me has been when people you’re with don’t walk with you or next to you, they walk way ahead of you or take off without you. I’ve had this happen pretty much my whole life. All the way through college, I would struggle and push myself too hard to try to catch up with everyone instead of asking them to slow down or just letting them walk ahead. These days I usually just let people walk ahead of me and I refuse to push myself and risk falling to keep up with anyone else, but it still can sting.
Even though I don’t think most people who do it mean it any harm, it’s kind of a metaphor for how people with disabilities are often treated. We’re an afterthought, if we’re even a thought. We’re often left behind (literally and in places like media, equal rights discussions, and legislation outside of the ADA). We’re often expected to just “keep up”, “deal with it”, or be a certain way instead of the world adapting to help us.
It’s always been a very personal thing for me when people don’t walk with me. It makes me feel like I’m the problem because I’m walking too slow. That there’s something wrong with me because I can’t keep up. It’s also a blaring reminder of how different I am and of my physical limitations.
There’s a lot of loneliness that comes with having something few other people have too and when people walk ahead of me without looking back or giving it a second thought, it can bring out that loneliness, especially if I’m in a crowded place. I feel like a kid again who lost their mom. I also get worried I’ll fall and everyone will be too far ahead to notice and come help me.
I 100% need to be better about being more vocal and saying “hey, can you slow down? It really hurts and bothers me when you just take off ahead of me”. I can’t always expect everyone else to know how I’m feeling inside. But also, if you happened to have a friend, family member, or significant other who has a physical disability, please do whatever you can to walk beside them. It’s ok if for that one day or one chunk of time you don’t go at your usual speedy pace. Making your friend feel seen and appreciated will make all the difference.