“What happened to you?” or “Why are you in a wheelchair?”
I don’t have enough fingers and toes put together to count the number of times strangers have randomly asked me “So what happened to you?”,”why are you in a wheelchair?” or variations of those dreaded questions over the past twenty years. Today, like every time it’s happened before, it irked me to my core.
So, to finally address my frustration with this invasive blunder, I want to explain my thoughts about it by starting with a clear cut answer: “NO!” “It’s not okay to ask!”
I am not my wheelchair.
First of all, I am not my wheelchair, just a regular person like anyone else, going about my daily business. See me, not my wheelchair. Talk to me like you would to any other person you meet for the first time because I promise I am no different. My wheelchair is simply a means for me to get from A to B.
My disability does not define me.
I have a disability, but I am not my disability. It doesn’t define me and as a person I am about much, much more. I am interested in so many things and there is so much about me that I would gladly talk about. However, when you approach me with a personal, medical question it seems like you are not really interested in me but rather my gory details.
It’s my story to tell – if and when I choose to.
I have a story much like everyone else. Not unlike others I choose to share my story if and when it pleases me. Most of all, I choose who I want to share my story with. I just don’t feel comfortable sharing it with complete strangers the very first time we meet. Get to know me a little bit better and we will probably get to that part of me anyway.
Kids are the exception to my rule.
I don’t include kids here and they are the exception to my rule. I have to exclude them since they are usually looking at me on my level, are really intrigued and ignorance usually still genuinely applies. It’s actually quite innocent and cute most of the time.
I truly don’t mind answering their questions as honestly, openly and directly as I can in the hope that they will learn something valuable from me. Perhaps they will even feel less uncomfortable around other disabled people than their adult counterparts.
It’s not just about ranting.
I want to be treated like anyone else. No better but definitely no worse. Approach me and chat to me like you would with anyone else. It really is not just about ranting and complaining about how invasive or even offensive people can be to me or “my kind”, because that’s part of life. Many people are rude, invasive and offensive in general! No, it’s about more than that. It’s about seeing and treating someone for who they are instead of how they get about or what’s “wrong” with them.
I am more than my wheelchair and I am more than my disability. I am a person with multiple facets and interests and I would love it if you could see and treat me that way.