On Friday I had to go to the bank with my brother and mom. My mom was helping my brother get a credit card, and I just happened to be there because we had just got lunch. An employee took my peeps to his office while I hung out in the waiting area. Admittedly, I have a habit of going off on wild adventures in my head when I’m bored, and I can go very far away given enough time.
While I wasn’t on a wild mind quest this time, I was sort of staring into space and making patterns with the tiles on the floor. There was another man sitting in the waiting area, and another employee came over to help him with something. She took him to her office, but had to come back out to do something. When she noticed me, she asked my mother in the nearby office, “Is she with you?” The employee was standing right in front of me. I didn’t hear her, but my mom answered in the affirmative. Then the employee looked at me and said, “Just checking. Hi.” I said, “Hi,” and she walked off.
What I wanted to say, and what I should have said, is that when you see someone in a wheelchair, regardless of where they are or how odd it might appear they are acting, you don’t ask someone in another room if that person is “with them.” By doing so, you are making assumptions about a person you don’t know, you are being rude, and most importantly, you are stripping that person of a degree of dignity. It is exactly like seeing a dog and asking a person nearby if that dog is “with” them; if that animal belongs to them.
That employee was ignorant, and I can forgive ignorance. I want to make an attempt now to correct some of that ignorance. Only about fifteen percent of the world’s population has some form of disability. These range from anything from psychological to physical. Obviously physical disabilities are much more noticeable, and unfortunately, physical disabilities often do come with issues like Downs Syndrome. That means that people sometimes automatically assume that this is the case, and assume that people with physical disabilities will not be able to communicate with or understand them.
I want to touch on another issue, too, however. A huge mistake people often make is essentially doing one of two things to people with intellectual disabilities: things like Downs, Autism, etc. They either have a tendency to treat the vast majority of them as though they were less than human, or if someone with one of these issues does something that seems “normal,” they are turned into a hero. At worst, people with intellectual disabilities are often the victims of cruel humor. Though we preach that this is wrong, our society still accepts it because many assume that the people being mocked don’t know they are being mocked.
In any situation when interacting with someone with any kind of disability, start by assuming the best. Recognize that the person in front of you is firstly, a stranger whom you know nothing about, and secondly, they are likely capable of much more than you might assume. Understand, too, however, that every human being perceives the world in their own individual way. I, for example, do not like crowded areas because I am always sitting and I can get somewhat claustrophobic if I have many people standing around me. This is also due to the fact that I’m simply introverted. Another person in an almost identical situation as me might love crowds and large parties simply because they are extroverted.
Lastly, I have noticed from time to time, that disabilities can put people on edge. I can only attest to this from personal experience, and it happened more when I was younger. I think people were sometimes afraid that they would offend me if they said the wrong thing or asked the wrong question. Again, this is a subjective issue, but I am not offended by questions about my wheelchair, or my disabilities. I’m not offended when people point out that I’m “driving” badly, because sometimes I’m not paying attention, and I know I drive badly. Lastly, and this is particularly for parents: don’t pull your kids away when they’re curious about a wheelchair. It’s good for kids to be curious, and it’s good for someone like me to be able to assure them that I’m just a regular human trying to survive like everyone else. I would like to emphasize that. I am weird and quirky, but that’s because I’m a writer, not because I use a wheelchair.