You can’t miss me. My physical disability is obvious. You may not know the reason, but it is impossible to miss the big, black mass in which I am seated. Not alone in this world of having to navigate barriers of all kinds, I have a few friends who also roll around in chairs, and I know a few more who use rollers or canes. When in public, we are challenged by stairs, gates, and doors. If you are not physically challenged, you would be amazed at how many times we cannot go forward without asking for help. Many times, we need the assistance of an able-bodied person to help us manage our environment.
Not all physical disabilities are readily apparent. In addition to those using wheelchairs, rollers, and canes, there is another group. All around us are people who struggle every day with depression, anorexia, or autism. They, too, need help to manage their daily lives. It may not be a door that bars their way, but they encounter barriers to freedom.
Sadly, I have discovered a third group whose disabilities are more severe than either of the two mentioned above. Their illness is hidden and apparent. They are concerned only with themselves. With all the physical and emotional strive that is a constant companion for the other two groups, this third group is the most challenging to encounter.
Recently, some friends invited my husband and me out to dinner. Even though it was a Tuesday night, everyone was out enjoying the warm weather. Greeting us warmly, the hostess led us to our table, in the middle of the room. Uggh. In order for me to get to our table, we had to ask other patrons to get up, move their chair, and let me through. Person after person rose, some congenially and some unpleasantly. This is not uncommon. By the time I arrived at the table, multiple apologies had been extended on my behalf. Because I was sensitive to their reactions, I felt obligated to apologize that I was in a wheelchair and that they were inconvenienced.
Today, many people are aggravated. Period. I think that they live aggravated lives. I am sure you have come across these barely-sociable characters. They are the ones that push their way through, demand to be taken care of first, and are unsympathetic to the needs of others. Because there is no way I can avoid making my requests, I encounter a plethora of angry people. I watch them. Sometimes, they verbally complain about having to accommodate me. Most of the time, they use their bodies to communicate clearly their annoyance. Since my physical disability trumps their needs, they are forced to comply with my request.
In recent years, teenagers have been given the opportunity to care for a mechanical baby. It is a tool to educate our young people about responsibility. I would love it if there were a program where adults were required to manage life in a wheelchair for a day. How would they handle all the barriers that the mobility-challenged face every day? Maybe then they would discover how difficult it is to ask someone to move, or open a door, or fetch something out of reach.
We have all probably felt unsympathetic to another’s plight. Nevertheless, it does not
excuse the behavior. If we do not make every effort to change our thoughts, to take them captive, we will continue a downward slope to inhumanity. Living with a disability or engaging with someone who has a physical disability gives us the chance to learn empathy, sympathy, and patience. As we encounter the socially-disabled individual, our response may not change them, but it can change us.
Are you disabled? I may be physically disabled, but I am determined to live in a continued state of deepening faith and love. First, by living a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control); and, second, by learning to love everyone with whom I engage.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22)
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44)
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18)
2 thoughts on “Who Is Disabled?”
I am disabled and found what you disclosed to be shocking. In over 15 years now as wheelchair user I have never encountered this type of behaviour personally, and I am the type who would in fact revel in it should it occur (I am sure it will at some point given the odds) and as you say, humanity daily seems more and more to be less of an obvious thing, I am bound to – or at least to my face?
I say revel because I would be sure to remind those inconsequential people what it is to be unimpaired, surely they too have lost that along the way, and how to act outside of this modern world’s scope and intolerances that are soaked up considerably today. But maybe not – I am in a better place and wouldn’t actually care, but feel sorry for them, they are surely in a worse place by just being themselves.
I have been quite honest with myself amid the not inconsiderate doom I have had to deal with and just lately, being able to, I am seeing more light now through my self imposed fog – I am finally dealing with it after all this time and not shelving the issues and being miserable going through the motions of it and being depressed by it…day to day as if it wasn’t happening to me. I would pile up all my positives but was told not to do that, or we could all be cured…I still do, it is what works for me and I have a lot compared to some people, and I dwell on those people, which also works.
I am making strides and have accomplished more things from this perspective and as a wheelchair user than previously in my life albeit more on a cerebral front perhaps – but to be fair I have also had some wonderful experiences physically too. It has been and it is hard and it is the journey of coming to terms with it which has been my biggest battle – even though each day is fraught – I am still me.
To return to the strains of attitudes to the point of physically feeling like your something stuck on their shoe, again disgraceful, but we are what we are sadly a lot of the time. If I am honest I love it when I am in similar situation and surrounds, and people generally have been and are lovely – opening doors for my husband who pushes me when outside the home, and tables at restaurants and avoiding my feet in theatres when they have to narrowly squeeze past, stuff like that and idle chatter.
All of that gives this balance a wee bit, and I feel special, and I feel that way with my husband like I am on this island, a mermaid not in a chair. I changed from electric to manual to feel not so much like a Mars rover explorer, that it would somehow lessen the impact of it all and it might make it seem less of a visible thing to a degree9or disappear), and practically because it would possibly maintain what I had to use in terms of strength – hard, but I couldn’t go back.
So, those positives on my ever growing list coupled with there are worse things still like those people and their attitudes. Here in the UK attitudes are more of awareness, I don’t think on the whole being unsympathetic has been much of an issue a vast percentage of the time, and ever since (by law) disability has become the focus in recent decades and not just environmentally where we have the same rights now from loos (restrooms) to buses and doors etc.
I apologise for this in terms of endurance, but if you get here, then thank you and I wanted also to say hi!
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My first reaction was shock that you have not encountered the self-absorbed behavior. You are blessed. My second reaction was to chuckle at the image of you enlightening the “inconsequential people.” Third reaction: I love the imagery in which you talk about feeling special and being a mermaid. The entirety of your comment was honest and hopeful. Also, I do hope that in the US, we will become more aware of the needs of others. Lastly, “Hi. Glad to meet you.”
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