When I was a kid, I had a whole list of things I was sure I wouldn’t have to deal with when I was FINALLY a grown-up. Little did I realize, becoming a grown-up didn’t mean you could make your problems go away, and sometimes, adults act just as badly as children.
Among this list of problems was the issue of discrimination. I’m not talking about open discrimination that says you can’t play on the baseball team or work for our company because you’re handicapped. I’m talking about the kind of discrimination that there are no laws against. The kind that we think doesn’t exist anymore. The kind that we tell ourselves we would never take part in.
Imagine this: I’m 10 years old and in 5th grade. I recently decided to stop spending time with the new girl from Florida that had befriended me. After chasing her and her new group around the schoolyard because they said they were running from ‘the weird kid’, and trying to convince them to stop, I finally figured out that ‘the weird kid’ was me.
Not wanting to spend recess embarrassed, walking around alone, I decided to befriend a new group of kids. Some girls from my class were sitting in a circle under a tree. I decided to see what they were up to. A few of them glanced at me as I drew near, making worried expressions. Adrienne* walked over to me.
“Tiffany* wants to know what you want.”
“I just wanted to come sit with you guys”
Adrienne runs back to the group, relays the message, and comes back.
“Tiffany said no.”
“Why not?” Thinking: Seriously? They’re sending a messenger before I get too close? Like I’m contagious?
Adrienne relays the question and comes back
“Um, I’m really sorry, but she says it’s because you’re too fat.”
“Well, no offense Adrienne, but, um, you’re bigger than I am, and she’s letting you sit with them.”
“Well really it’s because of the way you walk.”
“I gotta go.”
*Names were changed. If my blog ever goes viral, I don’t want to be sued for slander.
That is a true story. I don’t remember really feeling like people saw me differently because of my disability until 4th grade, when Tiffany was in my class. She was the first one to ever really be mean simply because I walked funny. Unfortunately, Tiffany was also in my 5th grade class, and she spread her disdain to other girls in the class. Tiffany did not attend my middle school, but it had plenty of its own girls that would treat me as a lower class.
So, since then, when I meet new people, I have always wondered if they will view me differently because I am disabled. It definitely affects my confidence. And I always thought “Well at least when I’m a grown-up, people won’t treat me differently, because they will know better. And kids will just respect me because I’m a grown-up.
I have found that that is not necessarily true. People still treat me differently. Recently, I went to a party. The only person I knew at the party was the person who invited me. Originally, I wasn’t going to go. I knew I wouldn’t know anyone else there, and I would sit there, bored and alone. But I didn’t want to make that person feel bad, and I thought, just maybe, it would turn out to be a good time.
When I arrived, we chatted for a minute, and then she went to socialize with other people. I sat awkwardly alone for a while, while everyone else was talking and laughing and having a good time. I thought “This is stupid. I’m in a room full of people, and I’m the only one sitting alone.” So I went to the table next to me and said hello, trying to make conversation. Big mistake. One of them responded, while the other two just glared with irritation. After a few sentences, we had pretty much run out of things to say. So I started on a different subject. One of the girls answered the question I asked, and then all of them turned around and started talking about something else. I decided that was my cue to leave, so I thanked the host and left.
These women were at least 30 years old. Too old to be holding on to cliques. And I could be wrong about them not including me because of my disability, but I don’t think so. I have seen it too many times. Too many times have I struggled to prove that I am ‘a normal person’ in order to be included. This is only one example, but there are many more.
I believe that everyone is equal. No matter what your job title or salary. No matter where you come from or your family background. No matter if you’re the President or a drive thru cashier. No matter your abilities or inabilities. No one person is better than another. And you know, God is no respecter of persons. But we, in order to make ourselves feel important, count ourselves better than other people.
Another side to this is when people over-compensate. I’ve noticed that when I go to the store in a wheelchair, a lot of people treat me as a small child. They smile at me like I’m cute and call me sweetie. I prefer this over acting like I have leprosy, but I would really rather be treated like any other adult.
I want to live in a world where it’s not weird to say hello. Where people don’t think talking to me is social suicide because my knees are turned in or I’m in a wheelchair. I don’t want to worry that maybe someday my kids will be excluded because their mom walks funny and wears braces.
In this case, I don’t want my disability to change, I want the world’s view on people with disabilities to change. I would love to see a day when whether or not you can walk is as unimportant as the color of your hair.
Recently, a fellow blogger wrote a beautiful post, asking her little brother’s potential teacher if she would be able to see past his disability. Be able to see him for the beautiful person that she knew him to be. Read the full post here
I’m not writing this post to get sympathy or throw a fit. I’m writing this post as a challenge to all of us. A challenge to treat people as you would want to be treated. To see people in wheelchairs or with walkers just as you would see them if they could walk like anybody else. To recognize that people who walk differently or talk differently or have Down’s syndrome or autism are regular people on the inside, even if they appear differently on the outside. Even take it one step further and realize that someday, it could be you in that wheelchair. If it was you, would you want people to treat you differently than they do now?
So I challenge you to take a stand for equality. To decide that no matter what your friends think, you will be all-inclusive. Because equality is there whether we choose to recognize it or not.