What does a disabled person look like, anyway?
All people in wheelchairs are disabled. Therefore all disabled people are in wheelchairs, right?
Well, the first statement is incorrect, for a start, but you can see how these things get started.
I know I don’t look like a cripple, but I am. It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I could call myself that, even though on several levels I still think that I’m just ill and I will get better.
I walk with a limp (sometimes it’s slight and sometimes it’s very pronounced), and I normally walk with a stick or sometimes with two crutches. I get some very strange looks when I pull out my folding walking stick and use it. Should someone who looks like I do need any assistance walking? Some of the looks can be down-right cruel and this really doesn’t help my self-esteem any.
And yet I can’t blame other people for looking at me in that way. I do it. My mum does it. Everyone does. Even the most left-wing, liberal amongst us will always glance at someone who does not fit our expectations. It’s built into our genetic code. However, persistent and deliberate discrimination is not. We have something that is supposed to be a civilisation in the developed world, although it often doesn’t feel like it if you are on the margins of society.
Discrimination on any grounds (race, religion, age, gender or physical or mental ability) should not be tolerated, never mind accepted. But I accept it. I am a young(ish) woman with some physical and mental limitations. I am a scientist who is probably virtually unemployable in her chosen field because I am not currently able to undertake lab or office work. I would have to work from home, but what employer would be willing to take on an inexperienced, part-time, home-worker?
I’m currently using the excuse of taking a year off to take care of my mum. But what happens when I’m still saying that in six months time?
I despise TV programmes that imply all disabled people need is some pluckiness and courage and they can do anything. I can’t abseil down a mountain. I can’t play wheelchair basketball. Nor do I want to be the jolly fat woman. I’m in pain and sometimes it shows on my face. On the other hand I refuse not to be happy sometimes, because my team has done well in the cricket or someone has praised something I’ve done.
Just because you can’t see my disability doesn’t mean that it’s not there. It’s doesn’t mean that as soon as I get home it all falls away and I can do anything a non-limited person can do.
This “thing” (for want of a better word) has been with me for 14 years, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon.
And there but for luck or divine intervention go all of us.