Sometimes I get the feeling that everybody is staring at me. Not because I’m in a wheelchair, and not because my hair is brighter than some car headlights. They stare because they’re surprised – they’re surprised to see a woman in a wheelchair who doesn’t fit the typical “wheelchair person” mold, and they do a double take.
Someone in a wheelchair should be pitiable, helpless, unable to “truly” live fully, but when they see me whiz by, or especially once they get to know me, the people who’ve NEVER known someone with a disability, and if asked – would probably say our lives could never be fulfilling – find an overwhelming blanket of confusion settle in. Crippled yet accomplished…and possibly enviable? Brain does not compute.
I’m definitely not someone to feel sorry for upon second look, and its confusing to the masses who know nothing of disability when the two worlds of a) pitiful stereotypes and b) envy collide. I don’t mean to challenge preconceived notions or be a rebel, but my mere existence has made many an old lady and ignorant person squirm. I need to be myself, but I also don’t mean to be the slayer of stereotypes. I just am. Alas, these inexperienced folks just don’t have a box to put me in.
And most people with disabilities are put in a box they don’t really belong in: The Disability box. We’re never put in a box pertaining to actual traits in our personality, and this is one of the worst injustices when you have a disability. So when myself – who’s first a writer, an adoring girlfriend, an obsessed hip-hop fan, a fabulous aunt, a fashionista – way before her disability, puts a crack in the box just by stepping out of my house, all I can say is one thing: Get over it.
Why yes, I stay out till 4am drinking martinis and wear sparkly dresses. I eat brie on crackers and love champagne. I have a pink laptop and go to yoga every week. So when a new acquaintance said, “Wow Tiff. People would be surprised you live so well,” I realized just how far in left field people put us, thinking our lives are sad simply because we’re disabled, before we get the chance to prove them otherwise.
You can’t stop people from jumping to assumptions and throwing their old school stereotypes on you. At the end of the day you just need to live your life without care of what anyone thinks. I do know one thing though, it doesn’t matter how fabulous I look or what position I hold, the little old ladies of the world will always (and only) see the wheelchair. But since they bring joy and cookies into the world, I’ll let them slide.
How do you overcome stereotypes? Do you surprise people breaking the typical “wheelchair person” mold?