We Can Live The Good Life Too

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?

5 replies
  1. Tracy Todd
    Tracy Todd says:

    I’d be interested to know what you consider to be the “typical wheelchair person mold”?
    I have been a quadriplegic for 13 years now and I have yet to meet a pitiful, feeling-sorry-for-myself disabled person using a wheelchair as a means to get around. They are all awesome people. They are strong, courageous, humorous with a positive attitude and filled with the joys of life despite the challenges they face on a daily basis which are far more extreme than any other able-bodied human being.

  2. Tiffiny
    Tiffiny says:

    Hey Tracy!

    I was referring to what able-bodied people tend to think a “wheelchair person” is like, I don’t think a specific wheelchair person mold exists of course personally :) And if I had to assume what this supposed “mold” people put on us is, as a previously able-bodied person, people with stereotypes towards the disabled tend to sometimes think we are lonely and live boring lives…frustrating.

  3. Jenni Taylor
    Jenni Taylor says:

    I can definitely appreciate this post. I’ve been a quadriplegic for eight and a half years and nothing’s changed. I still get stares and double takes when I go out in public. I’ve blogged a few times about seeing people beyond their disabilities. It’s important that people don’t stereotype and put others in “a box” as you said.

    Personally, I think it’s fear of the unknown. I’m paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator, and it seems that curiosity takes over everything else in people’s minds. That’s why I do motivational speaking to elementary kids to teach them about people with disabilities are not to be afraid to ask questions.

  4. Tonia
    Tonia says:

    I am soooo happy that I read this! I am 37yrs old and like you adore my fashion. I always have and always will…oh, and I have MS& use a walker or wheelchair. I live in the tristate area of manhattan and refuse to give up my love of fashion, theater the city or shopping! Yet I am defiantly treated as less of a person because I use a wheelchair. I shouldn’t let that upset me but sometimes it really does.

  5. Colton Kenney
    Colton Kenney says:

    A post from someone who has never been, or never needed a wheelchair, I appreciate this post. I know that too many people do the “box thing” and it is almost humorous to me to see people be taken aback by something as simple as living life, just because someone is physically impaired. I am presenting a speech on stereotypes today, and I chose to refute the stereotypes of disabilities, so I hope you don’t mind that I use your post as a reference in my speech.

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