Being a wheelchair user with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, means that I have a very visible disability. Consequently, I have encountered societies many preconceptions over the years, based solely on the fact that I have a disability. Joe public isn’t shy about voicing such assumptions, regardless of how stupid they are, as they believe them to be true.
I can’t even reassure you that the following misjudgements are those of children who through no fault of their own know no better. In fact I have found that the most narrow minded and ignorant ideas and interrogatives come from much older individuals.
Here are some examples of the preconceptions I have personally experienced throughout my 28 years.
– Because I am physically disabled I must therefore be mentally disabled too.
– I didn’t or couldn’t have attended mainstream school.
– I need to be spoken to very slowly and very loudly otherwise I simply won’t be able to understand basic verbal communication. Furthermore, some surmise I cannot speak at all.
– Because I have muscular dystrophy that must mean I cannot achieve the same milestones as everyone else such as learning to drive.
– I cannot work because I am physically disabled.
– Most assume that since I can’t walk now I never could. They’re often shocked to learn I could walk until I reached the age of ten.
– I am completely non-ambulant, yet frustratingly most in society seem to assume that despite the fact I use a powered wheelchair, I must be able to walk. This becomes most apparent when attempting to access public transport or when travelling. I may be faced with a few steps or a short walk to my seat on the plane or I might be asked to transfer out of my chair. When I tell them I can’t weight bear at all, I am met with an expression of complete confusion. ‘You can’t walk? Not at all? It’s really not far’. Yes still, even for you I’m afraid I cannot make an exception and drag myself across the floor since it’s not that far.
– As much as I laughed along to the Little Britain sketch of Lou and Andy, I feel it may be at least somewhat responsible for the common assumption that I along with all other wheelchair users conveniently jump up & run around maniacally when no one’s watching. Although admittedly I would if I could, sadly this is not the case.
– When you find accessible accommodation isn’t accessible at all – I’m still surprised by the lack of thought that goes into disabled accommodation. I once found myself unable to even make it through the door of my apparently accessible hotel room because the doors were so narrow. The manager’s response: ‘Oh, can’t you squeeze through?’
– I am rather petite, child sized in fact. However, I like to think I look a little older than twelve. But, at the age of 28, I am still regularly presented with the children’s menu.
– on multiple occasions I’ve been approached by strangers who tell me that I sinned in former life and my disability is my penance.
– Similarly, I must not believe in God and for this I am being punished.
– I’ve been told I need fixing.
– It doesn’t occur to people that I have the same needs and desires as everyone else.
– A misguided generalisation is that disabled people like myself are asexual and do not have romantic relationships.
– Being wheelchair bound, I clearly can’t have and don’t want children.
– Friends are too often mistaken for carers.
– I must know lots of others with my condition. Of course, makes total sense.
– I’m in a wheelchair therefore I must be taking lots of medication and cannot drink alcohol.
– I must be contagious.
– I don’t go out or have fun like my peers.
– I must be a loner or even a recluse.
Some of these are specific to my experiences whilst others I’m aware are unfortunately familiar to many with a disability.
It’s all too easy to express anger and frustration when presented with such ignorance. Believe me I have had exercise my patience in many instances. But I feel strongly that knowledge is power and so the best response to preconceptions about disability is to educate and raise awareness.
This is my first piece for Limitless Travel.