Aren’t We All Human First?
You know what is the number one question people ask me about living with a disability? Well after they get over the fact that I do have one…They sidle up to me, lower their voices, and conspiratorially whisper, “So how do you use the uhm…bathroom?”
And me being me, I lean in and whisper back to them, “Just like you. I get in do what I have to do and get out.”
There is something about being different that makes the general public assume that I am quite possibly not human, but at least two-thirds alien, and maybe three-tenths moron. At a point in my life, these things would have upset me, but now, after more than ten years, and having lived in a society where my wheelchair is as significant as a grocery cart, I would like to think I have matured beyond letting ignorance affect me.
But this works…until I transfer out of the car…
You would think that by now I would remember that whenever I leave the house there will be people who stare, but until it happens, I forget. How could I forget something that is stuck to my…erm…tailbone? Well because to me and the rest of my inner circle, I’m just me. The chair is just what it is, a tool that helps
me get from point A to point B, nothing more and nothing less.
It has taken many years and a lot of love and acceptance both from within and without for me to get to that place where I see it as just a tool, and not the end of all happiness and existence as I knew it…because initially as a teenager that is what it was.
Thankfully, though, just when the sadness and self-pity was about to overwhelm my senses, my family reminded me that there was much more to me than my legs, and that, in fact, what I should focus on was all the things I could do.
You know…like chores, homework, and, of course, getting a degree.
Talk about putting life in perspective. “You can go be sad after you finish your schoolwork and clean the kitchen,” my mom would say.
Of course, at the time, it felt like the most unfair thing ever, but in the middle of my teen angst, what I could not see was the self confidence those actions built in me.
To be in school pursuing my academic goals showed me that there were still playing fields where my legs did not matter, only the abilities I still had full use of were important. Those things helped push me from feeling less than human to being a goal-oriented, ambitious woman who could still achieve all that she
…there should be a stronger push on helping people find what their points of excellence are…
And while I do not think words written on paper, and passed in Parliament can truly change people’s hearts and way of thinking, it is not a bad start.
What makes me different is obvious. You can take one look, and see my chair. For others, though, their ‘different’ may be well hidden, or camouflaged for safety. The sad thing is that when you are forced to hide who you are, it damages pieces of your soul. It eats away at your wholeness, and you become a lot less than you should be, which then snowballs into endless deviant behaviour that hurts not just the individual, but everyone around him or her.
Clearly, I am giving a non-scientific, fairly simplistic view of such things, but think about it. How would you feel living in a world where you had to starve pieces of your being to fit in, to feel safe, to belong?
It would suck. Right? Kind of like when that guy I had a HUGE crush on came and asked me for advice about how to catch my friend’s eye, and I had to squelch that sharp, nasty pain throbbing through my heart at that instant, and smile and give him advice about another woman. Except the pain of living with
squishing down piece of yourself every single day of your life has to be many times worse, surely.
I could sit here, and write about my life experiences, and the process I’ve experienced to get to the point where, even when someone sees me as less than, I can smile knowing that their attitude is their shortcoming – not mine. But not everyone has had the people and strength-building life experiences I have had.
So, instead, they suffer in silence, and live with an endless agony of how different they are.
That, to me, is not just societal tragedy, but a silent death sentence. In effect, we all are making a silent pact with each other in order to avoid uncomfortable change. The thing about uncomfortable change, though, is that it usually leads to peaceful, happy coexistence and cool stuff like, the end of apartheid, and the
existence of wheelchair ramps.
The current shouting match taking place with respect to the Equal Opportunities Bill, and what elements will be included in it, inspired this piece of writing.
From the demeaning words, and vile thoughts spewing across the newspapers and Internet, I thought it was time we all remember that even though someone may be different, it does not make them less human, or less deserving of the things we all want to enjoy in our life.
Trinidad and Tobago is a very small, twin-island republic, yet we have managed to learn to live together despite differences in race and religion, which have both been the causes of genocides around the world. To my mind, having overcome those, we should be leading the way in accepting, and providing
equal rights for all in our society – not just some.
But then I could be wrong, especially since non-disabled people still park in disabled-designated spots, and since anyone ‘different’ in our culture can be openly ridiculed and scorned, while we all stand idly by, and forget, that despite their differences, they are human beings first.
Image via brownmusic.co.uk