It was after a late night venting session to my best friend that I realized I have something I would like to tell people.
First, a quick back story is necessary: Six months ago I began my first job. I finally felt I’d stepped into the mystical world of adulthood. I had shifts and a bank account and tax returns.
It was all new and exciting and liberating. I knew my job would give me a newfound independence I’d craved my entire life, but what I didn’t realize is how hard it would be in “the real world” as a young woman in a wheelchair.
I’ve become accustomed to the stares from children, and even adults at times. And over time, answering the blunt question from children, “what happened to your legs?” has become merely an opportunity for me to educate the future of our country on how to treat people with disabilities.
I never thought the most disdain I felt about myself would come from the words adults said to me.
My position at my job requires me to stand in one place, and have rapid interactions with customers. It’s quite simple. I never have to speak to someone for more than a minute, and I don’t have to worry about keeping up a conversation.
In fact, the faster I am at getting customers through the line, the better. This can lead to snap judgments, from both parties.
“Oh, they’re going to be trouble customers, I should probably check their IDs, they’re probably going to try and get rated R tickets.” And most of these judgments happen before they’ve even cleared the lobby.
Unfortunately, I believed this is the society we’ve come to live in; where people judge others before they’ve ever even known them.
I guess I’m lucky that the judgement that people have placed upon me is really only a “me problem.” But I want to express my thoughts on this life I am living, and to explain to others what their words mean to me, because if I’m not explaining the thoughts that run through my head as a person in a wheelchair, then who will?
The polarization of persons with disabilities has got to stop. I’ve been called, “inspiring” by more people at my work, customers who don’t know my name and have spoken to me for less than a minute, more times than I think I can count.
I feel that there is a lot to this that for some, will be too hard to understand, unless you’ve been in my shoes.
To an outsider, being called an inspiration is something we all strive for. “Aspire to inspire before you expire” is the saying, I believe?
But my title was given to me, like an award I never knew I was accepting, and frankly, now that I’m up on the stage, the whole world looking to someone to show them that we can be strong, we, the community of disabled persons, that we are just like them. I’m not sure it’s an award I’m ready to accept.
Being an inspiration means you’ve done some good for this world. That you changed something for the better or inspired change. People will remember you, and you worked hard to get to your position.
I was shoved onto a pedestal, under a burning hot spotlight, for people to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at. Others may deserve the attention and praise, I do not.
I’m a normal teenager, doing a normal job. I’m in a wheelchair, yes. But I want to understand why simply having a job qualifies me as “inspiring.”
Many people have told me that it’s because I seem like a happy person and that I “never let my circumstances get me down,” but to get these compliments from those who’ve only known me for a mere few minutes, who don’t even know my name, begins to feel disingenuous.
It makes me feel that I have something others expect me to live up to, that I know I simply cannot.
I wonder if you saw me cursing my life at 3 a.m, saw the messages I sent to my friend as I was crying, drained of everything, and wanting nothing more than to change it all, would you still find me inspiring?
Would I still have received “Student of the Month” my sophomore year, for being, “constantly positive and always smiling?”
The quick judgments that have all intentions of being genuine and nice while are appreciated, feel demeaning.
I want to be normal. I don’t need to hear that I’m inspiring for doing what everyone else does. I don’t want it to be any different for me.
I want to show others who may also be in a wheelchair, or facing a disability, that they can do whatever they please but that they don’t need to hear about it from those who are trying to make them feel better. It’s like I said, we desire to be normal.
When customers tell me I inspire them simply for having a job, I begin to feel abnormal. It draws attention to my disability.
People find it funny when I tell them I appreciate the customers who complain to me, who give me a hard time and don’t treat me as if I’ve had enough hardship in my life, but nothing shows me more that I am normal.
Too often I have witnessed the scorned looks my friends receive when they are pushing me around, wrestling, punching and cursing.
People love feeling for others. So don’t tell me I inspire you if you are only trying to make me, or yourself, feel better.
I don’t deserve the praise and don’t know how to react.